Birth, Missionary, and Grief
About ten years ago, I entered the hospital room of one of my good friends. She lay in the bed, beautiful, radiant. Her new son lay on her chest, and he felt his mother’s love, outside of the womb, for the first time. The energy in the room and the bond between my friend and her beautiful baby brought me joy.
Shortly after I entered the room, one of my friend’s fellow church members visited the new mother and her son. She introduced herself, and we exchanged pleasantries. The new mother then explained that the visitor just returned from a missionary trip to South Africa. The visitor told us about her experience, but she complained about one of the South African missionaries she worked alongside. “The only issue I had was with one of my fellow missionaries who wanted to take a month off to grieve the death of a relative. He should only take three days to grieve.”
I was shocked by her statement. Who was she to dictate how her fellow missionary should grieve? After she finished ranting, I congratulated my friend, and I left.
Grief and the Loss of my Father
Since I lost my father in 2018 and since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I often think about my hospital room interaction. Like the person I met in the hospital room, people will try to dictate how others should grieve. HR departments even dictate how many grief days workers can take. However, grief, for me, is personal. I reject the American cultural practice of “stay strong, get over it, and get back to work.” I chose to feel and grieve my father’s death, and I choose to grieve all who’ve died from COVID-19.
When my dad died, I grieved on my terms and took authority over my grief process. Weirdly, the hospital experience with the missionary prepared me for this. No one is going to tell me how I should grieve. I cried, wept, and cried some more for months after my dad died. I still weep sometimes. This outward expression of my inward feelings reminds me of how love and grief are connected. My grief therapist helped me make this connection.
My grief also gave me a fresh perspective on my purpose and existence. I began to live with new vigor because, for the first time, I understood the fragility of life. My dad went into the hospital for a routine procedure, and he did not survive. Before my family knew he was dying, my dad lay in the hospital bed and told the family about his imminent death. His preparation did not prevent my family or me from grieving his loss.
My grief propelled me to do the best I can, doing whatever I can, with the time I have. Before my dad died, he encouraged me to share my writings. Two months after he died, I published my first book. My grief and love for him empowered me to write and share. Since then, I’ve committed to writing. I’ve even published another book and contributed to an anthology. I don’t know if I would have committed to writing if I had not honored my dad and grieved.
Grief and COVID-19
I am currently grieving the thousands of lives lost because of COVID-19. I look at the death numbers, today over 460,000 Americans have died, and I think about the people and the stories that exist beyond the statistics. My next-door neighbor, my only neighbor, a grandmother, musician, and voice teacher, died during this era of COVID-19. Every time I look at her house, I get emotional and grieve. Her virtual funeral took place two weeks after her death because of COVID-19’s impact on the funeral home. I think about my mom’s neighbor, a hard worker, husband, father, and a person who looked after my mother when my father died, who died of COVID-19. My heart breaks, and I grieve.
As I navigate my COVID-19 grief, I also navigate the loss of routine grief practices that are important to me. COVID-19 changed homegoing celebrations, repass options, and even the opportunity to hug loved ones who need touch. These common expressions of collective grief aren’t routine anymore, and many people are grieving in isolation, even me.
Coping with Grief
To help cope with loss and grief, I have to remind myself that:
- Grief is Natural. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but this emotion is a natural response to loss. To better understand grief, check out the stages of grief.
- Grief Leads to Breakthroughs. I’ve learned, especially after my dad died, to make the dash between my birthday and death day matter. Grief, for me, births greater purpose and gives me greater resilience to make that dash matter.
- Empathy Matters. I can’t physically touch every family who has lost a loved one to COVID-19, but I can empathize with their loss. Physical distance doesn’t mean I have to be emotionally distant.
- Help is Available. I found an excellent therapist who helped me navigate my grief when my dad died. Reaching out and seeking help is not a sign of weakness but of strength and courage.
- Prayer is Powerful. I pray breath prayers to help me cope with grief. These prayers center me, strengthen me, and give me peace.
- Gratitude Determines Altitude. Zig Ziglar once said, “It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” I’ve replaced “attitude” with “gratitude” because I’ve found that practicing gratitude lifts me. Before I get out of bed, I meditate on gratitude. I think about things I am grateful for, and this helps me stay positive throughout the day. This practice helps me with grief.
Grieve on your own terms!