Friday, September 16, 2011

There and back again

It has been almost 2-1/2 months since my father passed away, and about 2-1/2 weeks since my husband and I returned from a month-long visit to Germany, where we visited my father's side of the family. We survived jet lag twiceand my back, suffering from a herniated disc, is on the mend, too. I guess you could say it's time for us to reestablish our regular routines, but we're not sure yet what normal means.

My father suffered from lung cancer that spread to his brain, and eventually to his bones. No one who has not had this disease can say he or she knows what this feels like, but just the same, my husband and I walked the journey with my father from the time he became unable to care for himself at home and had to move into assisted living, to the time he lost the ability to walk, sit, and speak to his loved ones. It took 18 months for him to gradually lose his independence and to learn how to accept helpand it took us just as long to learn how to provide that assistance appropriately. It was a journey for all of us, filled with many lessons. We learned about hope, trust and acceptance, and we are still learning.

In the mail today arrived a bereavement counseling newsletter with a new lesson. The newsletter discussed the importance of being able to differentiate between grief and mourning, and the necessity to mourn a loved one's loss in order to heal. Grief is defined, the mailing pointed out (according to Dr. Alan Wolfelt in his book, Healing Your Grieving Body: 100 Physical Practices for Mourners), as "a constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone loved dies. Grief is the weight in the chest, the churning in the gut, the unspeakable thoughts and feelings." John and I felt grief before my father died, to be honest. Before my father's last day ever arrived, we felt we were losing pieces of him until in the end, our roles were reversed; he was like an innocent child who didn't understand why things were so difficult, and we were like his parents, trying to provide comfort.

John and my father enjoy a quiet moment.

Dr. Wolfelt describes mourning, on the other hand, as "the outward expression of grief. Mourning is crying, journaling, creating artwork, talking to others about the death, telling the story, speaking the unspeakable." In other words, in order to heal, we must also mourn.

Our trip to Germany was a necessary part of our healing journey. Thirty-two years ago, when John and I first got married, we promised each other we would one day visit my father's side of the family. I had been to Germany before, both as a young child and as a teenager, but this was going to be the trip that created adult memories for both of us. And so it was. We visited with relatives who knew my father when he grew up during World War II Germany, and with others who met my father decades later, after he became a naturalized American citizen. All of us reminisced about old memories and shared new stories with each other. We shed tears, but we laughed as well, traveling "there and back again" as we helped each other to mourn, and thus to heal.

In my next post, I'll share with you some stories about the man who was my father . . . and in the future, after I go through the thousands of photos I took overseas, I'll share with you our trip to Germany. Come back soon!

Dad treats Judy and John to a harbor cruise on their 25th anniversary


Pam said...

Thank you, Judy, for sharing, And for being the caring daughter you are.

ZudaGay said...

I enjoyed your post, Judy. I guess I hadn't thought about the difference between grief and mourning. Even though it has been a few years I mourn my parents on occasion. I think that missing stays but thankfully the grief passes. I am so happy that you had that chance to visit family in Germany and mourn together and create new memories.

Jill said...

I hadn't thought about the difference between grief and mourning either. Thank you for posting this.