By Jim Tune
It was a gray, cold, miserable February day when my father died rather suddenly after a few days of hospitalization for respiratory problems. This month marks five years since his death on February 5, 2011. I miss him and still grieve his loss. It’s a different kind of grief now—not so raw or hard-edged. I miss him on holidays when we celebrated family traditions and rituals. And the February anniversary can still be difficult.
It’s possible that the short, dark days of our Canadian winter contribute to my sense of melancholy. Nonetheless, arriving at the five-year mark has given me pause to reflect and make some observations about grief.
I think grief never really ends. We journey through it and perhaps never really finish. As Bono sang, “There’s no end to grief” and “there is no end to love” (in U2’s “California (There Is No End to Love)”).
I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to grieve. For me, the way to grieve is whatever way I am grieving at that moment. There is no guidebook. My loss, and my processing of that loss, is as unique as the relationship I had with my dad. You cannot steer grief. You can only experience it. It is a journey
Grief and loss changed me, made me more fully human. For 20 years as a pastor, I conducted myself as a professional problem-solver, a fixer, someone to be counted on. And that’s the persona I assumed in the days between my father’s death and his funeral. I made the final arrangements, tried to be a pillar for my mother, conducted the service, and preached the funeral sermon. I actually felt, well, exhilarated. I was in task mode, doing what I do for people experiencing sorrow and loss, barely aware I soon would be experiencing those same emotions.
Since my father’s death, I’ve felt decidedly human. I’ve been brought, both figuratively and literally, to my knees. Suddenly I couldn’t focus or control my emotions. I was actually no different from the people I’d stood with through their pain. I was like everybody else. Saying goodbye to Dad was like saying hello to my humanity.
I think grief is always, ultimately, a solitary journey. I was fortunate enough to have people walk alongside me for stretches, even carry me at times, but no one can really travel all the way with a person through his or her grief.
Tears are a tribute to the ones we love. And grief endures because love endures.
There is comfort in knowing my father is with the Lord. Although I’ve lost something irreplaceable, I haven’t lost it all.