Saturday night (22 June 2013) at 11 p.m, two friends of mine were hit by a reckless drunk driver who was going the wrong way on the motorway without his headlights on. They say he may have been going 90 miles an hour. My friends died on impact, but the reckless driver walked away without a scratch. Nothing prepares you for that kind of news, a bowling ball slammed into your gut.
We are close to the girl's family, and I worked with the guy for five years. Not only were they very much in love with one another, they were incredibly talented people in their 20s with so much life in them. They loved and served others, and were well loved in return.
And now my family, and many of my friends, have begun the long and twisting journey of grieving. As my 10-year-old daughter locked herself in her room and cried under her duvet for an hour the following week, I thought about this mystical beast called grief. We all do it differently, and many of us (in the western world) do not do it well. We like to stuff, we like to run, we like to comfort ourselves with food or sports or alcohol (and the list goes on), but we don't like to grieve.
Because of my work with vulnerable adults I have several friends who are professional counselors, but I have worked with a particular friend closely for the past few years. I have to say that this was one of the first times where I texted her and said, 'I need help. I need grief counselling.' She sat with me for several hours last week and let me talk and cry (and will continue to meet with me as needed). She told me to let the tears flow when they wanted to and not be frustrated when they weren't there. She didn't give trite answers, which I really appreciated in a time with so many questions. She also told me that everyone grieved differently, not to judge how others did it, but to be personally honest with every emotion that came up.
Another friend posted this quote on tears which meant a lot to me:
'There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief . . . of unspeakable love.'
- Washington Irving
I want to grieve 'well' - whatever that means. The funerals are still another week away (because of all the police investigations of the reckless driver), and with them will come another wave of mourning. It's not enjoyable on this road, and this experience will either strengthen me, or I will become bitter. I don't want to become bitter or disappointed or fearful, I know that only harms me in the long run.
Below is an intense quote about grief that brings me a measure of hope from Jerry Sittser. He lost his mother, wife and daughter in a tragic car accident very similar to Stephen and Mandy.
'Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. There is no going back to the past... It is not therefore true that we become less through loss - unless we allow the loss to make us less, grinding our soul down until there is nothing left. LOSS CAN ALSO MAKE US MORE. I did not get over my loved ones; rather I absorbed the loss into my life until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul AND ENLARGED IT... One learns the pain of others by suffering one's own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one's own soul... However painful, sorrow is good for the soul... The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.'
A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, pp. 39,44,61.
On last quote is from the first book from my shelf that I grabbed after the tragedy. It's not a 'how to' on grief - because there is no formula. It's C.S. Lewis' 'A Grief Observed' and it's his raw journey of grief after the death of his wife. I like how he explains something that is challenging to describe:
'I thought I could describe a state; make it a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don't stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there's no reason why I should stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where at any bend may reveal a totally new landscape . . . .'
So here's to my beautiful friends Stephen Donnelly and Mandy Gold - you loved many people well and we will miss you. I will miss you and you have marked my life.
Subscribe and get future blog posts emailed to you directly.