(Prior to his death, James Jones provided wise counsel for many years in the Tennessee/North Georgia area)
This chapter has been a painful, but helpful one for me to write. Although I have written it while grieving, writing it has been an effective way for me to grieve. My mother died on October 26, 1980, and the same week I started lecturing on grief and writing this chapter. Since then I have given a number of lectures on grief and today, December 31, 1980, I am finishing the first draft of this chapter. Two years before, on this day, I buried my father.
I feel like I have completed my grief over the loss of a brother who was killed in an automobile accident January 15, 1965. I am just about finished with grieving over my father’s death and am well into processing my grief over mother’s death. The grief experience for me is one experience with which I can say with Solomon, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”21 I have resisted sharing the various degrees to which people have been helpful or have hindered my grief process. After much struggle, I share what would be considered negative responses, not to offend anyone, but hopefully to be helpful. What I share not only has come from me, but others with whom I have worked in therapy have shared the same.
Individuals who have helped me the least and sometimes have hurt me through their responses have been persons who:
- Have said they were sorry and were sympathizing with me, but their tone of voice, facial expressions, posture and gestures indicated to me that they were just saying words; that really hurt.
- Were afraid, at least the way they looked and acted, to say anything about my brother, father or mother to me after a few days. Of course, they did not understand what I really needed was to talk about him/her with them.
- Were uncomfortable with my tears and did not want me to cry.
- Looked as though they thought something was wrong with me when I cried or was sad at church weeks after the funeral.
- Hugged too tightly or did not hug me at all.
- Tried to comfort me through being too talkative and not just standing or sitting beside me and listening to whatever I wanted to say.
- Tried to reassure and comfort me through quoting Scripture, telling me how fortunate I was, how grateful I ought to be or reminding me of how God takes care of his own and does not make mistakes.
Sometimes this was done through prayers.
- Warned me in a subtle way to neither question God nor let this death cause me to lose my faith.
- Stated that I should turn to God for all my comfort, never realizing that God comforts the downcast through other Christians.
Individuals who have helped me the most were persons who neither crowded me with their words nor their touch. They seemed to listen to whatever I wanted to say and looked as though they accepted me regardless of whether I laughed or cried. These people often asked about my deceased one, and seemed to have time for me and not be in hurry when my loss was mentioned. They did not tell me to believe but listened as I shared my faith through pain, and waited for me to read the Bible largely from my memory instead of reading it to me without even asking. God has helped me through individuals and His word. I have gotten much comfort through the Scriptures but they have been passages which have emerged in me through the shock of learning that my loved one was dead, my painful loneliness, refreshing tears and loving anger. These passages were comforting because they were where I was and what I needed at that time.
Death certainly has its sting and grief is lonely, painful and time consuming. On the other hand, it can be an ideal teaching-learning experience. Although it has been, and still is at times, very painful and difficult to keep going, I have learned some things about life, relationships and myself that I will always treasure. In one sense, I have lost in three deaths; in another sense, I think I have gained far more than I have lost.
In their deaths, I lost their physical presence, but retained their legacies; therefore, life has become richer, more meaningful and purposeful to me.