This time there doesn’t seem to be as much soul-searching by my teenage daughter to understand why bad things happen; not as there was when, at age ten, her best friend was killed in a tragic accident. Now, after the death of her beloved but aging grandmother, she suffers from an abundance of guilt (for not spending more time with her) and struggles with biting her tongue when well-intended people speak of a theology which doesn’t match hers. Meanwhile, my eight-year-old son struggles with his own sense of mortality and—even worse, perhaps—mine. He is aware that his father was present when his mother took her last breath, which, unfortunately, is an all-too-acute reminder that his own mother will one day face death as well.
Parenting in times of intense grief is never easy, especially when we are in the midst of experiencing our own feelings of regret, anger, and sorrow. As Unitarian Universalist parents, many of us yearn for comforting words to say to our children because it tears us up inside to see them suffering. However, sometimes there are no words which can bring comfort from the grief. In times like these, our loving presence and support can offer them what they need. We can reassure them that we will be there for them when they need to talk, to vent, or even rant a bit.
As for dealing with the well-meaning words offered by others, I can help Shannon to recognize that while their words may not offer comfort through the ideas they express, it can be possible to find some support in why they are being expressed. I learned this important lesson from a very good friend of mine, also a Unitarian Universalist parent. After her daughter’s death, she heard many comments about angels and being with God, yet instead of feeling resentment over these words, she chose to “translate” these words into something which did offer her support.
Recognizing that people expressing such thoughts are well intentioned can help us embrace their concern for us, even when they share words that don’t fit our own personal theology. The reality is that most people really don’t know what to say, even as they struggle with the need to show they care. Embracing this care and concern expressed by well-meaning people can offer us some solace, even if their words do not.
I don’t pretend to know what happens after we die, and perhaps I will never know the answers the Great Mystery holds. However, I do know that if my in-laws are reunited together in some ethereal place like heaven, rejoined with some sort of greater cosmic consciousness, or are souls waiting to be reborn into a new existence, they’re probably arguing with each other over how long the green beans should be cooked in the pressure cooker. Unless, of course, they’re able to find themselves as part of a foursome playing Pinochle in the Great Beyond, and then I hope they have the winning hand.
Resources: “Talking about Death,” by Betsy Hill Williams (Connections, Church of the Larger Fellowship)
Photograph above ©Tweetyclaw/iStockphoto
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).