When death comes, is grief the only option? Part II

By Moses A. Gayles III

As I suggested in my first blog post, grief alone is not always our first best option in death. I have had the opportunity in my life to learn from very faithful and levelheaded people how to elevate the death of a loved one to a space and place where grief does not monopolize the environment.

As I posted previously, my grandmother was the first powerful influence in my learning to place grief in a better, less dominant position as I have experienced the passing of the important people and pets in my life.

But she was not by herself, my mother; her daughter carried the mantle equally as well. You see, my mother practiced and affirmed everything I saw my grandmother do to position grief as a positive during times of death. My mother was a well-educated mathematician who taught high school mathematics her entire career, first in segregated schools and then in the early days of integration in a series of Hanover County, Virginia, public institutions. She was a “Hidden Figure,” but not just because of her great mind, vision, and imagination. My Mother showed me how faith and humility could be employed as substantial weapons to combat negative aspects of society’s plans for grief in my life.

Against grief, these weapons would be tools in her efforts to not allow grief a more dominant place in her life during times of loss. As a practical woman and logical thinker, mom learned to understand and invite grief into a limited but prominent place in her life. A space where grief was just another tool, a resource that would be used to help serve a greater good.

I again watched how my mother managed the most important losses in her life as if her own personal grief was accepted and fully accounted for as she processed the loss of my grandmother.

I was in college when my grandmother passed. I had stayed home for an extended period after my spring break that year because was grandmother was home recovering from a recent hospital stay. I did not tell or explain to anyone why I was still in town, and no one seemed to notice except my grandmother. One day while I was busy trying to address her every need, she asked one simple question; “Baby, shouldn’t you be back at school?” I said, “yes, but I’ll go back to school when you are better.” My grandmother assured me that since I was not a doctor and because she was well on the road to recovery, I should get packed and get back to my classes. Against my better judgment, I returned to campus two weeks late!

Not long after I returned to campus, I received one of the most disappointing phone calls from my mother that I can remember. Early on Mother’s Day morning, my mother said she had gone downstairs to check in on my grandmother (we owned a duplex; grandparents in half; my family in the other half). She then said that she found my grandmother on the floor, having fallen out of the bed and passing overnight.

A wave of thoughts immediately began to assemble in my mind; the mind of a broken young man who assumed this was his fault, and grief was ready to jump on top in its most negative presentation possible, dragging unwarranted guilt to assist in its nefarious scheme.

But my mother would have none of this, and before I could get a single word out of my mother, she said, “remember how much she loves you,” and then began to tell me what she had already done. The funeral home was on the way; my grandmother’s pastor had been notified, as had my aunt (her sister-in-law). She would contact my siblings after our call was over and asked that I stay at school. She reminded me of who we had become because of my grandmother, and if my memory serves me correctly, she also went to church that day.

At a moment when I had no problem with grief consuming me completely in any negative variation that it was so inclined to pour all over me. My mother kept me on course by her example, not even fletching as she continued what her mother started, placing her grief in a place of decency and order, spiritually offering me a light in one of my darkest places.

You see, it seemed to me that the first thing that grief inspired in my mother during periods of loss was positive reflection. Whenever someone important in her life passed, mom would always give thanks for the life by reflecting on the importance and value of the deceased; elevating their personage through her reflective processes with grief but a motivator to greater, even more substantial reflection.

Her example was a simple equation; faith plus humility plus grief equaled an opportunity for positive reflection and remembrance. I believe that God has given us memory as a weight to balance out the scales of loss that are overcome by guilt and grief based upon emotional loss. If we choose to apply what is typically a common faith in a better existence after death along with the real probability that this death is not about us; we will find grief opening the doors to spaces that contain the best memories of those who have passed. And better still, the more that we reflect, the clearer and more powerful those memories become. Like highly prized curios, these memories calm us, lightening our spirits and permitting us the greatest opportunity to receive the best interpretation of the loss we are experiencing.

While I am a Christian, I am attempting to place my assessment of the influence of grief in my life in a religion-neutral space. Grief is not the sole dominion of any religion, so I do not think our ability to process and integrate it into our lives is the purview of any religious perspective. Whether you believe in spiritual resurrection or not, this commentary is for those of us still living regardless of what you as an individual believe. These are common truths available to all of us who will deal with grief in our lives.

So, we now have an equation that can be a resource in our efforts to have grief work in a positive fashion on our behalf. Remember previously, I spoke of the power that grief wielded to move balanced, reasonable, well-adjusted people to emotionally damaged souls if left to its own devices.

I asked you to question your grief immediately as you first feel it to determine if it could be regarded as disappointment or at least a less emotionally based form of grief. The selfless application of your beliefs, when humbly applied to the loss of your loved one, can allow you the opportunity to use whatever real grief you are experiencing as a catalyst for a positive journey through the loss.

I am not an expert and am trying only to present my perspective as it has evolved so far over my life. How I have, through some of the most important losses in my life, managed to continue to not allow my grief the power to consume me.

But this was not always the case. In my next posting, I will share with you what happened to me when I did not understand nor control my grief.

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  1. Linda Joiner says:

    Wow! How gallant of you, Moses, to share the many intimate details of how you handle your grief. Thank you for helping us to know that the grief of our loved ones do not have to consume us.