What does an unfinished life look like? One way is a half-empty container of Coke.
That’s the first encounter I had with an unfinished life. My father had been dead only a few hours. I walked into the kitchen and there was the rest of his Coca-Cola in a sippy cup.
It wasn’t the last evidence I’d find of a life interrupted.
The “Crime Scene”
I found Mom’s half-done crossword puzzles. Her hand-drawn plans for a circular driveway that was never poured. Dad’s paint-by-number pictures. A harmonica he’d hoped to learn to play.
At each encounter, I mourned their deaths afresh.
The things served as evidence of a robbery – the snatching away of two lives. My parents really were dead. They really weren’t coming back to their home to finish what they’d started.
I preserved the evidence like a detective at a crime scene. I didn’t cast the puzzles or pictures into the garbage, hoping to dispose of my sorrow.
Arresting Our Grief
What should we do with these land mines, these things that trigger grief? How can we hope to achieve a measure of healing if we handle these belongings?
After eight years of slow but progressive work on cleaning out my parents’ home and grieving their loss, I see four ways that helped me move to a happier place.
* We must expose ourselves to grief in its fullness. To minimize the power of grief in our lives, we must make appointments to mourn. Set aside time to grieve.
We must give ourselves grief breaks. We cannot isolate ourselves and cry unceasingly and expect to get beyond our sorrow. Grief is exhausting. Rest. Return. Rest. Return.
We must invite joy into our lives. God gives us all blessings. There is something to be happy about even after a loss. Spend some time focusing on that joy.
We must make plans. At first, grief ties us to the past and to the present, but eventually, we can look to the future. We make new plans. We forge new relationships. We take new jobs, buy new homes and adopt new ways of seeing ourselves and the world.
Life after the Trial
I took the sheets of Dad’s paint-by-number pictures out of their cardboard box again a few weeks ago. I discarded the dried-up colors and set aside one of my father’s finished pictures for the wall. I put the half-done one into a bin with other keepsakes, and I put the one that was blank with my watercolors and other paints. I thought maybe someday I’ll pick out some colors and paint it.
I’ve come to accept that my parents were each given a time on this Earth to pursue their hopes and dreams. Their plans didn’t all come to reality, but the time for me to pursue my plans is still alive and well. They wouldn’t want anything short of my pursing life to its fullest. My life still includes them. I’m not done with grief. But I’m at peace and excited about the future.
May all of us find peace after the trial of grief.
What does the unfinished life look like to you? What positive things do you embrace to minimize the power of loss?
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