The journey to…and back…from grief

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By Marianne Delorey

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.

“I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.” – Author unknown.

My mother went to church every day, sometimes for the companionship of her fellow parishioners, but often because she knew, after so many years on this planet, that faith was the only way she could contend with the insecurity that life offered. She did not always agree with the doctrine, but she told me it was easier to look past the failings of an imperfect church than find a new one. She believed, she accepted, and she forgave.

When my mother had a sudden stroke, it was not clear if she would make it through the night.  The hospital kept her in a medically induced coma while they tried to reduce the swelling in her brain. They woke her on occasion to check her vitals and cognitive functions. It was terribly scary for us, of course, but it was also scary for her as she was roused over and over again in a strange setting, not always remembering where she was or why she was there.

We wanted her to have comfort, so I called her parish at the first opportunity. I was told that the priests did not visit people if the hospital was in Boston. I checked Google maps. It was 14 miles from the parish door to the hospital. I asked again. “Surely, you must visit the people who go to church every day.  Isn’t that part of your ministry?”  “Sorry, just our policy,” they answered.  Family and friends went into overdrive, calling other churches, regardless of denomination, and asking hospital chaplains and the like to come say a prayer, anoint her, or just hold her hand.  These others came out in droves.  We were relieved, of course, but we were also very angry that her church had failed her.

And in retrospect, I think the failure was a blessing in disguise for us.  It gave us something to focus on and it united us in our outrage.  A nameless, faceless church kept us absorbed and brought us together as a family.

During times of trial and grief, we are told to expect anger as part of the process.  But I think we expect anger to be purer and less complicated. It is not.  After my mother passed, my anger shifted to those few people who did not come to the services or (in my mind) adequately acknowledge our loss. Directing my anger toward others was futile. They could not understand my loss or how they failed me. Worse, it could have driven a wedge between us.  Anger is often a necessary part of grief, but it can do more harm than good.

In my role, I often see family members torn apart by their grief and anger to the point that they can’t help each other through it.  And sometimes, people can’t see that they are angry because they are grieving.  I hope that those of you who have felt the sting of anger develop enough insight to realize the cause. This awareness does not excuse bad behavior, but it puts it into perspective. Sometimes, nobody can do the right thing for those who are grieving.  We are all doing our best, and sometimes that is just not enough.

In your time of need, I wish you all a “church” to be mad at – some nameless, faceless entity that can direct your anger away from friends and family.  Or, better yet, like my mother did with her church, I wish you the ability to look past the failings of an imperfect family rather than find a new one.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or [email protected] and www.colonyretirementhomes.com.