A friend of mine turned me on to a book written by Tom Zuba, Permission to Mourn. It’s a quick read—a little over 100 pages, double space, written in the style of poetic bullet points. I highly recommend this book, especially for us guys—not because it’s an “easy” read—yes, Tom makes his points quickly, powerfully—but’s it’s from the male perspective of a dad, father, husband, co-worker. Bottom line, it’s a book for everybody and I unequivocally recommend it. Here’s the link on Amazon: Permission to Mourn- A New Way To Do Grief
Tom talks about the choice those who have suffered unbearable loss have the opportunity to make:
I firmly believe that for many of us
If we were able to take in
really take in
the enormity of what has happened to us
we would not be able to live.
I believe our bodies would shut down.
Our minds would turn off.
Our spirits would take flight.
You have two voices in your head
One voice tells you that you will be okay.
That you will be happy again.
That life will feel good again.
That you can do this.
That you have the courage
the grace to live again.
Or for the first time.
And the other voice says “No.”
It is too scary out there.
You will be hurt again.
You will not recover.
The loss is too great.
You are doomed to a life of pain
You get to decide which voice you listen to.
Make room for.
It begins with setting the intention.
The intention to say “Yes.”
Say yes to life.
It is a choice. There is no “right” or “wrong” choice. No judgment.
Tom Zuba has walked the walk. Over a span of fifteen years he and his wife lost their 18-month daughter; nine years later his wife died; and six years later his 13-year old son succumbed to brain cancer.
In 2016 I first met Patty Reis from Bakersfield. Her loss was a very, very public loss. In the early hours of January 1, 2012, her son David, 25, a Navy fighter pilot in Top Gun training school, and her daughter Karen, 24, a UCSD grad and volleyball player, were murdered in David’s apartment in Coronado by his roommate, also a Top Gun pilot, who then took his own life.
Patty was recently interviewed by a Bakersfield newspaper and she spoke of the horrific loss of her children, and how she has found her mission-a calling- in companioning others who have suffered loss of children. Here is a link to the article.
Hilary and I have had the privilege to spend some time with Patty when she’s come to San Diego to attend UCSD volley ball games played in memory of Karen. Her strength, compassion, and passion for helping others who have suffered loss are compelling and contagious.
As mentioned in the article, Patty has done extensive training at Dr. Allen Wolfelt’s Center for Loss & Life Transition to become certified in companioning others in grief.
Patty says in the article “I became a magnet for moms who had experienced loss. It turned out the process was cathartic and educational for me personally.”
Patty also shared with us, “We still have two younger children, and I had to be there for them. They were suffering as much if not more than us parents. I couldn’t let them down.”
People like Tom Zuba and Patty Reis could have chosen to listen to Voice #1: stay in bed, lock themselves in their house, shut everyone and everything out, make new friends with alcohol and drugs, and raise a middle finger—of course I’m not suggesting Patty would ever do that—to God, the Universe, life.
And I suspect many of their friends and colleagues would accept that and give them a “pass.” I dare say most would even expect it.
Yet they, as all of you who are reading this, chose life. Tom and Patty have gone further and chosen to help others. Many of you have done the same.
“Help others.” What does that mean?
I would say it begins with the choice to live.
Some don’t. Several years ago, I wrote a post on Write Me Something Beautiful about a guy I met and befriended back in the early 70’s picking pineapples on Maui. While there, John—a recent Cornell graduate and star running back on their football team—received news that his younger brother, Jeff, died of cancer. John didn’t go back for the funeral. John’s recollections remain vivid.
“We never dealt with the grief we all felt–it was too painful to touch”
I think a few people expressed their condolences, and then that was the end of it. I never heard another word from my parents or any of my friends at home, many of whom had attended Jeff’s funeral. Ironically, on my way home from Maui I went to my grandfather’s funeral in the bay area at the end of August. I met my father at the airport in San Francisco. He never once mentioned my brother during the two days we were together for my grandfather’s wake and burial. When I got back home in New York a few weeks later, I came to a home filled with grief and anger, but no words.
My father lost his faith in God and my mother lost her reason for living, later compounded by my sister’s own death from cancer. We never dealt with the grief we all felt. My mother just drowned her sorrows in a bottle, and even after spending hours with her in family counseling we never got to the root of her grief. It was too painful to touch.
One of my greatest fears after Jimmy died was Hilary might choose to go be with him. A piece of her had been torn out and gone with him. The pull was strong.
Your choice to live—really live. That choice and the reasons for it are unique to each of us. Many of us do it for our survivors. As Patty said, she has two younger adult children that depend on her. Tom has a younger son he is raising.
Some do it for those we lost. As Hilary admonished Brittany, Ryan and me on day one, “We cannot let Jimmy’s death take us down! That would make him so unhappy, and we will not make Jimmy unhappy.”
Some may base their choice on furthering their careers, helping clients, patients, parishioners, and colleagues who depend upon them. Providing for their families.
Your choice to live, first and foremost, helps your family. Your choice emboldens them to choose the same. It also spares them the crushing wave of another loss be it an early death, or of someone just giving up on life and withdrawing into his/her personal cell to await the lonely hunter—fate.
Your choice to live helps your friends and colleagues. They are observing you—and that quite possibly may be the extent of what many are able to do. You may not realize that you are a teaching moment for them. Most have not experienced unbearable loss. What you do and how you reconstruct your mind and life will be imprinted in their memory banks and revisited when they—or another friend, family member or colleague—are hit by a crippling loss.
You are helping them.
When someone you know—or find out—has suffered an unbearable loss, and you reach out and talk to them about yours, you are helping them. Immensely. Seeing you standing there, out in the world, doing whatever it is you’re doing, coupled with the fact you are actually able to talk to them about the “unbearable” gives them hope, makes them feel less like a victim talking to the wind, and not so alone.
And then there are the Patty’s and Tom’s who take helping others to an entirely different level. God bless them.
But as Tom says, it all starts with choosing life. Even if that’s all you do, you are helping others, and we are so incredibly proud of you.
“May you always be for others and let others be for you.”
Bob Dylan from Forever Young