It’s The Great Equalizer.
In The Great Before, the footing is never equal. In the After, however, the playing field is leveled. You have learned a new, foreign and undesirable language. You not only understand, but now you speak it, too. You’ve got nothing on anyone else in the club; you get each other and you are all in this together.
And none of us want to be this kind of bilingual, but here we are.
Welcome to Life after Losing a Loved One/Loved Ones. You are in good company. We have found plenty of other fine folks in this club.
I have a friend who lost her son in combat in Afghanistan. She wants me to do what I can to make it clear to anyone who celebrates Memorial Day that honoring anyone who has ever served this country is always a noble idea, but Memorial Day is specifically to honor those who gave their lives in service, and Veterans Day in November is to honor those who sacrificed as a veteran, but are still with us. Of course, it is also a day to remember our loved ones who have passed, whether or not they served.
Gail, Suzanne and I do not have any military members in our family, living or passed away. But we recognize that we have the gift of freedom thanks to them, and for that, every day is Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day.
Thank you every day to our veterans, active-duty military, National Guard and Reserves.
I recall a conversation with Suzanne in The Great Before. We spoke of how, on that dreadful day when we would have to bury the first one of our parents, we would not be able to leave the cemetery. They would have to forcibly remove us.
As it turned out, we were all ready to walk away after we buried both of them on that cold March day fifteen years ago. We were tired and hungry, and there was a lot of good food waiting for us at the Knights of Columbus Hall. We left the cemetery voluntarily, and made up for four days of not eating.
Two of our four brothers live near our hometown, and they, along with their wives, are wonderful stewards of our parents’ gravesites. They maintain and decorate them, and for this, we remain eternally grateful.
When I visit them, or our hometown throughout the year, I typically stop at the cemetery and say hello. Mom and Dad are not there, I know, but paying respects to this small piece of earth that houses their earthly bodies is what my heart tells me to do, so I do it.
But I can still walk away as easily as I did after the funeral.
When Gail, Suzanne and I are in town for our hometown’s annual celebration, we stroll down a few blocks and take them a burger and a beer, the traditional fare served there. We take our brothers along, or anyone else who wants to join us. We make it as fun as anyone can.
Perhaps you still reside in The Great Before, and have not yet had to bury a loved one, and the thought of ‘fun’ is incomprehensible at a time like this. Let me just say, at the risk of sounding cold and callous, that it was laughter that helped us survive those early days after our loss.
Before and after the funeral, we made jokes, and we laughed. We survived on faith, family, friends, food and fun.
We put the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral.’
My heart breaks for you if you are still in the early days, weeks and months of grief. This new world you inhabit is likely cold and dark, and you may not see any hope for light again.
We’ve been there, and we are here to tell you that if you do the work, then you are going to be okay. This will not be the old okay that you want so badly to have back, and you don’t yet know what the new okay will look, feel or smell like, but you will be okay. Give it time and let grief get through you and not try to detour it around you. Know that you will never get over it–you shouldn’t, because you loved them so much. Let your faith, family and friends carry you when you can’t carry yourself and remember that loss and grief are a natural part of life and love.
You are going to be okay. Welcome to The After. In an entirely new way, it can still be Great.
In memory of every soldier who gave their lives in their service to America.