By Harriet Hodgson
After three family members died in a row, I thought I knew a lot about multiple losses. I never suspected, even for a second, that life had more to teach me. Last week my former son-in-law, the father of my twin grandchildren, died in a car crash. I can hardly believe he died the same way my daughter died.
When I heard about the fourth death in the family my mind zapped back to the first stage of grief -- shock and disbelief. I was overcome with grief and sobbed for my daughter, father-in-law, brother, former son-in-law, my grandkids, and myself. Then I stopped sobbing. In fact, my mind raced forward to the final stage of grief -- acceptance.
Judith R. Bernstein, PhD writes about the stages of grief in her book, "When the Bough Breaks." Many researchers believe the stages of grief that Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified, she notes, but "all agree that these stages are completely flexible and there is no such thing as orderly progression."
I understand her point; indeed, I lived it.
To go from disbelief to acceptance in two days was amazing. How did I do this? I may never fully understand the process, but I think it happened because I have studied grief, I have the experience that comes with age, and I have good coping skills. One coping skill is sticking to a routine as much as possible.
I am trying to get my grandkids to stick to their routines. We had planned to have Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family, and the kids wanted to do this. Twenty-three family members gathered around various tables, and I saw them "close ranks" to help the kids. But the kids wonder, friends wonder, and we wonder why both of their parents died.
As I have done before, I turned to Rabbi Harold Kushner's book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Nobody knows why four family members died in nine months, but if you believe Rabbi Kushner, bad things happen randomly. "They do not happen for any good reason which would cause us to accept them willingly," he writes, "but we can give them a meaning."
I am giving new meaning to life by caring for my grandkids. This care includes cooking healthy meals, doing laundry, acting as a shopping and taxi service, attending concerts and sports events, and simply just listening. When my grandkids share their thoughts with me, I listen as though their lives depend on each word.
I am giving new meaning to life by writing about my losses. During the last week, I discovered something important about myself. One of the reasons writers do what they do is to gain understanding. I thought I was writing about multiple losses to recover. Now I realize I am writing about multiple losses to survive.
If you have suffered multiple losses, I hope you seek ways to give new meaning to your life. You may find meaning in caring for children, grandkids, or a remaining parent. Volunteering for or donating to a religious community or a health organization may also give your life new meaning. I have been humbled by the kindness of family, friends, and strangers. Their kindness has brought new meaning to my life.
This moment in time -- my grandkids' high school and college years -- will define my life. I will care for my grandkids until I take my last breath. Despite the pain of multiple losses, I feel blessed. Multiple losses have taught me that every moment is precious, and I will not waste a single one.
©2007 by Harriet Hodgson
Harriet Hodgson has been a nonfiction writer for 29 years and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC). To learn more about her work go to http://www.harriethodgson.com. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from http://www.amazon.com.