I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life. Like when I thought I would would grow up to be a world-class gymnast someday. Wrong. Or how I thought I would marry a Dutchman and move back to northern Wisconsin as soon as I was old enough. Double wrong. (Thank goodness!) Or how I swore I would never give up my CD collection for an iPod or prefer e-books to real books. I was soooo wrong on that one.
But perhaps there is no topic I've been more wrong about than that of suffering and grief. It's been almost five years now since Hannah was diagnosed with cancer, and almost four since she left us for Heaven. And boy, have I learned a lot -- things that I suppose can only be learned through experience, and by the grace of God.
So, here we go ... Ten Things I Was Completely, Utterly, Totally Wrong About.
1. I believed my family was immune to suffering. I don't think that's because I had any false notion that Christians don't suffer ... Look at Corrie ten Boom, Joni Eareckson, and the apostle Paul! No, I think I was just basing that idea on past history. I honestly had never experienced any real adversity in my life up until the time of Hannah's diagnosis. I guess I thought that was just going to continue indefinitely. I was wrong.
2. I believed that grief lasted a relatively short time ... that when a loved one died, you were very, very sad for awhile ... maybe somewhere between three to six months ... and then you were over it. Maybe you were sad again at Christmas time or on that person's birthday, but for the most part, life went back to normal. Oh boy, was I wrong on this one. I've come to realize that I will never be "over" Hannah's death. The grief resulting from her death has become woven into the very fiber of my life, and will be until the day I am reunited with her in Heaven. That doesn't mean I spend my days crying ... sometimes I do; more often I don't ... but the ache of grief deep inside never leaves me.
3. I believed that there was a right way and a wrong way to grieve. And I was really good at identifying the things I thought were wrong. If someone went to the grave every day, that was wrong. And if someone hardly ever (or never) went to the grave, that was wrong. If someone cried too much, that was wrong. If someone didn't cry enough, that was wrong. I now know that the only thing wrong with all those things was me and my judgmental attitude! Everyone grieves differently, and there's nothing wrong with that. One caveat here ... there is one way to grieve wrong ... and that is to turn away from the God of all comfort.
4. I believed that if someone died after a prolonged illness, the grief was lessened by relief that the person was no longer suffering. I remember I always used to feel better for the family if I heard that someone died after being sick for a long time, because I thought they wouldn't be nearly as sad as if the person had died suddenly. How could I have been so wrong? I can't deny that there was some relief when Hannah left for Heaven, because it was so clear she could no longer remain on this earth, but it did not lessen the grief we experienced when we lost her.
5. I believed that parents who lost children experienced different levels of grief, depending upon what age the child was who died, how they died, and a variety of other factors. It didn't take me long to discover how wrong I was on this one. I've met many, many parents now who have lost children at all different ages and to all different causes, and one thing I've learned is that although our losses are all different, the pain is the same. Grief is grief. It all hurts.
6. I believed that siblings did not suffer the intensity of grief that parents do upon the loss of a child. You know, we always hear how resilient kids are ... how they can bounce back from a tragedy so easily. Maybe the age of the sibling(s) makes a difference ... all I have personal knowledge of is a young teenage sibling ... but I was wrong on this one, too. I think kids are sometimes better at hiding their grief than we are ... and I know some work very hard to hide their grief because they don't want to add to their parents' pain ... but their pain is deep and their suffering is real.
7. I believed I would never forget all those little things about Hannah ... the sound of her voice, the music of her laugh, the tilt of her chin. And I haven't, completely, but I have to say that some of those things are beginning to fade after nearly four years. And it doesn't help that her appearance, her spirit, and even the sound of her voice, were so changed over the last year of her life by cancer. Sometimes I long to dream about her, just to be reminded of all those things that made up who she was. It used to really bother me that those memories were fading, but knowing that the next time I see Hannah she will be fully restored definitely helps.
8. I believed I would never survive four days after Hannah's death, much less nearly four years. Obviously, I was wrong about that. It's so hard in those early days of grief to see past where you are ... I remember looking at other parents who had lost children years earlier and wondering how they could possibly even still be alive. I could not imagine would it would be like to be one month out, six months out, a year out, five years out. Now that I am one of those parents, all I can say is that it's only by the grace of God.
9. I believed that bereaved parents were the scariest people around. If I knew someone had lost a child, I avoided them at all costs. If I saw them coming down the church hallway, I suddenly had to go to the bathroom. If I ran into them at Walmart, I suddenly remembered something I needed on the other side of the store. I had no idea what to say to these people. Now that I am one of these people, there is no one else I'd rather spend time with. I am drawn to moms and dads who have lost children like Santa is drawn to cookies. We understand each other, and we have an instantaneous bond. I love bereaved parents. They are the most amazing people I know.
10. When my daughter died, I believed my life would be impoverished from that point forward. Of course, I knew intellectually that I would survive (in spite of #8 above), but I couldn't imagine how. I resigned myself to a life far below what my expectations for it had been. I mean, how could I ever really live again without my precious child? Happily, I was wrong on this one, too. I can honestly say, without qualification, that the last four years of my life have been the richest. The incredible people I would never have met, the awesome experiences I never would have had, the inspiring stories I never would have heard ... now that would be true poverty! Instead, I have had the privilege of witnessing the hand of God working in my own life and that of others. It doesn't get any richer than that, folks.
So, there you go. Ten Grief-Related Things I Had Completely Wrong. I could actually probably do ten more on January 10th ... I clearly had a lot to learn. Thankfully, my Father is a patient teacher.