Clair Sarsozo - Navigating grief
Each of us is born with a timer — a limit to the number of times our hearts will beat. But the concept of death seems contrary to the habit of following our naturally progressive hopes and dreams for the future. This habit tends to render us incapable of anticipating the eventual final breath of loved ones.
Each individual’s grief is unique to the circumstances of a person’s death, commensurate with the relationship held. As survivors, we join the departed on a new journey — ours is known as grief and mourning.
My personal journey through grief has required me to reconcile my hopes for my family and community with the gaping void left when they die. For me, the balance can be accomplished only by facing my despair, resolving my vulnerability and attempting to demonstrate one way of navigating this journey.
Loss of my parents
I was 12 in when my father died, in 1976. Triggered by shock, denial kept me from comprehending the reality of his death. I imagined he was off on an exciting adventure to an unknown place, and that one day I would see him again. My brain simply was unable to fully understand what had happened.
Our relationship had a solid bond, but our broken family prevented our spending regular time together. His death, and the absence of his emotional support and guidance, triggered painful emotions including anger, fear, resentment, emptiness, abandonment — normal feelings in even the most supportive environments.
Before my mother died of cancer five years later, I found myself bargaining with God, offering to trade places. After her death, I called upon God to bring her to my dreams, where I hoped to experience maternal guidance. She visited my dreams for 17 years before “crossing the bridge.” At that point, I realized my own autonomy. With therapy and self-enlightenment, I have learned to care for myself in the ways I longed for from my deceased mother.
My son’s violent death
When my son was murdered in 2011, knowing what he endured from the unfathomable will of another human being was unbearable. But chemical releases within my brain kept me numb and protected me from the full emotional impact of this horrific reality. It’s as though God allows me to feel only as much of his traumatic death as I am able to bear. Imagining he was ushered into heaven by my parents and a host of ancestors has helped me cope.
Also, holding the feet of the judicial system to the fire provided a necessary distraction from facing my raw emotions. Of course, I still feel shock, guilt, pain, bargaining, blame, denial, anger, depression, distrust and emptiness. New events and my memories seem to trigger these intense feelings, which are normal and appropriate. The deep impact of my son’s murder initiated a tsunami of ripple effects.
Connections with family and community can be comforting as well as painful. Some people in my life offer every ounce of support they can muster; others don’t know what to do or say; others are bullies impatient with my process. My heartfelt appreciation goes to everyone and anyone who has been, who is and who will be present throughout this journey.
No comparisons can be drawn among the circumstances of these deaths in my life. But at least with my father and mother, I was able to be present with them before their passing. Not so with my son.
Each death evokes a spiritual connection that transcends this human experience, which is the source of my strength to endure this journey.
If you are grieving, the feelings you experience are normal and appropriate. I encourage you to learn from others experiencing something similar. I attend a free grief support group hosted by Legacy Hospice from 3 to 4:30 p.m. each Monday at the McMinnville Senior Center, 2250 N.E. McDaniel Lane.
If you know someone who is grieving, I encourage you to educate yourself. You can learn appropriate ways to support and nurture them through their mourning with gentle kindness and compassion. It’s your chance to demonstrate how you want to be treated when it’s your turn to grieve.
Guest writer Clair Sarsozo moved to McMinnville seeking a safe haven among her family after the murder of her son. She is a self-taught bookbinder and recently self-published her first children’s book, inspired by her three grandchildren. She believes a positive attitude and enthusiastic outlook help with life’s transitions.