Grief: It softens but lingers. . . . do we ever get over it?

My summer exercise program consists of running 2 1/2 miles on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and bike riding 5-6 miles, depending on the route on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  I’ve told the readers of this column before that my usual Saturday morning ride brings me from my house on the south side of of our little community to the north side where I cruise through our large city cemetery and turn for home.

I’m at the cemetery at about 8 am each Saturday and it is usually very quiet. . . it is a time before visitors or even the Wilbert Vault guys are there setting up for the day.

Last Saturday, July 9, was different. . . . I saw a car parked on the Northwest corner of the cemetery — an area that I would soon be riding by.  As I rode by I recognized the lady — maybe in her late 70s or early 80s — sitting alone behind the steering wheel.  Let’s just call her Mrs. Jones.

I waved and yelled “Hello” using her first name.  With my helmet on. . and certainly not intending to see me, I’m guessing she had no idea who was peddling by.  But I knew her and had a pretty good inkling why she was in the cemetery.

I not only helped her when her husband died a few years ago, but my mind immediately went back to the death of her daughter.  You see, her daughter was a 22-year old college student assaulted and murdered by a parolee. . .who had only been out of prison for five days when he committed the crime.

At that time, I helped her and her husband with all of the funeral arrangements.  It was a big deal in Minnesota. . . I remember the Governor coming to the funeral and the Attorney General coming early to the visitation so he could visit with the family.

Her car on Saturday, with her sitting inside, was parked near that daughter’s grave.

When I got home from my bike ride on Saturday I Googled the history thinking that July 9 might be the daughter’s birthday. . .what I found was it was not a birthday but that the assault and murder took place on this day – July 9 – back in 1991.  There is no doubt in my mind that Mrs. Jones was at the cemetery reliving her continued grief from the loss of her daughter.

When I discovered this situation, I felt terrible for not stopping on my bike ride.  You see, I’ve learned . . . as funeral directors we hold a special place with many families.  Grief is a shared experience and funeral directors often times are present during some of the most grief stricken periods of peoples’ lives. . . . . they let us in to their lives during these times and we become somebody that they can trust and share those feelings of grief and loss.  It was from a different point of view than Mrs. Jones, but as a professional funeral director I walked those first few days  of intense grief with the family back in 1991.

I could have got off my bike, given her a hug, and asked how she was doing.  If I had done that, I’m pretty sure that we both would have had memories and recollections of those painful days of 1991 and it might have been good for both of us.

I tell you this story not to whip myself for missing an opportunity that I believe my God put in front of me.  But I tell you because of the good you can do by not missing these opportunities. . . and like me they may come years after you are retired. . . but still be seen by those who you have walked the walk beside as someone they can trust and be consoled by.

Funeral Director Daily take:  Saturday’s episode made me think about grief and our journey with it after the death of a loved one.  I’ve had

With my younger brother, Jim, in 1966. Jim died in 1993.

my share of close familial loss — my father when I was a teenager, my younger brother at age 31, and my mother late in life.  Each death was different and each led to its own grief journey.

I’ve came to the conclusion that grief will diminish but linger, and we will never lose the emotion.  Nor should we want to lose the emotion as its thoughts can put us back to moments in our memories that we will never be able to return to in mortal flesh.  Moments that are special and bring back good feelings can be an outcome of your grief and remembrance.

There are days when I miss my father, mother, and brother.  But the old saying says, “It is better to loved and lost, than never had loved at all”.  I miss them because I loved them.   However, I’m glad that we had the times together that we did.

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