As we get older, we come to expect the death of elderly parents or relatives, although it’s still painful when they die. Their passing is also a reminder that we all get to pass through that portal – no matter what we may believe.
When a person we’ve known for a long time dies, we grieve the loss of their presence. Simply put, we miss them. When they go, we are left with little more than our memories of the time we spent together.
Digital technology is allowing funeral services to become more of a celebration of the life lived. Fortunately, not everybody needs the over the top coverage a monarch or celebrity gets when they die, but we are starting to do a pretty good job of visually summarising the lives of our loved ones when we gather to farewell them.
My generation is entering their seventies. We have elderly parents approaching death or who have already died. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know there is no escape from experiencing the death of our loved ones, just as there is no escape from our own date with the grim reaper. Grief and grieving are common experiences for us now, as not only parents but partners, friends and siblings die around us. After all, death is the destination of every journey that starts with birth, which is why we know it’s coming.
When an adult dies, our grief is focussed on the loss of someone we’ve loved or known for years, perhaps our whole life. Their death creates a gap in the fabric of our story – a gap we feel we have to close. The longer and more intimate the relationship, the bigger and deeper that gap appears to be. Some of us take a long time to recover from the death of a loved one. Some of us never get over it.
The death of a newborn is something else entirely. There is no long relationship that’s slowly or suddenly come to an end. There is only a potential relationship that’s ended before it had a chance to flower. I think what we grieve when a young child dies, if my experience is anything to go by, is the loss of our hopes and dreams for the child – all the things that could have been if the child had lived.
And, then, there’s dealing with the incomprehensible. How do you explain to yourself, let alone to anyone else, the why of such a short, tragic life? From a human perspective, it doesn’t make sense for a child to be born only to die a few days or weeks later.
An awareness of the spiritual nature of life allows us a degree of consolation following a death, but we’re here to experience life as people living in relationships. And, whether those relationships are lifelong or brief, we need to allow ourselves to feel their loss.
I’ve come to understand that grief and grieving are outward signs of the vulnerability that allows us to love and be touched by the love of others.
Just as death is part of life, grief is part of the experience of being alive when a loved one dies, so allow yourself to grieve.
Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash