Coping with the Pain of Loss

Looking Back

sorrowI’ve attended two funerals this week, one day after another. I was not close to the women who died, but knew and loved their descendants well. At both funerals I was struck by the close-knit family groups and the sweet stories they told of their departed mother, grandmother, or aunt.

For some reason, I feel others’ loss keenly. I am quick to imagine the pain I’d feel if I were in there shoes. In great detail sometimes. My sister and I joke that I’d be a great professional mourner, I was just born a few centuries too late. If you’ve lost someone and need someone to tell stories to and to cry with, I’m your gal.

Not long ago, I was assigned the (slightly morbid) task of writing my own obituary. This is the second time I’ve done this. The first time, I was nine years old and my fourth-grade teacher gave the assignment, including how we died and how old we’d be. Artwork was encouraged.

I drew a picture of my elderly self laughing hysterically (if I remember correctly, I’ll be dying right around 89). Cause of death? I’d write a story so funny I’d die from laughing. Not a bad way to go, considering all the options.

More recently, I received an assignment to write what I’d hope people would say about me at my funeral: family, friends, co-workers, and church/community. The idea was to consider what kind of person you truly want to be then develop a plan to become that person.

This task required a great deal more introspection and the results were illuminating. I discovered that some of the things I thought mattered to me didn’t mean so much after all. And others, well, they meant the world. You should try it.

I reflected on this exercise at the funerals this week when hearing about the lives of the women who had died. When I go to a funeral and leave it feeling uplifted and inspired, I know the person who passed has done something right. The stories about these two women left me feeling this way. I thought—that is how I want to live. That is how I want to be remembered.

Personal Losses

pianist photoI’ve been fortunate to have most of my grandparents all the way into my forties. I lost my Omama eighteen years ago, but in the last few years I’ve lost my step-Dad (Gene), my father-in-law (Crawford), Grandma, and my Opapa. My last Grandpa is still alive and singing in church, but he misses Grandma and so do I.

It’s never easy coping with loss. When Omama died, I spent hours at the piano, my method of expressing my pain. I also spent a day with Opapa, my daughter climbing in his lap—he said we were his personal sunshine on the darkest day of his life.

I spent hours with Mom when Gene passed, just being close, sifting through photos and sharing memories. When Grandma left us, I spent hours on the road, reflecting on memories together. With Crawford, I flew across the country to say my goodbyes. With Opapa, I sorted pictures and videos, relishing clips of him singing and reading poetry he’d written.

We all deal with loss differently. Some are very quiet and private in their grief, while others require companionship and social support. It’s important that we respect each others’ very different ways of grieving.

Fear of Losing a Loved One

tombstone photo

For some reason, I’ve always had an abiding fear of losing someone I love. That fear has led me to take some bizarre actions. In my early years of marriage, I called the hospital when Matt was late coming home (he drove a motorcycle, for gosh sakes, what do you expect?).

When my children first started driving, I’d go out looking for them if they were late. (They may or may not know this lol.) And now when my husband flies (yes, he pilots a small plane. Somebody, please get me some Xanax!), I check flight tracking apps if he’s not home on time.

But I’m not obsessive about it like I used to be. These days, I rarely break down when someone isn’t where I think they ought to be, although my imagination still zips into overdrive, offering up gruesome images and outrageous scenarios (this is one reason I’m an author, by the way). Now, I stop the crazy train before it barrels down the track, rerouting my imagination back into sanity.

This change has required great effort and deliberate thought restructuring on my part. It’s also required a leap of faith.

Through trials and loss, we gain strength

mountain photo

When my son, Josh, was 8 years old, he crashed on a ranger (kind of like a golf cart, but gas-powered). He flew out the top when the vehicle rolled (what do I always say about seatbelts?!), landing flat on his stomach in the grass. The ranger followed after him, its roll bar landing on the back of his thighs, which both snapped.

When Matt came running inside (leaving a friend with Josh) to tell me what had happened and that we needed to rush to the hospital, I froze. My mind could not process the fact that Josh had broken both his legs. That just couldn’t be possible. And if it was, what else could be wrong?

I also felt angry at God. I had prayed for Josh’s safety. I’d prayed for all my family, just like I always do when they leave, and especially when they’re out working on the ranch. As we climbed in the Suburban and drove to the field to pick Josh up, I pray-shouted at God. How could he let me down like this? I had prayed for their protection and a Mama’s prayer is the most powerful thing there is, right?

As soon as the angry thoughts entered my mind, a rush of words replaced them—I did protect him. I felt that answer so boldly and so strongly that I could not doubt. Later, we learned that if the roll bar had struck mere inches higher, Josh could have been paralyzed or even killed. He suffered no injuries other than the broken legs (which was quite enough, thank you very much).

But something changed in Josh after this experience. He’d been in the habit of moaning and whining over little things (he was 8, after all). That didn’t happen any more after his injury. After this, he knew what pain was. He knew what it was like to relearn how to walk. He knew what it was like to cry with his Mama in the middle of the night and pray for strength then have that strength come.

Six weeks later Josh was hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, stronger and braver than ever before.

A Leap of Faith

hope photoThis was a great triumph. But still, I’m a realist. As much as I love candy-coated Pollyanna land, I can’t live there. I know that someday I may have to face terrible loss. My mother did. Her first baby died when only one day old. My husband did, losing his little sister as a toddler, then his older brother years later. Needless to say, my mother-in-law felt those losses just as keenly. I have friends who’ve lost babies, toddlers, teens, husbands.

So when we had this close call with Josh, I asked myself, what if the worst happened? And why does God sometimes let it? Why doesn’t He protect everyone we want protected?

This mortal life is fraught with tribulations, loss, disease, and heartache. I don’t believe God creates these hardships. They’re part of the mortal condition. But He can use them to change and refine us, if we’ll let Him. As I’ve pondered the possibility of losing a loved one (especially one dying young), I’ve concluded that I’d just have to step forward in faith.

I do not always understand God’s will for me or His plan for others. But I do know He has a plan. And I know He will strengthen and sustain us in our darkest moments. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Psalms 23)

I know this may seem simplistic to some. All the same, I turn to God in times of trial and grief. He will heal our pain.

R. H. Roberts explores loss in several of her upcoming short stories. For more information and story updates, sign up for her newsletter below.

  • Allison Culling Andrasko

    This was lovely. I know how hard you struggle with this. Thank you for helping me examine my testimony a little closer. ♡

    • RHRoberts

      Thank you, Allison!