Live United: Let others walk alongside you in the journey of grief

Published 8:45 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

Live United by Erin Haag

Many of my readers have asked where my article was last week. My apologies to the Tribune staff, but I forgot to turn in my article. You see, I was grieving. Grief is a sneaky, sneaky thing, and it can hit you at unexpected moments or hit you harder than you expect.

Erin Haag

My daddy had several health issues when I was in high school and college. He spent a large amount of that time recovering from a heart attack, stroke and eventually cancer. There was a period of time when the thing that sounded best to him was Welch’s orange pineapple juice. They came in little bottles, a pack of six. My daddy asked for so little, of course we were going to make sure he had his orange pineapple juice. It wasn’t always easy to find though, so whenever we found it, we immediately stocked up so we could have it on hand for him. About five years ago, I saw the coveted juice. I celebrated my good find and bought a couple of packs. I finished my shopping, drove home with my babies and unloaded my groceries. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that I had bought juice for my daddy, who’d been gone for over a decade by then. Grief is a sneaky, sneaky thing.

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In the early years, my husband and I would vacation in Colorado each year, visiting my Uncle Bob and Aunt Elaine, who had settled there, and seeing my cousins. We’d eat pizza and watch a football game. My uncle would show off his latest woodworking, and my aunt would load us up with cookies for our daytime explorations in the Rocky Mountains. One memorable moment was being at Garden of the Gods at sunrise and being the only ones there to enjoy the silence and the beauty of those red rock formations.

Then we moved to Minnesota. Between jobs, kids, trying to visit our immediate family members in three different states and medical needs that required travel — all within the allotted vacation time we had — well, we didn’t get out to Colorado again.

Every Labor Day weekend, we stay with my other uncle in Kansas City. Last year, my uncle and I talked about going out to Colorado to visit my Uncle Bob. Bob had been diagnosed with cancer — the same kind my daddy had — the year before. We talked about going to show the kids the Colorado that my husband and I loved so much, and they could meet Uncle Bob and my cousins and their children. A bad fall and a broken hip put an end to that plan for the time being. All too quickly, it was fall, and the holidays and the day to day of children being in school. This year, I figured I’d talk to my uncle again and see about making some solid plans. That broken hip had healed up well. We were leaving on Sunday morning. On Saturday, I was running errands, catching up on chores around the house when I got the news. My Uncle Bob was gone. Instead of making plans to visit him, I spent the weekend going through photos with my cousins for the slideshow, listening to my uncle tell stories about his brothers — Uncle Bob and my daddy.

Last weekend, we gathered in Colorado to say goodbye. My children met my cousins, and were given wooden ornaments, a nativity set, handmade by the great uncle they never met. I brought home my wooden cross, my rolling pin and another beautiful box that Uncle Bob loved to make. We had family dinners, watched football and took a family hike through Garden of the Gods. We celebrated a life well lived, and we celebrated being with each other. I hadn’t seen him, my uncle, in about 10 years at this point, and I wasn’t expecting overwhelming grief. Sorrow, yes, but the depth of my grief surprised me.

Grief is complicated. Grief is sneaky. Grief is buying orange pineapple juice years later. Grief is missing your daddy when you’re at your uncle’s funeral. Grief is not just about the person who you lost, it’s all the important things you’ve missed and will miss and the people you’ve already said goodbye to, and the grief of the people you know you’ll be saying goodbye to in the future. It’s a thousand little stories wrapped up.

I’m the sort that is fairly private in my grief. It’s important though to know when it’s time to share, time to be with others who understand. That sneaky grief likes to catch up with you when you least expect it. For those who are grieving, I encourage you to consider joining a support group this fall. Currently, there’s one that is starting in November at Crossroads Church. There will be a series, with focus areas for each session. To learn more, call 507-383-5413. You can join in at any time. Additionally, both Bayview and Bonnerup have online resources. Mayo Clinic offers support group sessions as well, alternating between Austin and Albert Lea. The next one is full, but there will be a new one starting in January.

For more information on that, please call 507-284-4002.

These groups will give you a place for those thousand little stories that make up the complicated thing called grief. Some days, some places are for grief, without the need to be OK, without the need to put on the brave face. It might be one session, it might be the whole series. It might be the session that focuses on how to survive the holidays or how to navigate new friendships. It’s work, there’s no denying that. It can be scary, looking that grief in the eye. When you lean into it though — lean into that grief, and let others walk alongside you, eventually that grief becomes love. Eventually the days for love, the days of remembering, will start to balance out the days of grief. It’s not meant to be a linear thing. I’m sure everyone has their own orange pineapple juice story, or the moment that sneaky grief comes back around. It’s about balance though, and a group can help you find that balance.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.