Thinking Out Loud: Lingering loss

John T. Catrett III
ONHL Hospice Chaplain

The older we get the more friends and family members we lose through death. Within a period of three months, I lost three loved ones. Two of them died three days apart. Although I knew the end was imminent as I processed each situation, my knowledge and anticipation did not soothe me - it only served to bring me closer to the inevitability of my own mortality.

Some say that God will never burden us with more that we can endure, and I personally believe that, but at the time of the event it is difficult to bear.  I braced myself for the predictability and shock of my pain and sought to manage its effects. There has been no single road that has brought me solace other than the closeness of God’s presence in my life.  Each day God delivers peace and purpose behind each tragic death.

I'm supposed to know this stuff.  As a hospice chaplain, I teach people how to grieve healthily; however, it's different when you are the patient rather than the teacher.  You become as everyone else, relying on your instincts, courage, hope and faith to guide you through the darkness.  What good is it to recite Elizabeth Kubler Ross' stages of grief when you are the griever?  Talking about loss is not the same as experiencing it.  Any amens out there?     

Each of us, in our own way, is frail and vulnerable, and we hurt uniquely.  As psychotherapist Sheldon B. Kopp writes, "No one is any weaker or stronger than anyone else."  Each of us has a story, some of it wondrous and much of it challenging.  Our narrative is about learning, living and loving.  Our losses teach us about the meaning and value of life - to cherish every single moment.  Grieving our losses gives us an opportunity to take stock and review our life direction.  We hopefully assess what really counts and focus our attention on that which lasts - the content of our character and the quality of our most precious relationships.  That is all we have.

Unfortunately, as we age, our losses mount. We grieve the loss of youth, physical prowess, time, missed opportunities, and fading friendships. Each must grieve in his own way. I have learned that there is no such thing as closure - some wounds never heal. I just learn to deal with each loss a little healthier every day.  

I have shared with others that we don't need to stay stuck in our pain.  All of us can find ways to manage our grief so that even if it lingers, it doesn't overwhelm us.  Like others, I must remember to:

• Seek the emotional support of friends and family. 

• Acknowledge and embrace my pain rather than minimize its significance. 

• Refocus attention on activities that bring pleasure and meaning to life.

• Learn to self-nurture. Treat myself the way I would a precious friend. 

• Keep the positive memories of loved ones alive. 

• Try not to fight my way out of depression. It will lift. 

• Live in the present and re-evaluate life priorities. 

• Rely on faith to provide me with hope. 

• Realize that being vulnerable makes me more human and that is a connecting asset. 

• Learn to leave the self-pity behind.  Accept the fact that life isn’t always fair.  In some cases there are no sufficient reasons why certain things have happened.

As a grieving individual, I have a better understanding of what it takes to wind oneself down a path of profound loss - no words are adequate to describe the experience.  Two important qualities I learned from this experience:  First, I do believe that what I have encountered will make me stronger, and secondly,  I believe that my experiences with lingering loss will make my vision clearer as I look through the eyes of those who have suffered and continue to seek my help.  May these insights from my personal losses through death be a blessing to you!

John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or john.catrett3@gmail.com.