Grieving and Giving

My son Colin died this year on the last day of March. Actually, Colin was my stepson, but I had been in his life since he was 11. He was my son.

Colin had been very ill; in the hospital since mid-February. He had an infection around his heart, and apparently his heart suddenly gave out. The nurse who was with him said he was gone in seconds.

All of his family—parents, stepparents, brothers and sisters—have been reeling from the loss. We have spent lots of family time together and shed many tears. I periodically get hit by a wave of sadness, as the reality that I won’t hear his voice again sinks in.

I took comfort in the deep connection that Colin and I had felt and talked about during our last visits. Colin opened up about the regrets he had about "poor lifestyle choices" he had made; lifestyle choices indirectly leading to his demise. Colin had been addicted to drugs and had neglected his physical health.

Each of us has our own path in grieving. I recalled lessons in acceptance I had received about a year and a half ago when my son Richard was dying of cancer. I recalled how helpful the Hospice Society in Qualicum Beach had been in my dealing with Richard’s death. I recalled how writing about it had helped me to come to terms with it.

So with Colin’s death, I am again working on acceptance. I have revisited Hospice and been supported, and again I write.

Colin died in Victoria. The day after his death, I felt a strong urge to come home and resume my psychology and life coaching practice. I began seeing clients the following day. Two days later, I conducted a workshop for drug- and alcohol-addicted men in recovery. The one-on-one and group work both went well. And I felt grounded.

Through the experience of getting back to my work with others, I realized that part of my own grief process is giving, that is, being there for others. I recalled the time I cleaned up my brother-in-law’s apartment after he shot himself: no one else in the family could handle it. Later that same year I stepped in to identify my youngest brother’s charred body, and take it from the morgue in Golden to a crematorium in Calgary. Other family members were emotionally unable to face the task.

I remembered as a 16-year-old my mother being killed by a drinking driver and my taking steps to become a ministerial candidate. Over the next few years, the goal of becoming a minister morphed into one of becoming a psychologist, but my intent to help others never wavered. And it was born out of grief and loss.

It may seem paradoxical to use "giving" and "grieving" in the same sentence, but if you look around you will find many people dealing with their own grief by being of service. A number of the Hospice volunteers, for example, became volunteers after the loss of a loved one.

We each have our own ways of grieving loss. There is no right way. I invite you to reflect on how you personally deal with loss or would deal with loss.