Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Open Letter to Grieving Friends

The following article, An Open Letter to Grieving Friends, appeared in the Compassionate Friends Magazine, “We Need Not Walk Alone” copyright 2013. I reprint this with permission from the magazine as an example of how one family processed their grief, helping them to survive, normalize and transcend their situation. Author is Wesley Merritt, father, husband, executive, writer and public speaker.

Dear Friends,

Twelve years ago my 15 month old daughter, Sarah, died in a tragic accidental window fall while we were vacationing at a New Jersey beach. Sarah would be turning 14 this past May, which is a fact that never really drifts too far from our thoughts. If you are anything like we were during that first year after Sarah’s death, the lull period after people had gone back to their lives were the moments where we were hit square in the face with the grief of our loss. Things were at their worst when the funerals concluded, attention lessened, and the many others who were so wonderful during the immediate window after the tragedy began to move on…while we were firmly cemented to the tragedy. For us, the hardest time came when things slowed down, and we were left alone to answer the existential question of “Now what?” That was the moment our hard grief work began.

This question is what brings me to this letter. Events over the last few months have seen children taken from us. Violent acts like the Sandy Hook shooting and a local upstate New York car accident that recently killed two high school seniors are just two examples of events that have had great personal effect. While we can’t all fully appreciate every nuance of one another’s pain, we all share emotional proximity through grief, and that is what bonds us together.

So, family…a few suggestions for those of you who are battling the pain of recent loss:

1.      Try to believe that hope exists despite the pain and confusion you may be experiencing now. You can choose to grow and heal. You will get through this. Joy will return if you let it.

2.      Try to focus on individual moments. Many of you likely feel wounded right now. Survival of the bad moments comes through the understanding that everything changes…moment by moment. While you may hurt right now, try to hand on with the understanding that something will come along soon to buoy you up, and it will likely happen in the next moment. You may be familiar with the term “one day at a time…” For the grieving, shorten it. An hour, a minute, and if need be, seconds are what you may require. Have hope that pain is temporary and everything changes quickly.

3.      Try to stay open. When wounded, a natural reaction for people is to close down and hide. Hiding helps us to ignore the pain and stay away from perceived harm. It is also natural that we deflect our pain by judging, blaming, or attaching the cause of our immediate pain to others. When people don’t act the way we think they should, or when someone says something to us that appears insensitive, our inclination may be to judge them. That action, however, works by closing our hearts so we do not feel the full range of emotion, a state that can become toxic over time. Openness, while not always easy, will help us to accept things as they are…acceptance will offer new ways to live, and ultimately show us the path to healing.

4.      Try to feel, grief is a process. While you are inside your moments of pain and longing, cry. Let go. It’s all okay. Tears are cleansing, and the quiet moments after crying open doors to help us heal. At the same time, remember to hug others. Find support in friends. If needed, enlist a professional to listen without judgment. Walk in nature. Write in a journal. Paint something. Draw. Give. Breathe. Listen. Feel. Remember that amazing things happen when you sit and take in what is around you. Personally, we focus on both wind and the light as our source of eternal hope.

In answer to the question, “What now?” I am sorry that I do not have a definitive answer. That said, I believe the ultimate answer lies within each of your hearts, within your spirit and with the love you hold for your missing loved one. Remember, while the past will  change, every new moment offers a new opportunity. The possibilities of your choices are endless, and they offer an amazing way for you to celebrate the lives of your lost love.

In closing, let me just say that all of what I’ve offered above has been summed up through our own family mantra: “Embrace life.” To us, this means that we live differently now, but we also celebrate with a wisdom and clarity we did not have before Sarah died. We’ve had more children; we’ve moved to undertake new pursuits; we dedicated ourselves to causes (organ donation and grief support). We’ve decided to live in ways that embrace love and compassion, which has been borne from an understanding that while suffering exists, joy is still possible. For all of this, we are able to live an authentic life, a life that is better than we imagined it could ever be after our loss.

Peace and blessings,


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