Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moving Forward

When I first started going to Compassionate Friends conferences, I met a TCF board member and president that I considered to be an eloquent speaker and a fabulous writer. He did eventually write a book about his son who died from a man’s perspective, “Into the Valley and Out Again.” I so enjoyed his wonderful words of wisdom at each conference and looked forward to them. Like everything else, nothing lasts forever and Rick Elder suddenly died a few years back. We lost a compassionate, friendly person who wanted, like many of us, to help others through the grief journey. Occasionally, we are blessed with some writings he left behind that TCF, their magazine and the various chapters reprint in their newsletters. A recent one I read had some thoughtful lessons for those bereaved, five years down the road. Below, I summarize his thoughts and what they meant for him, me and others.

People enjoying themselves, laughing at a TCF meeting, greeting each other with hugs, appearing so normal after their child died. At first this irritated Rick, as it did me, when I would see someone actually enjoying themselves and acting like they didn’t have a care in the world. But both he and I have learned three valuable lessons over the years.

1. Life goes on and we must too. Gradually the pain eases and the warm memories replace the sadness. Time is a great healer. I was teaching school at the time my daughter died and realized that on many days it was 6-8 hours that I didn’t think about her. At first, I felt surprise and then guilt as most of us do. But then I realized, as he did, that we are moving forward. We are looking to the future. We will never forget, but our child’s death is not the all-consuming factor in our life. We choose to enjoy friends again. We choose to go out to dinner or to parties again. We choose to laugh again. Isn’t this what our children would want us to do? They would not want us to sit around, crying and mourning their death forever. Nothing we do will bring them back, so moving forward is the best alternative.

2. We become grateful for what we have, not focused on what we have lost. There are many people I know who say they will never get over their loss and some even contemplate ending their lives. They ignore other family members, causing many additional problems. But Rick says these people should also think about the ways they have been blessed, as well as hurt. Most people have more to be thankful for than they realize: health, other children, a loving family, a career they enjoy, financial security, life in a free country, a faith that works for them, a true best friend and a spouse they love. Nobody has it all, but compared to the rest of the world, we have a lot.

3. The life we now lead will be better than it would have been. He emphasizes this does not make our child’s death a good thing. Our child’s life mattered; in some small way the world will be better because our child lived and we are the ones who can make it so. We have been changed forever, and we have different goals and priorities. We don’t “sweat the small stuff.” What was once important to us is insignificant now. We know what matters because we know what is irreplaceable. We understand how others who have lost a child feel because we have been there too.

We will never forget our child nor should we. Sure, we would give anything to have our child back again, but that will not happen. It is up to us now to go forward and create a new normal, which we can do.

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