Loss of loved one leaves pain that never fully heals

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at Herald-Dispatch.com.

The reporter had interviewed my father for a program on death and dying.

“Do you ever get over the death of a loved one?” she asked.

Through the years, many posed that question to my father as both a minister of over four decades and as the parent of a 17-year-old son killed in a water skiing accident.

“Not really,” he answered. “Oh, you take up the loose and tangled ends of your life and tie them together as best you can. You function as a person, but part of you died with that loved one, just as part of him lives with you.”

A few months later, a prominent pastor in a distant city lost his only son in an accident. Again, my father was asked, “Do you ever get over this?”

Dad told him that he didn’t really know, but doubted it. Then he said, “Maybe it’s like losing one of your legs in an accident. For weeks you suffer fresh wounds, totally incapacitated.

“But slowly healing happens. Crutches bridge the gap and shoulders of friends support, easing the pain of learning to walk again.

“Soon an artificial leg is fitted. And with proper therapy you learn to walk again, taking up the daily run of duty with much the same routine as before — except for the limp.

“But you never forget that at one time in your life you had two good legs. The limp won’t let you forget.

“Nothing can make you forget.

“You function much as before. Outwardly most people never know you are missing a leg. After awhile even your close friends forget you lost a leg — except for the limp.

“And you never forget that at one time you had a son — that loved one. You function again. You live and laugh and love again. And outwardly most people may not know or remember.

“Except for the limp.”

Many of us “who limp” had our wounds re-opened on the morning of April 16 when Virginia Tech’s tranquil campus exploded into a scene of a murderous rampage. Those young faces full of promise sent us reeling back to the pain of our own losses.

In his book, “Sit Down God … I’m Angry,” my father contends that there are two realities that challenge all who have lost loved ones.

First, we must accept the reality of the loss. We can’t undo what has happened. Acceptance allows grief to happen.

Grief can begin when we share our pain with people. Talking it out keeps us from taking it out on other people or issues. Don’t isolate. Be around people, if only to sit silently in the presence of someone who cares.

The second reality is simple, but more difficult. Eventually, we must start writing new chapters in life. We must find ways to reinvest our love and energies and make new beginnings.

“The secret to a rich life,” writer Dave Weinbaum suggests, “is to have more beginnings than endings.”

Even when we limp.