Colin Campbell lost his two teenage children in a car crash. He says that the way we treat grieving people is cruel and backward, and that it needs a reimagining.
"No one told me grief felt so much like fear." Two years ago my husband had a fatal heart attack. One minute my husband was outside, working in our yard, the next minute I was a widow. The overwhelming feeling I had for days afterward was terror. Absolute blind terror, verging on panic. When I found C. S. Lewis's "A Grief Observed" I was stunned by how completely and utterly his sentence reflected the fear I felt.
When I was 16, I lost my 19 year old brother to suicide. I cried so much, that I have not cried since. Not that I haven’t had reason, but I think I cried all I was ever going to in the months that followed. I’m 63 now, and still remember my biggest fear back then was that people would forget him. I made sure to talk about him any chance I could. I think Colin is spot on. There are words, and leaning in was a great way to navigate this tragedy for me.
All I can say is "Wow" - what a lovely poignant essay. It could help anyone face the grief that we all will encounter at some point. Bravo.
This was a very hard listen for me, but like Colin mentions, you have to lean into that pain. I lost my mom in 2018, after watching her slowly decline over 20 years from multiple sclerosis, ultimately leaving her completely wheelchair bound. Six months after her passing, my younger sister, 33 at the time, was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. Within a year she was gone also. The worst part was that she died in April 2020 when everyone was in true covid lockdowns. We didn't have a funeral for a year and a half. Not gathering for a formal ceremony was extremely hard and only added to our grief and disbelief. I loved the descriptions of the Jewish traditions, which seem so helpful.
But I respectfully disagree with Colin's statement that he doesn't like when people say "everything happens for a reason." No, there is no reason your loved one is dead. Instead, I believe that saying speaks to the reason you are still living. His reason was for him to reach people and help them with their grief through writing his book. His reason is helping foster children find a loving home and a brighter future.
The deaths in my family have inspired me to live more consciously and never take anything for granted. I hug my children tighter. I am focused on our family first when making decisions. I live the cliche phrase "live like you were dying". If today is to be my last day, I know I will made the most of every second up until this point. That's the reason tragedies happen sometimes. To remind us to live.
Thank you for this deeply poignant interview.
“The other thing that seemed clear to me was that we all needed to talk about our grief. We needed to share our pain, and we needed to talk about our loved ones. Everybody I talked to was desperate to talk about the people that had died, and so it seemed to me that the key to grieving is being engaged in your pain and talking about your loved one to other people.”
After my beloved son-in-law was murdered, I found myself compulsively, relentlessly sharing the story of his honorable life and tragic death. With everyone I met. With neighbors. Contractors. Bank tellers. A clerk in an upscale gift shop. No one was immune.
I did this for five years, finally tapering off to just one or two tellings a month to random strangers. I had no opportunity for “grief counseling”--other imperatives and crises took precedence over the very clear need I had for professional help.
But in the process of telling the story, I finally realized what I was doing was memorializing him, making sure he was widely known and loved as I had loved him. And I thought my grieving was complete, that I could move on to a different stage of appreciating the fine man he had been, and being grateful to have had him in my life.
I was wrong. Ten years after my son-in-law’s death I attended a funeral for an elderly man, a survivor of the battle of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. A true hero. He had died peacefully in his sleep. He was 89, and had told me he was ready to join his beloved wife. The funeral was appropriately solemn, and I was doing fine, until the folded flag was presented to his son.
I dissolved. I sobbed quietly at first, then uncontrollably. I had to be helped out of the chapel. My friends were utterly mystified. I had not shed a tear for my son-in-law in the aftermath of his death, nor in the ten years intervening. I had been the rock, the organizer, the comforter for everyone else. In my own mind, I had accorded him the dignity he deserved, even through the military honors and playing of “Taps.”
I had merely postponed my own grief, and it flooded over me at that funeral so many years later. Now, I can allow myself a tear as I describe that experience. And I can still treasure dear George, and be genuinely grateful for his presence in my life, even for a brief spell.
My only son died after an auto accident in 1998, when he was 26. My saving group was the Compassionate Friends. World-wide, free, non-denominational. We talked about our children. We spoke their names, we supported each other, we cried together. Grief is something that will always be with me. It's there, but I have learned to live with it. I owe my son to live with it & experience whatever I can because he cannot. People would say-" how can you live with his loss, I couldn't" What choice did I have-if given a choice, it would have been me, instead of him. Another helpful book was -"When Bad Things Happen To Good People." Thank you for sharing your experiences & advice.
Thank you for the beautiful interview. It opened my eyes to how to grieve my own losses & to grieve with others & their losses. I cried as I thought about grieving the loss of my mother & how I learned to lean into the pain of that loss. But more importantly, this opened me up to ways to help someone else who is grieving. I hope I remember this always.
I admit.. I avoided the podcast and reading this article for a bit. I knew it would break my heart and I cried throughout the reading. I’m a nurse of 30+ years and have sat with people as they’ve died and have been present with families when they learn of their loved ones death. I’ve helped grieving parents of stillborn babies. And prayed over patients who were alone in their final hours. I lean into each experience but it still breaks my soul in pieces. I truly appreciate Bari for this subject and will continue to do my best to be present with my patients and families during this very tragic situation. ❤️
What a tragic story. But, it ends with a positive. They are foster parents. The shiva, shloshim and 12 month cycle of mourning in Judaism helped me get thru my parents’ passing. Parents passing are nothing like losing ones’ children, but the Jewish way to grieve is arguably the best when it comes to opening up about the loss. You talk about the loved ones you are mourning and you are connecting to your community. Very powerful support group. I’m happy that the parents became foster parents. They sound like a terrific parenting team.
Thank you Bari. I can't imagine any parent reading this without tearing up. Life can be so beautiful and so unfair.
This was challenging to read but an important essay. I have two kids the same age. I had to take little breaks bw paragraphs.
The well of grief
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
Well, this has knocked me out of commission for the rest of the day
As a 35-year prosecutor of Vehicular Manslaughter cases, what of the person responsible for all this pain?
Her name is Nicole Packer.
A very close friend of my daughter just lost her beautiful nine-year-old little girl to leukemia. The entire community is in mourning. We called it "unspeakable."
This helps. Now we won't.
Thank you so much for sharing your story about profound grief after losing your beloved children. I have several friends who have lost children in the last couple of years and I must admit, I did have a loss for words. This is a very hard topic to even wrap one’s head around - your words have provided support and validation for many that are grieving loved ones. It was so encouraging to hear about the new teens in your home. Best wishes for a special and rewarding future together.