by Dick Innes
It was Saturday, October 18, 1980. The minutes dragged into hours. All day I waited impatiently at the hospital for the doctor's diagnosis. It seemed like an eternity. Finally two doctors appeared. When they took me aside to a private room, my heart sank.
Muriel, my wife, was only thirty-seven. She'd been singing in the state opera company and came home the previous night from rehearsal with a blinding headache and went straight to bed. The next thing I remember was being awakened early Saturday morning. Her sudden seizure followed by unconsciousness terrified me.
Fearing for her life, I rushed her to the hospital.
"Your wife suffered a massive stroke," the doctors finally informed me. "It's too soon to say, but we cannot give you hope for too great a recovery. Her condition is very serious. She may never walk or sing again."
I was devastated. We'd just struggled through ten years of debilitating sickness. This, combined with her massive stroke, seemed more than I could bear.
After receiving the news, I made my way to the solitude of my office, closed the door and screamed in pain.
That turned out to be just the beginning. Before things got better they got much worse. Post-stroke depression hit mercilessly. The next few years were the loneliest, most depressing of my life. My wife suffered much more.
Recovery has been very encouraging although it has been a long, slow grind...and it still is.
Sorrow, unfortunately, is a part of the human condition and no matter how well off we may or may not be, at some time or another, grief comes to us all.
Bottling up tears is a sure way to keep hurting.
In fact, each year some eight million Americans face the loss of a loved one through death. And according to a recent National Academy of Science in-depth study on bereavement, the stress these people experience can greatly increase their chance of severe illness or even death.
Then there is the trauma of unemployment which will undoubtedly continue for some time as we move more and more into the electronic-information age. And as one writer has suggested, losing your job can rank with the trauma of death--as can serious illness, injury, or divorce.
When sorrow does strike, it's never easy, and the question all struggle with at such times is, "How do I cope?"
The following suggestions have been helpful for me. Perhaps they can help you, too, or someone you know.
First, we need the support of friends. The National Academy of Science reports that "the first year after losing a parent or spouse, men under 75 are especially vulnerable to death from accidents, heart disease, or infectious illnesses. Women's mortality does not appear to increase the first year, mainly because they seek more social support."
Second, we need to deal with our feelings. Grief can be a mixture of emotions which include fear, hurt, loneliness and anger. About the worst thing we can do is to put on a "brave face" and deny these feelings.
Fear, for instance, needs to be admitted and the fearful situation discussed with a trusted friend or counselor so practical steps can be taken to resolve the fear.
Hurt needs to be acknowledged, too, with the realization that it is okay to cry--for men as well as women. Crying is a God-given gift and the most natural way to release sorrow. Bottling up tears is a sure way to keep on hurting.
Loneliness is overcome by forcing yourself--even when you don't feel like it--to get out and be with people and minister to their needs. In so doing, you will help meet some of your own.
And anger, perhaps the most difficult emotion to admit at a time of sorrow, also needs to be faced and expressed to a trusted friend or counselor, and especially to God when we are angry at him--which we sometimes are when things go wrong. As the Bible suggests, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger. Resolve it quickly" (Ephesians 4:26 paraphrase).
Third, we need to keep involved with life. Life goes on. We must also. Happy is the person who enjoys his work/activities at a time of grief. As Dorothy L. Sayers believes, "Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do.
It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker's faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God." This is why it is so very important for the bereaved, the unemployed, the injred, the ill, the divorcee, the lonely, and the sorrowing person to become involved in some kind of volunteer work or acivity--be it painting, writing, gardening, sports or whatever--that gives him or her a feeling of worth and fulfillment until employment can be found or until they return to their normal life.
"To be great, it is necessary to suffer."
Fourth, we need to maintain a positive attitude. "Bisogna soffrire per essere grandi." That was apparently the favorite expression of the great singer, Enrico Caruso. It means, "To Be great, it is necessary to suffer."
Only after years of struggle did Caruso achieve fame, but he communicated more than music through his singing. One critic observed: "His is a voice that loves you, but not only a voice, a sympathetic man."
Nothing in life can soften the human heart, enrich a person's life, and make him or her more understanding, insightful and compassionate than sorrow and suffering.
Dr. Hubert Davidson tells of his visit to Myra Brooks Welch, who is probably best known for her masterpiece, "The Touch of the Master's Hand." When Dr. Davidson left her home, Myra patted the arm of her wheelchair and said, "And I thank God for this."
It's hard to imagine anybody being thankful for a wheelchair, but Myra's talent was undiscovered until she was disabled. Rather than becoming bitter about her sorrow, she made the best of her situation and developed her talents. As a result her poems have inspired people around the world.
Finally, and above all, we need to trust in God. In the Bible James wrote, "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4 NIV).
No mater what happens to you, it is important to understand that God knows and cares. He wants you to allow your pain to bring you closer to him and learn to trust him regardless of your circumstances. When you do this, you can be certain that God will use your pain to enrich your life and make you "mature and complete, not lacking anything."