Conversations in Grief Blog: Honor Your Grief
Dale Lukachik, along with his two dogs, has been mowing the lawn at Rainbow Hospice Care Inpatient Center since it opened ten years ago. While Dale mows, Sonny and Stormy* would roam and explore the grounds. This past spring, Dale arrived once again to mow the lawn. Sonny got out of the truck and headed to a tree, which he circled, and then he laid down and died. Dale believes that Sonny chose to die in a place that he loved. Sonny was twelve years old.
I know Sonny’s story because Dale honored his grief. Dale placed a blue racquetball, topped with daffodils, Sonny’s name written on the ball, at the tree where he died. The blue ball was significant for Sonny because he loved it and often had at least one, sometimes two, in his mouth.
“I just had to put something there,” Dale explained. “Sonny had a kind heart. There wasn’t a mean bone in his body. It was the proper thing to do. I wanted to show him honor.”
My colleague Hilary Furnish explained during our Memorial Service in May, “When we honor someone, we name them and we ask them to be noticed by others. Honoring grief is about acknowledging your loss and naming it for what it is. No one can honor your grief but you. Grief is honored through remembering and connecting with objects like photos or clothes.” In Dale’s case, he used Sonny’s love of blue racquetballs in honoring both his dog and his grief at Sonny’s death.
My friend Kalee, the admissions social worker at Rainbow, posted this picture on Facebook on the morning of her mom’s birthday, toasting her mom with her coffee. Kalee’s mom died when Kalee was in high school, almost eight years ago. Kalee honors her grief by making room for these quiet moments to remember her mom on important days like her mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day. She tells her friends that it is her mom’s birthday. As Kalee shares her grief and is honest about missing her mom, her friends get to join her and support her on a day that is difficult every year. Kalee asks others to notice her mom and her own grief.
Kalee gives credit for learning how to honor her grief to another Rainbow employee and her dear friend, Jodi. Jodi has survived the deaths of both of her brothers, Mark in a car accident and Lucas to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Jodi herself learned, from personal experience, that hiding her grief doesn’t work. So she takes intentional days off each year for her brother Lucas’s birthday and his death day. She honors her brother by doing something he would have enjoyed and even takes his picture along and intentionally shares her day with Lucas. She says, “It helps my heart.”
Jodi makes meaning of her brothers’ deaths by paying attention to life, by choosing for herself and inspiring others to experience life as precious. She allows herself to be sad. She allows herself to be happy. Jodi knows she can’t control her life, but she can choose to live in a way that honors her people and honors her grief, all of the ways she misses their presence in her life. Jodi understands that it is up to her to honor her grief in ways that help her and help her heart.
Dale, Kalee, and Jodi have all discovered in their own unique ways that when they honor their grief, they help their hearts.
How have you honored your grief? Or, how do Dale, Kalee, and Jodi’s stories inspire you to honor your grief?
*Stormy also died while this blog was being written. I am dedicating this blog to the memory of two faithful dogs, Sonny and Stormy.