Blessed are those who mourn

GEISINGER CARING

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

These words of Jesus from the Beatitudes seem to present us with a paradox. How can those who mourn be “blessed?” How can those suffering in the depths of grief ever expect to find happiness and joy again? How can death lead to a blessing?

As a chaplain and minister, I encounter death more frequently than many people. Yet death is never the same; it is never routine. And when loss hits home, it rocks your world.

My world was forever changed on Dec. 19, 2018, when I learned that my 49-year-old brother was gone. G-O-N-E, gone — as in dead. Never again would we share inside jokes about our parents. Never again would we go on our annual “middle-aged, overweight day” to Knoebel’s Amusement Park. Never again would we share our struggles or our dreams for the future. Never again.

We lost our mother in December 2006 and our father in February 2009. That was tough. The grief hit hard and lingered, but we had each other. We still laughed about how Dad would drive Mom crazy with his demands (“Sandi, I want baken –b-a-k-e-n!”), or how Mom mimicked Dad’s talking (“YouknowwhatImean?”). I lamented to my brother that I was starting to look more like Mom. He recalled how Dad made him drive up and down streets in Philadelphia looking for a hoagie shop that “was there 30 years ago.” You know, stuff only siblings can truly appreciate.

Chances are that you have lost someone close to you too. Someone who can never be replaced. Someone whose death has created an aching hole in your heart. How do we go on without them?

After the initial shock wears off we are flooded with emotions. These emotions vary from person to person and from moment to moment. Deep sadness and grief. Intense pain. A gut punch that leaves one winded. Injustice and anger. Fear. And then there are those lingering questions that have no satisfactory answer: Why? How? And the worst — the “What ifs?”

We all grieve differently. There is no “right” way to travel this journey. When we recognize and respect that all process grief differently, we give permission for them to feel what they need to feel when they need to feel it. Every situation is unique, yet there are commonalities. Grief should not be rushed. Grief should not be pushed aside or underneath the surface. As painful and ugly as it may get, it needs to be experienced both honestly and fully to heal.

Death is a Thief

Death is a thief. When death steals the life of a loved one, there is no way it can be recovered. No amount of begging, pleading and crying can bring the person back. Yet I still have moments when I cry out to God, “I want my brother back, and I want him back now.” He was taken without my permission. He was taken without warning. He was stolen.

Death not only steals our loved one, but it also steals part of our identity. Two months after my brother died, I unexpectedly found myself questioning, “Who am I now?” My family of origin was gone; no longer was I someone’s daughter, no longer was I someone’s sister. Yes, I was still a wife and mother, but this was different — this went back to my earliest family bonds — and they were no more. This realization created a deep sense of loss — not just for my parents and brother, but also for the “me” I used to be.

Expect the Unexpected

It is no surprise that birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and family gatherings can trigger our feelings of grief. Sometimes a grieving moment can hit us out of nowhere. Recently I was grocery shopping and as I reached for a pack of English muffins, I teared up remembering the last time I took my brother to the store. He loved his English muffins and cream cheese — they were a staple in his home. Crying over English muffins? I sure didn’t expect that.

As weeks turned into months, I realized I wasn’t “losing it” as much as I did in the beginning. I felt guilty because I irrationally thought I risked forgetting my brother and all that he meant to me. I thought it was a disservice to him if I didn’t remain in such deep pain. That sounds strange, but it’s true. Then I realized that this, too, is all part of my grieving process. The healing has begun.

I will find a way to go on without him in my life. He will not be with me physically, but he will always be in my heart and my mind. Occasionally, I will hear him say, “Stop overthinking, Suellen.” His words will come to me from the depths of my memory and when they do, I will feel a fleeting sadness accompanied by a quiet chuckle of joy from knowing that he is still impacting my life. Grief mingled with joy…blessed are those who mourn.

Suggestions for coping with grief

¯ Talk about them. Reminisce. Learn of your loved one from the perspective of others.

¯ Journal. Write a goodbye letter to them.

¯ Find a way to honor their memory. Donate to their favorite cause. Volunteer in a way that honors their values. Plant a tree. Make a garden. Write a poem. Paint or draw. Create a scrapbook/memory book. Make a quilt out of their old T-shirts. Cook their favorite meal and share it with others.

¯ Cry when you need to. Do not force yourself to fit a “timeline” of grief.

¯ Don’t go it alone. Meet with a spiritual leader, counselor, and/or grief support group.

¯GriefShare, a grief recovery support group, is offered by some local churches. Learn more online at: griefshare.org. Bereavement classes are also available through Geisinger Home Health & Hospice.

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Suellen Lewis is a staff chaplain at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital. As both a former math teacher and associate pastor, she continues to be amazed at how God uses our experiences, abilities, and gifts to minister to others. She is available at Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Contact the Spiritual Care Office at (717) 242-7059.

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