For this new feature on Your Turn To Care we welcome Michele Neff Hernandez as a new columnist who will provide insights into the process of healing after losing a loved one. As she states in her first article below, "There is no fix for grief. You can't cure the pain of loss with a particular formula or program. Your grief journey will take as long as it takes." Your Turn To Care and Ms. Neff Hernandez will endeavor to provide the support, stories and resources that will assist you on your personal journey towards healing.
When my phone rang with the request, I was forty miles, and one Friday night traffic packed freeway, away from the person on the other end of the call. "Can you come to the house now?" a quiet voice asked. Hospice was on-site, and the whole family was struggling. The time to say goodbye to the woman whose love tied an eclectic band of people together was fast approaching. I found myself being called in to help manage the transition from life to death, and I felt inadequate.
My heart pounded as I drove towards the house where so many of my childhood memories are stored. I pictured the front gate that I used to swing on as a child, and imagined the delicious smell of fresh tortillas being warmed over the stove. Whispered conversations with my siblings danced in my head, as my mind replayed the times we would tunnel through the back garden trying to get a glimpse of the "cool guy" that lived in the back house. Each vision of the past was contrasted with the reality of the present; she was dying.
Passing through the swinging gate, I entered the house and immediately felt the tension that drifted in and out of every room. The story of the struggle between life and death was told by the sofas that were littered with tissues, the black plastic trays filled with sandwiches and veggies lining the counters in the kitchen, and the sleeping bags that covered the floors in the back of the house. And then there was the waiting. The knowledge that death was coming was tangible, like an additional person in the room. The tick of the antique cuckoo clock provided an unwanted countdown as the minutes slipped into hours. And still we waited.
Her husband sat beside the bed stroking her hand and fretting about whether her eye drops were administered correctly. The sound of shallow breathing was the rhythm by which the whole house thrummed. Any break in the pattern caused an intake of our collective breath. As the rise and fall of that fragile chest would begin anew, death was pushed back for another moment.
That evening I washed dishes, served dinner, cleaned up the tissues, gave hugs, straightened the sleeping bags, and accompanied the funeral planners to the funeral home office. At every moment I was aware of the unwanted guest in the living room, death was waiting. Grief was coming. I felt helpless. I was expected to know what to do, how to help, what to say to my grieving family members. In fact, that is why I was called, because I am well acquainted with death and grief. But when the woman I knew as the family matriarch was dying, and my own mother's heart was breaking before my eyes, the only thing that I knew was that I couldn't cure the pain I was witnessing. The best I could do was stand willing in the ache of loss with the people I love, come what may.
Aunt Martha slipped away in the night while most of the house slept. Death crept out with her last breath, and grief stepped into the lives of everyone who loved her. With the passing of this amazing woman, a new phase of life began for that eclectic band of people she held together with her kindness, her quick humor, and her genuine concern for each of us. We had to learn how to live without her.
Every one of us will one day have to rebuild our lives after the death of someone we love. Here in this Your Turn To Care column, I will explore the sometimes taboo topic of grief recovery. We will talk about what to say to someone who has just experienced the death of a loved one, and provide some practical ideas for how you can help anyone who is grieving. We will talk specifically about the death of a spouse, and the unique challenges faced by the husbands, wives, and partners left behind. My writing will be honest and personal, and I won't pretend that grieving is easy. But I will provide you with proof that surviving the pain of grief is possible, because sometimes you may feel that you can't. Next time I will tell my own story, and share with you some of the lessons grief has taught me.
Learning to live without a person you love so much is likely to be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. There is no fix for grief. You can't cure the pain of loss with a particular formula or program. Your grief journey will take as long as it takes. Be gentle with yourself as you mourn this loss, and know that love never dies.
Michele Neff Hernandez is the founding President, and Executive Director of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. Soaring Spirits is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources and peer support to people grieving the loss of a loved one, with a special focus on those who are widowed. Michele inspires people as a motivational speaker and freelance writer. She also works as a member of the Bereavement Training Team for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and is a regular contributor to various websites, blogs, magazines, and collaborative book projects. Michele has contributed to over 30 different websites, blogs, and publications for single project work. Ms. Neff Hernandez is a resident of Simi Valley, California where she lives and laughs with her three amazing children, and is newly married to an amazing Aussie who supports and encourages her work with the widowed community. An avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, she actively encourages others to embrace the life they are given.