Here are the rest of the questions we've answered related to grief. Grab a cup of coffee...you might be here awhile...
8. Whenever people go through some of life's biggest moments (marriage, divorce, death, birth of new lives, relocation, career change, etc)... sometimes friendships change. Have you experienced changes in friendships based on what you've been through? Has it made friendships stronger or has it strained them? You've been through SO MANY of life's big changes... Jeremy's death, moving to a new home, new baby, and now additional family members to complete and add love to your home. It appears you have handled things so gracefully and almost seamlessly... For some of the realists who read the blog, it might be good to have some insight around "if you are the widow...the one going through all of the change, what should you be prepared for inside of your friendships?"
Vee: First of all, if things have appeared seamless, then I haven’t been telling it right! Nothing about the last almost 2 years has been seamless, or even graceful. Every transition has come with lots of grief, questions, heartache, and prayer – and this includes my relationships. Jeremy’s death has brought a lot of people closer to me and has made many of my friendships stronger, but unfortunately, it has strained some too. I’ve read about a lot of people in grief who have experienced broken relationships or people who were hard, hateful, or insensitive – I can honestly say I’m thankful that this has not been the case for me. My closest circle became tighter, and grew in number and I’m so blessed. The strain has come from transition, distance, trying to keep up with so much at once, or just from not agreeing on different aspects of life.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the strain in my relationships hasn’t really come out of my ‘widowhood’ – most of it has sprung from moving forward in life. I think a lot of friends found purpose and a place in my life to rally around me and help fill needs that were absent, and now they struggle to know how to help me or misconceive that I don’t need them anymore. It’s not bad; it’s just different and requires patience and an open heart on both sides. It’s a tough place to be in when everyone has his or her own ideas about how to grieve, but you have to be true to yourself and know that everyone is different and everyone grieves different.
I guess if “you’re the widow” expect friends to not really know what to do or how to help sometimes, expect them to not understand, and expect them to struggle with your identity as much as you do. When you’re grieving, you’ll notice that it’s a very selfish state of being – you are incapable of looking outside of yourself and probably incapable of being a good friend back to those who will give so much. I have found a lot of guilt in this area, but I also know I would do the same for my friends. It’s painful to watch relationships change sometimes, but know that the ones worth hanging on to will find a way through the mud to meet you on the other side of it. And the ones that do are incredibly special – hold onto them.
9. Have you or will you receive any professional counseling?
Vee: I did receive some professional counseling last summer. While it was good to talk things out and gain a different perspective on things, I found that writing was a similar therapy for me, only cheaper. I’m a huge advocate for professional counseling, and I believe I would have done more if I didn’t have such a strong support system. I was never lacking in people to talk to, pray with, or cry with and that has been invaluable to me. I’m a natural processor and talker (chatty Cathy over here!) so I’m thankful to have these outlets available to me when I need them.
10. How do you bring up death with your children? I just experienced a tragic loss and my little 2.5 year old daughter is always asking "why is mama sad" how do I explain this to my daughter?
Vee: The thing I’ve realized through teaching preschool and working in childcare and especially being a mom is that kids see through fluff. My best advice is to just be honest with your children – no need for gory details or information over their head, but be honest. If you’re sad, let you children know why you’re sad and why it’s ok to be sad when you lose someone you love. I was always very honest with my children about why I was crying, but they knew anyway. They were sad, too, and I wanted them to able to express that pain and talk about it. If you read back through my blog, you’ll probably see some of the tough discussion I’ve had with my kids. Some were painful and I wasn’t sure I could get through them, but I’m so thankful they felt like they could talk to me about it. I think it has made them more well rounded and more sensitive to others in pain.
Steve: As hard as grief is for adults, it can be even more tricky for children for various reasons: First, adults have language to help them talk about grief – we can say I am overwhelmed, afraid, depressed, alone, etc… but most children don’t have the vocabulary to talk about grief, let alone the understanding of those terms. Therefore, most children wont talk about grief and most adults interpret their lack of conversation about grief to mean they don’t want to talk about it or its not affecting them. Second, most adults want to “protect” children from adults things like grief. We don’t want them to worry or become upset, so most of the grief happens behind doors where the children cant see. Third, children have a simple understanding of the world and the things that happen in it – when we talk about complex issues that adults have a hard time wrapping our minds around, you can only imagine what a child must think about it. (Since I worked as a bereavement counselor, death was a common topic for Zada, Reagan, and I after long days at work. I can remember the girls telling me on several occasions how weird it was that when a person died we put them in a box [i.e. a coffin] and then went to look at them [i.e. a funeral], or put their body in the ground when we talked about their soul going to heaven)
Since there are several factors that can make grief a little tougher for children, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
1. Children are resilient! Although they are young and vulnerable, they are also able to do a lot more than what we think they can. Although It’s painful, many children lose a parent every day – and still grow up to be normal, well-rounded adults.
2. Since children don’t have a vocabulary or understanding to go along with grief, its often helpful to give them various outlets to express their feelings in other ways that don’t involve just words. Allow them to paint, color, play, do a craft, make up a game, do a project, make up a skit or play, or do something tangible that will help the child express their grief. When I worked as the Director for Camp Hope, a grief camp for children, I had the children paint masks – on the outside of the mask they could paint how they showed people how they felt and on the inside of the mask they could paint how they really felt. This seemed to be a great way of helping children get in touch with their feelings.
3. Don’t hide your grief. While their will be moments where you need to grieve by yourself, its important for children to see others grieve, so they know its ok to grieve too. If nobody cries in front of them, then they assume it’s not ok to cry when someone dies. If no one talks about the deceased loved one around them and how much they miss them, then they assume that it’s not ok to talk about the feelings they have of missing that person.
4. Talk on a “kid level.” Since children have a limited vocabulary and a limited understanding of grief, death, heaven, etc. then it’s important to talk on a level they will understand. There are some things to stay away from, however: phrases such as “Daddy went to sleep” or “Grandma is just resting” can imply to small children that sometimes when you sleep you don’t get up and can instill some bedtime fears in children. Also, using phrases like “God wanted another angel” or “God needed to take Mommy home” can leave children with a fear of a God who takes people away.
I have a TON more to talk about on this subject, but I hope this is helpful and give you some ideas!
11. Are you angry at God? How did you get over that/how are you getting over that?
Vee: I can’t say I’m angry with God anymore now, but I definitely was. I still have waves of it, but it has been watered down to confusion and hurt – which is really what anger is disguising in the first place. I can’t say that there was a moment I just ‘got over it’ or even a revelation I suddenly had that made me understand God. I still don’t get it. I still think Jeremy should be here. I still think it’s unjust and stupid that good people die while bad people still get to suck in air….but I also know that God didn’t cause Jeremy’s death, or that ‘He needed another angel’ – when people say things like that to widowed people, it annoys me. I think we live in a fallen world where evil and death aren’t prejudice. And I know God grieves with me. Really, it just took time. And as much as I HATED that answer in the beginning, it really is true. Time to work through the anger in my heart. Time to talk through the hurt and cry out the pain. Time to pass so that I could look back and see how God was working the whole time, and working blessings out of a tragedy. It also took honesty with God – I said what I wanted to say and got out my anger, because let’s be honest…He already knows. Letting it out was more for me than anything else, but being angry with God is so ‘taboo’ and something that we’re not supposed to do. But I say God wants every piece of us – not just the pretty parts. How can He heal brokenness if you aren’t willing to give it to Him? So, I gave it to Him, alright – anger, yelling, screaming, cursing, and crying. Eventually, you just get it out til the next wave comes.
I have a plaque that sits on my kitchen counter with Jeremy’s favorite verse on it. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” After Jeremy died, this verse could not have angered me more. How could God plan to prosper me when He took away my future and every ounce of hope I had? We were good people, believers who were striving to be the best we could be – not perfect, of course, but trying – why would God take away that promise from me?!
What I began to see in my own life, and within the context of Jeremiah, is that God’s promises aren’t always immediate – or even always in your lifetime. People were being given this promise while being brought into captivity! When you take the verse for face value, it becomes very egotistical, and that’s not the intent of the verse or the context in which it is being used. What it means is that if you’re faithful and you continue to put your trust in God, His promises will be waiting for you.
I didn’t mean to preach a sermon, but I say all that to say I can see God’s blessings in my life every day. Even though I’ve lost much, I know I am still undeserving of what I have left. And I am still waiting on my promises – Jeremy is standing there among them.
12. How do you imagine your after-life in Heaven? You always talk about wanting to be with Jeremy again, yet now that you're married to Steve, I imagine you want to also be with him in Heaven. Is there a struggle for you with that? When you picture it, are you with one or the other, or a peaceful party of three, with both men knowing they carried a part of your life? Also, what about your burial when you pass? Will you be laid to rest with Jeremy or with Steve?
Vee: Heaven is a topic that Steve and I both agree raises more questions than gives us answers. I can’t tell you what Heaven is gonna look like exactly, but I am confident that Jeremy will be waiting for me there – I can’t imagine it any other way. When I picture it, I imagine reuniting with Jer because he’s the one I miss and the one I long to see. I trust that Heaven holds more for me than I could ever possibly comprehend. What gave me so much peace early on in my grief was picturing Jeremy in Heaven with us already – playing cars with Caleb and wrestling with Faith and me stealing hugs in between. But that was my Heaven on Earth. I pray constantly that I will get my moment in Heaven with Jeremy. But thinking about Heaven also brings tears quicker than almost anything – maybe out of jealousy that Jer is there and I’m stuck here. Or the confusion of knowing I should be happy for him while I’m so sad without him. Either way, I ache to be there. And I have to think that Steve will there waiting for me as well. I don’t know how that works and I don’t think I’m meant to figure it out. The thing you learn about life after losing someone you love is how to be ok with things you don’t have answers to.
As far as a burial goes, it’s another question I don’t have much of an answer to. As much as I wanted to be buried next to Jeremy, I knew even before I met Steve that outside of Jeremy’s family, it didn’t make much sense for me to be buried way out in Canada where no one else I know would ever be able to visit. Not that it’s the primary motivation for a burial, but I realized after Jeremy’s death and my brother’s death that there’s something to being able to just stand there in their presence. I want people I love to be able to do that, and I can’t see that happening in Canada. Jeremy’s grave is perfect there and I couldn’t imagine him any other place. My family has plots in Brighton, Michigan where I grew up so I know there’s a place there for me if I needed as well, but since I don’t know where the future will take me, I’m not too worried about it right now. Honestly, where my body goes after I die is really not important to me. As long as I’m on my way to Heaven, put my body wherever.
13. My question is about your relationship with God. How was it affected by Jeremy's death? My husband was still exploring his faith when he lost his brother and since then he has been angry/bitter/resentful towards God. He feels like God doesn't care about him, so why should he care about God. Is there anything I can do to help him through that? Do you have any books, scriptures or songs that you recommend that would help? How does one feel anger towards God, but still keep him as the creator of the universe and the ruler of your life?
Vee: Struggling with faith is a natural part of grief. There’s no way to have your world shaken like that and not have serious questions about God and His plan. Even those with strong faith have to come face to face with hard realities. But anger is not a bad emotion in and of itself. I believe that God would rather have us yelling and screaming at Him than not communicating with Him at all. I watched my family struggle with this as well when my brother died. I’m not sure I can give you a cookie cutter answer for how to handle it, as I can’t even tell you how I overcame that place. Just time I guess, and the prayers and support of so many. Steve might know more about this area than me, so I’ll let him speak into this.
Steve: Vee is right, struggling with spirituality is a normal part of grief, and so is anger. We need someone to blame or something to make sense of the injustice and hurt we feel. Sometime our anger is aimed towards doctors or nurses we feel should have been more vigilant, or our anger may be directed at ourselves for not doing more or preventing the death, or our anger might be at God for “causing” or “allowing” our loved one to die. The simple fact is, while blaming something isn’t helpful, it is normal. Allow your husband to be angry. If you study the Psalms you can see that the writers spent some time questioning God, being angry, and expressing the injustice that they felt – and yet these are words and expressions that we see in the Bible. I think that we can be angry and express that anger with God without losing” our relationship with God.
At the same time, understand that anger is a secondary emotion, meaning there are usually other emotions that are provoking the anger – especially with grief. Sometimes its fear for the future, hurt, overwhelmed, or injustice, but whatever the feelings are, it’s usually great to try to explore and talk about them.
As far as books that would be helpful, I would recommend “Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?” by Tinker Melvin. This book explores the topic of where God is when things like death and disease run rampant and tear apart our lives.