Why do some believe everyone should grieve openly and if you don’t, then you are cold and uncaring? When did my grief become a spectator sport? As individuals with individual emotions, we grieve differently. Some are pressured into grieving according to the terms of others. Why? Because some people aren’t comfortable being in tune with their deepest feelings. It can be scary to be alone with your deepest thoughts and emotions.
Grief is a process. It doesn’t always begin when the loved one dies. It can begin when you realize your loved one is no longer healthy (emotionally and physically). For me, my grieving began in 2010 as I sat in my parents’ living room chatting it up with my daddy. There was something different happening before my eyes. He was exceptionally thin and battling a persistent cough. I asked him about it, and as usual, he laughed it off. However, I never cracked a smile; and he knew I knew.
When I returned home, my spirit began its grieving process. I became angry with my daddy for not caring enough about his health. I became angry at him for not being honest with me about his cancer. No matter how many questions I asked, he discounted my need to hear the truth. I’m sure he was scared. I understand now it wasn’t about me; but about him facing the reality of death. All I wanted was for him to allow me time to transition our father-daughter relationship. Nonetheless, in typical Cornelius “Cornbread” Burton fashion, if you don’t talk about it, it isn’t reality.
In 2011, I asked my parents if they had a will, if they had prepared for their deaths so I wouldn’t be stuck without a plan. Both told me they had not and they didn’t want to talk about it. That day I decided I had to focus on preparing for my death. I didn’t want my children to have to scramble to find out how to care for my death. I chose to be open with my children about my death preparations. So when it’s their time to grieve, they can do so on their terms.
On the evening of April 20, 2015, I sat next to my daddy’s hospital bed, holding his hand as he began to transition. I listened to his death rattle (that gurgling noise in the back of the throat that occurs when a person is near death) and knew I only had a few hours left with him. I pulled out my copy of ‘The Shack’ and read Chapter 16, A Morning of Sorrows:
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” . . .”Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes – and this may seem incomprehensible to you right now – that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust.” – The Shack by William P. Young (2007)
It could have been my imagination, but as I read these passages to Daddy, I sensed him letting go. I closed the book, kissed Daddy on his forehead, and told him goodbye. I’m a lot like my daddy. I like being in a quiet place where I’m in my thoughts. I don’t need to be surrounded by people for them to know I’m devastated and sad. I made my peace with my daddy and he and I are in very good places.
I will continue my grieving process my way, usually through painting and writing. Those who know me are aware I need my alone time, especially during times of bereavement. So, remember, when you grieve, do so on your terms. If you require the company of others, be vocal and let them know. If you need your space, let people know. Most of all, you do not owe anyone an explanation for how you grieve. It isn’t a spectator sport.