The Seven Month Altar

It struck me yesterday that we have lived the better part of the year without Rob now. The seven month mark was a tipping point. We are closer now to the year anniversary of Rob’s death than we are to his accident. Even when it has felt as though time has stopped, we continue to move. This realization begs reflection, perhaps even an altar built. Here are four stones for that altar, four ways we’ve grown in the last seven months:

1. We are giving care to our souls. For too long, stigma has accompanied those who seek out psychotherapy. Rob’s death prompted the fourth season of therapy I’ve engaged in my lifetime, and I cannot think of a more valuable experience when the soul is in deep need. I’m not ashamed to say that I have needed help navigating PTSD, postpartum anxiety, family complexities and grief. When my bones aches, I visit the chiropractor. When my soul aches, I visit my therapist. In this season, our family has used internal family systems therapy, grief therapy and art therapy to help guide our hearts through loss. Psychotherapy isn’t for weak people; it is for wise people. 

Psychotherapy isn’t for weak people; it is for wise people. 

2. We are bonding in deep ways. It would be easy in the fallout of Rob’s death for our family to splinter from grief. Instead I see us becoming a new tribe with a strong bond to one another that could only be forged through loss. We’re still human; we disagree and hurt each other, intentionally or not. But loss has called us to a more devoted kind of family love. We know now that those we love can be lost to us. Grief also has leveled the playing field, so that the bonds of our family are not merely parent to child or sibling to sibling, but griever to griever. The difference is profound. 

3. We are taking new risks. Rob’s death pronounced a sorrowful ending for the life we loved together. Endings can be painful. They also beget beginnings which can be painful too. Especially if you didn’t want a new beginning. Or if you’re risk-averse. In the face of trauma, it would be an easy, protective response to hunker down and never risk again. We’ve seen how fragile life can be, so why risk anything more? Ever. Fly to the nest. Stay in the nest. Give up flying forever. Instinctively, our family has known that’s not the way we want to live. It isn’t the way Rob would have wanted us to live. So we are learning to find our own voices and trust them. We are learning to take risks, meet new people, try new things. We are risking making mistakes to find new joy.

4. We are discovering new priorities. Death clarifies life. Quickly, it sorts our existence into things that matter and things that don’t. The last seven months have begun this sorting process for our family, and new priorities have begun to emerge and crystallize. We are both a backward and a forward looking people. The one we love most is part of the past, so we cannot but look back. But our love for Rob and each other also compels us forward. Grief has given us license to finally cast off the weight of things we’ve carried that do not matter. Grief has also clarified our vision. Rob’s death has not only shown us what is important, but it has given us permission to pursue those priorities with dogged intention.

When my daughter put on her socks this morning, I noticed how big her feet are growing. I got a lump in my throat as I thought how Rob has missed her latest growth spurt. How the little girl he saw for the last time in the summer is not the girl who stands before me now. None of us are the people we were seven months ago. I am sure Rob would find us all changed if he could see us today. He would see the woundedness and sorrow that marks our lives. And alongside, mixed in, overlapping and emerging, Rob would see these things too. He would see his precious little band of five creating a new life out of ashes, finding beauty in the darkness. And through his tears and ours, we’d celebrate these things. We’d build an altar together. He’s not here, so I’ll build alone. As a new friend of mine often repeats, “Thanks be to God.”

Published by Clarissa Moll

Discovering grace in grief

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