DR. LEPISTO: This thing called grief
Free Press Health Columnist
What is this thing called grief? A fact of life? A question? A healing process? Yes, I say.
I reflect a lot these days, inquiring on and observing my own process of grief over my friend Zachariah’s death April 10, wondering what this is. I want to be alone, then suddenly I want to be with certain people. Lately, I surge from gratitude to anger, sadness, disappointment, relief and back to gratitude. I put on sad music in my playlist called “Makes Me Cry,” which I’m quite sure would sound like morbid death bells to some. There, I just put it on again. Fascinating.
I really didn’t know much about death prior to this event. Do you? Yes, my grandmother died at age 92, two uncles several summers ago, my adopted dog, Elvis, and some of my patients. These were sad events and milestones in my life, but they just do not pack the punch that this loss so close to home has brought or what it brings up in me.
I am thinking back to things I said to people who had losses in their own lives. Did I speak in kind words in the language of grief that they understood? While I’m sure I wasn’t rude or insensitive, I certainly didn’t have an attunement to the acute agony that comes with the loss of a loved one. In reality, there are few who seem to have a true understanding of this great mystery. A lovely quote in one of the excellent monthly issues I receive from Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado states, “Nothing about death is quite as scary as the exhilarating terror of trying to accept life.” — Barbara Davidson. Wow, Barbara!
My experience has been that our hospice does have the incredible resources and support as reputed. They have a gorgeous end-of-life facility, genuine volunteers, skilled personal counseling, a private and helpful closed grief group, the monthly newsletter and more. If you or a loved one are in need of this care yourselves, what are you waiting for? Is it your own fear of death keeping you from what you need? Or were simply not aware that such provision exists?
A mutual friend put her current state of existence well, saying that it feels like her brain has been “erased.” Yes, that’s accurate to my experience. One recent day my mother called to say that she had something she wanted me to pass it on to Zachariah’s mother. I told her my memory was “a bit off” and so asked her to place it in my car so I wouldn’t forget to bring it. Then I ended up driving another car. That’s funny.
Watching children grieve is a different experience, as children are far more likely to express grief through changes in behavior. While I do not have children, I am an uncle and I imagine that temper tantrums become far more understandable in this context for mom and dad. I have witnessed a 10-year-old friend of Zachariah’s grieve in spurts. In a terribly wrenched voice, he will talk about how he never got to take the hike that Z had promised they would do again and then suddenly say, “Let’s play cards!” Amazing. I am learning a thing or two from this kid.
I read a poem on Saturday at Zachariah’s memorial, written just for him four days after his death. It turns out the author of the poem is a long lost classmate of mine from college, an amazing poet (ahundredfallingveils.com), and a new friend who came for a special fundraiser poetry reading organized by Z last year. It seems a fitting closure to this chapter of grief.
Through the Hourglass
It disappears, the shell,
just as you reach to pick
it up. The wave, indifferent
to value, draws it in.
The shell is more precious then.
Because it is gone.
Like when a dear one dies. It doesn’t matter
if it were a surprise or something
expected. Suddenly, the last time
we saw them alive—maybe
holding a peach or sitting
in a chair—it doesn’t matter
how simple the moment was,
we replay it with a golden hue,
as if every second of listening
to bird songs or talking
about the day’s events
were precious. Remember the scent?
Remember the light as it fell just so?
Remember how normal it was.
As the normal is precious—
sitting under a tree, or walking
the beach choosing stones,
or washing dishes, making the bed,
or eating oatmeal with blueberries,
or answering the phone to hear
the other person say hello.
How easy, how impossible
to reach now for what never can be held.
For a moment we think we have it,
but our hands come up with only sand
and what’s left of the tide running
through our fingers.
— April 14, 2013, by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
On to the next chapter.
Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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