Commentary: Living With Grief Is a Long, Learning Process

By Linda Hart Green

I exhale with relief when the date of March 6 passes. I have done so every year for the past 35 years, which is half of my life. My father died on March 6, 1989, at the age of 66, during a heart catheterization procedure that was trying to save his life. He had many “silent” heart attacks and had only 28% remaining heart function. He was finding it difficult, if not impossible to live within the restrictions of his condition. He knew better than the doctors about what to do for himself, which included vigorous walking outdoors and continuing to work. The last time I saw him, we argued about that.

I was not present while this test was taking place, even though I lived only an hour and a half away. Neither was my brother, who was in D.C., working, studying, and raising his family.

I was pastoring a small church and writing some exams related to work for a Doctor of Ministry degree. My brother was working on a degree in contract law for the USAF.

True to my parents’ style, they did not want to “bother” us and take us away from our respective duties.

If you grieve the loss of someone dear to you after many years, you are not alone. Grief is a long and complex process that has its own timetable. If I have learned anything from my years of pastoral ministry and from my personal experience, it is that. Dates, places and memories will continue to take up room in your head and your heart. This keeps your loved one alive. If you are going through a year of “firsts” after a loss, my heart goes out to you. These times will always be a bump in the road, but you will be able to recover from them more easily as the years pass and look back with warmth and fondness.

What you learn over time is to keep living while you grieve. That’s why I included this simple graphic with my remarks. I think it helps to understand that grieving is not just something to “get over.”

We are not good at grieving in our society today. It has not always been this way. On a recent walking tour of the beautiful and historic Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, I learned about how generations of families honored their loved ones with plots, plants, statues and monuments in the 19th century. The worst thing a person could imagine was to be forgotten. Families took picnics to their family plot to visit and tell stories and tend the area. There were many beautiful figures of women or angels tending to the mourning over loved ones while their families were away.

You may know of this cemetery from the 1994 book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” by John Berendt. So many people flooded the cemetery to visit the sites mentioned in the book, the statue on the cover had to be moved to a museum. People brought shakers of martinis to drink on the bench by John Mercer’s grave. Families were not happy. This was not a place for spectacle. It was a place for honor and remembrance.

Places like Bonaventure and our own Bosque Bello cemetery are exceptions to the norm of no longer visiting cemeteries. Many people visit both to walk their tree-lined lanes and learn about the legacies of those gone before. We are richly steeped in history.

Now that spring blossoms with its potential for new life, why is she talking about grief? I talk about it because grief is a season of life as surely as spring follows winter. If grief hasn’t personally touched your life, there are many things to grieve over in our world today.

Our death-denying, live-fast-now culture doesn’t make room for grief. It’s possible to be caught by surprise, to be swept up in a tsunami of emotion that can be frightening. One can feel isolated and alone. You are not alone and there are many who would gladly walk beside you.

You might want to check out the books and podcast of Dr. Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, who was diagnosed with stage IV cancer at the age of 35. Her words are practical, often funny and ring true.

We are fortunate to have compassionate, expert grief counseling right here on the island. Rev. Jim Tippins, long-time chaplain at Baptist-Nassau, offers them at Changing Tides Bereavement Resources located in the Council on Aging building.

When my father died, I started to learn a lesson that I have had to repeat again and again: caregivers need to be cared for too.



Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

Very wise. Thank you. There are many cultures that accept dying much better than ours does. Many of them see a strong connection between the living and their ancestors. As we have become more secular (not a bad thing), we must find new ways to connect our memories of loved ones who have passed with ourselves. Talking about grief, sharing our feelings and thoughts, and sharing memories are a good start.

Active Member
1 month ago

We must learn not to live without them but to live with the love they left behind; and memories help create a deeper perspective of the relationship