At a loss for words

It has been a long three months since I have last written for The Anchor. On August 1 my 38-year-old brother passed away suddenly. He is my only sibling and we just lost my dad two years ago. The Anchor has been kind enough to give me time off from writing, but I felt it was time that I start bringing my life back to normal.

That is the funny thing about grief. At some point during the grieving process you have to decide that you need to go back to living. At some point you need to decide for yourself what your life is going to look like and go on living that life. I do not want my first column back to be a completely depressing one but I have learned a little about grief in the last few months and I thought I would share it. What I have learned has come from my own experience and may not be true for others, so I can only share what I know. And that is the important note about grief: it is unique to each person. There is no set formula. There is no quick fix. There is no magic potion. 

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a well-known psychiatrist who theorized about the five stages of grieving, once wrote, “The reality is you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same again. Nor should you be the same. Nor should you want to.” People will tell you that “time heals all wounds” and I may have been one of those people. It’s not true. We should stop telling people that. Time does not “heal” wounds. Time goes on and you learn to live with wounds. I’ve discovered that grieving is like when you have a pebble in your shoe and you are too lazy to take the pebble out. You move it around your shoe until it is not causing you as much pain and you can continue to walk around with it. It is always there with you and, at times that can seem completely unexpected, it will shift and cause pain and you will once again have to figure out how to move it so you can continue moving forward.

I have learned that the times you expect to be difficult will be, but it is the times that you do not expect that are actually worse. If you love someone who is dealing with grief, just be there for this person and give them space all at the same time. Confusing right? I have learned that I do not know what to expect therefore I cannot always articulate what I need, so please be patient. A person grieving may seem like they cannot make up their mind but it is simply because there are so many things going on in their head that they are just trying to make sense of it all. Bear with them.

I have learned that the first month is actually easier than you think it will be. If you think someone is “doing OK” after a significant loss, wait until the second month to check on them again. The first month is when everyone is around, checking in on you, bringing you food, and sending you cards. It is the second month when the calls slow down, the cards stop and everyone else’s life goes back to normal, that the grief becomes real, becomes physical. Check in on people during the second month. They need to know they are not alone and not forgotten.

I have learned that as month three rolls around, you want to start being “you” again but you still have to figure out who “you” are now. And although the desire to be “you” is there, the motivation has not quite caught up with it. My hope is that month four brings about that motivation. 

Most importantly, I have learned that, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say” is exactly what we should say. There is no one who will know exactly what you are going through. There is no one set of words that will make everything OK. And the one thing that we need, no one can give us. But I promise you, the prayers that were said for me have been more beneficial than anything else that was spoken. I know that it has been prayers that have sustained me thus far and will continue to do so. Thank you for all the prayers that have been prayed and all those that will continue to be. And if you have a sibling still living, call them and tell them you love them. It is something you will never regret. 

Anchor columnist Amanda Tarantelli has been a campus minister at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth since 2005. She is married, a die-hard sports fan, and resides in Cranston, R.I. She can be reached at atarantelli@bishopstang.com.

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