Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Grieve Well, Heal Well

Jackie K. Cooper


A few days ago I attended a memorial service held by the Veterans Administration Hospital where my father-in-law was during the end of his illness. The services are held every four months and honor those who died at the hospital during that time.

I was amazed at the number of people listed on the program. It seems we are losing a large number of veterans across the country at a rapid rate if the list I saw was any indication, Of course, with the new conflicts around the world that number will be increasing.

At the service each name of the veterans was read and as it was spoken a candle was lit in his or her honor. When all the names had been read and all the candles lit, the people conducting the service stepped back and the lights of the candles spelled out "Hope." It was very touching and inspiring.

One of the speakers at the service was a lady who works with hospice. She made several points about grief and how to handle it. One of the most impressive was that you have to grieve well in order to heal well. This simple statement really hit home to me. I mean, how do you grieve well?

Then she followed up on her statement by making a variety of points about how some of us think it is weak to show emotion and therefore keep it all inside. She said tears are healing and are a natural part of grieving. She also said we have to give ourselves the right to say good-bye.

Saying good-bye does not mean forgetting, it simply means moving on with your life. I have heard people say over and over that after the death of a loved one, they felt guilty every time they laughed. It was like they were being disloyal. Now if we really think about it, if someone loved us, would they want us to be gloomy and sad forever more? I don't think so.

I remember after my mother died, the first time I went to a party and had a good time, some of my acquaintances looked at me like I was a terrible person. It's the whole sackcloth and ashes thing. Some people want to see an outward showing of grief. I didn't ascribe to that as I knew my mother would want me to enjoy my life.

Then there is the packing up of stuff that belonged to the deceased. For some of us it can be a long time before we want to do something like that, whereas for others it can be an immediate need. I have a friend who has kept his home like a shrine to his dead wife. I keep thinking he can't get on with his life as long as he is stuck in the past. I try to tell him that moving forward is not an abandonment, but I haven't convinced him yet.

For our own emotional well being we need to "heal well." Sadness and grief can lead to actual physical illnesses. My belief is you grieve as strongly as you need to and then you move on. You don't forget but you move on.

If you have lost someone and are grieving, or if you know someone who is, think about that simple phrase - you have to grieve well in order to heal well. Maybe in some way it will help.

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Jackie K. Cooper was born in South Carolina and now lives in Georgia. His short stories have been used as commentary on Georgia Public Radio. He also keeps active appearing as an after dinner speaker for various events. Cooper has four books: Journey of a Gentle Southern Man, Chances and Choices, Halfway Home, and The Bookbinder.

Visit his website, or email Jackie.

© Jackie K. Cooper

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012