This past weekend, I celebrated my 40th birthday and my seminary graduation with friends and family. It was actually a “split the difference” party as my birthday was almost 2 weeks ago and my seminary graduation is in a few weeks. I technically graduated in December but they only do the graduation ceremony once a year.
My brother and I spoke throughout the week and he mentioned to me that this would probably be a hard week for me. It was just 2 years ago that we spent our last Mother’s Day with my mom. A few short months later, she succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Just a few weeks ago, we lost my dad. He never fully recovered the heartbreak that he had experienced that was capped off with losing my mom. My brother figured that it would be a hard weekend for me since he knew it would be a hard weekend for him.
The thing about grief is that it’s not the same for everyone. Just because I grieve a certain way is no guarantee that someone else will grieve the same way. There are so many different factors that play into a person’s grief. Stage of life. Support system. Job status. Emotional status. Spiritual well-being. And on and on I could go. To be honest, one of the biggest factors throughout this whole process has been my family, especially my wife and children.
I’ve not really held much back from my kids. In the months leading up to my mother’s and father’s deaths, we didn’t reveal everything to my kids, but we certainly didn’t candycoat the situation either. They knew what was going on and I wasn’t about to try to hide my own emotions regarding all that I was feeling. I haven’t felt that I have had to perform or “be the strong one” for anyone. I’ve been free to be who I need to be in the midst of all of this grief and my family has done nothing but support me.
So, this weekend, as much as there were big things for me to think about, it just didn’t seem to be as big my brother seemed to think they might be, at least for me. I wasn’t panicking, I wasn’t overthinking things, I was simply going into all of the events with a realism that understood that there were missing pieces for the weekend.
It’s always interesting to me to come face to face with the things that set off my grief. It’s more surprising than interesting, I guess. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday. As I was talking to friends during my party, I looked over to see my aunt, my mother’s sister, snapping pictures. Her and my mom looked more alike than their other brothers and sisters. So, in that split second, I felt a dull ache in my insides. I realized that those missing pieces were staring me in the face. It was times like this that I was supposed to take advantage of once my parents moved closer to me and my family. In that moment, I simply hung my head as I thought about those missing pieces.
When one finds that there are pieces missing, there are a few approaches. You can look for the pieces in hopes of finding them. You can find replacement pieces, assuming that they’re out there to be had. Or you can simply live with the holes that remain in the absence of those pieces. Frankly, I don’t think that the first two can really work when you lose someone. I can look for my parents, but I won’t literally find them. But I can find them in the memories that I have of them, in the pictures around my house and in books, in the lives of all of those people who were touched by their lives, and in the faces of my children who represent the legacy that they have passed on through me.
Replacement pieces just seems a potentially dangerous road. No one will ever take the place of my parents. I can find other friends and build new relationships, but those relationships will never measure up to what I had with my parents, and that’s okay. To try to find that or ask anyone else to measure up isn’t fair for them or me. No one will ever measure up and if our expectation is that they will, we’re fooling ourselves.
Sometimes, we simply live with those holes. When we look at them, they serve as a constant reminder that there used to be something there. It’s not there, but when we see the surrounding pieces, we have a pretty good idea what those pieces looked like. We can grieve the loss of those pieces, but refusing to move on past their loss isn’t a healthy thing.
There will be more times when I will feel the missing pieces in my life. It’s inevitable. I choose to envision them filling in the space that they once filled. I choose to remember them, not replace them. I choose to picture them through my memories, through my kids, and through any other way that seems to conjure them up in my mind. They are gone, but I will see them again. Missing pieces can always be found, it might just take is a little longer to find them, and when I do, everything might just look very different.