Monday, August 15, 2016

In Grief: My Life Turned Upside Down

[Reviewed and updated February 6, 2021]

Strange, how death had a way of turning a table upside down in an instant. It swept away all the dust that covered treasures, blew the fog from one's view, knocked away facades.  ~ Julianne MacLean

A reader writes: My son-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident two years ago. He was an amazing father and husband to my daughter, who was pregnant with their 5th child. He was a professor at a Bible college and going to get his doctorate. My daughter was never as happy as she was when she found the man of her dreams. My husband and I moved last year to be closer to my daughter and our grandchildren. I had been a hairdresser at the same salon for 30 years, but I gave it up because my husband could work from home anywhere. Meanwhile last October our 28 year-old son moved in with our daughter to help take care of the kids. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last December. He had two surgeries: ribs cracked open to remove a mass from his chest, then a large mass in his neck, followed by 10 chemos and 14 radiations.

I have been married to the same man for 33 years this Friday. I feel like I have given up my life, my friends and job but don't think I/we had a choice. Our daughter needed help with our 5 grandkids ages 10, 9, 5, 2 and 11 months. How do I move on and be happy with the life I have now???

My son and daughter are very religious but are both having a hard time. We all (9) of us have dinner together and I cook, do laundry and babysit almost every day. We are functioning as best we can. My husband and I do have our own home but it is a country block away from our daughter and the kids.
I was referred to you by a friend and realize you can't fix this in an email. How do I find help? I am (or used to be) a fairly positive, happy person, but I find myself longing for my old life. Any help you can recommend would be appreciated. Thanks for your time.

My response: First, please accept my deepest sympathy for the tragic, accidental death of your dear son-in-law.  I'm sorry, too, to learn of your own son's serious illness and all the secondary losses you've endured in the ensuing months.  I cannot imagine how overwhelmed and isolated you must feel, especially since you're uprooted from your past life and so far removed from your former sources of support.  It's no wonder to me that you are longing for and mourning the loss of your "old life."  Life is not turning out the way you planned, is it?  And it's certainly not what you and your husband hoped and dreamed and expected it to be, especially at this point in your lives. 

I am somewhat familiar with your story, having received over the weekend a message from your friend, who was kind enough to be looking for ways she could be of support to you.  I did respond to her with some suggestions for you; if I am repeating what she's already shared with you, I hope you will forgive me for that.

As I told your friend, your situation reminds me of author and grandmother Harriet Hodgson's story. After her elder daughter and former son-in-law were killed in separate car crashes, Hodgson became a "GRG" – a grandparent raising grandchildren and, like you, her entire world was turned upside down.  Never did she dream that in their "golden years," she and her husband would be thrust back into the parenting role, with 24/7 responsibilities for child care. Harriet is a contributing writer for Open to Hope, and you can read more about her work on her website,  Much of her written work appears online on various Web sites. I've read her book, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life, and it's packed with useful, easy-to-digest information and practical suggestions, some having to do with reconciling her grief and some with raising kids in this day and age.

You ask how you can move on and be happy with the life you have now, and of course I don't have the answer to that question, except to encourage you to live the life you have as it unfolds, just one day at a time, taking each day as it comes without projecting too far into the future. 

I also encourage you to seek outside support.  I know you're new to your community, but still you can search online or call your telephone operator or public library and ask for the numbers for your local mental health association or your local suicide prevention center. Either agency will have good counseling referral lists. (You need not be suicidal to get a counseling referral from a suicide prevention center.)  You can use the Yellow Pages and call hospitals and hospices in your city or town. Ask to speak with the Bereavement Coordinator, Social Worker, or Chaplain's Office to get a local referral. Many hospitals and hospices offer bereavement support groups and workshops to the general public at no cost. (The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization maintains a database of hospices for each state in the United States.  To search for a hospice in your own community, click on Find a Hospice Program.) 

In view of what's happening to your son, you might also benefit from exploring some of the cancer support programs on the Internet; below are some that you may find helfpul:

American Cancer Society: Find Support Programs and Services in Your Area

As you say, dear one, the problems you're facing can't be fixed in an email, and I do think you would profit from some face-to-face support. In addition, you're also most welcome to join our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups. This service is completely anonymous, free, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There you will find yourself among some very caring, compassionate individuals who'll help you feel less isolated and alone.

I hope this information proves helpful to you, and please know that you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

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