The scars of grief

I have a fine line on my face, a barely visible scar from the corner of my left eye to the middle of my cheek, a surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. A brilliant surgeon and technology left me as close to perfect as possible while removing the risk of malignancy.

Grief wounds us, grief will leave our souls scarred, and grief will change us. These are absolutes that cannot be denied without adding danger to your grief.

I see anger in grief as a cancer of the soul. Anger is seen in the same light as that malignant melanoma that would have threatened and ended my life if I had not accepted that some pain, some discomfort, some healing, and a scar was a small price to pay for life. To heal safely, I needed to be hurt more than a simple biopsy.

Grief hurts, it’s a huge wound that we didn’t want to see coming. How we turn that hurt to safety and comfort is how we transition from being wounded to being healed, because a scar is a wound that has healed as well as it can be healed, but a wound unhealed will leave our soul broken and subject to more damage, more scarring, and prone to the cancer of anger and infection.

I spoke to my late parents weekly or more often. Twice a year, I would make a particularly difficult call to them on the birthday of younger brother and on the anniversary of his suicide. They never healed from that loss, and I compassionately understood and accepted that. So twice a year, I helped them rip open the wound and drain some of their anger.

They moved away a couple of years after Mike’s suicide to be closer to our sister, but also to find a place where nobody knew them, where they could mingle with new friends without ever mentioning or discussing that they had lost a son to suicide. Their peace was found in denial, but that denial haunted their lives.

Before they moved, my mother suffered a significant stroke one night. She refused to go to the hospital, she bullied y father and controlled the actions and news and we were kept unaware until 48 hours later. She had the medical knowledge and training to know that she had had a stroke, but she probably hoped that death would take her away from her pain, so she denied herself proper care for 48 hours and made her life immeasurably harder with partial disability.  She was either actively attempting suicide by lack of treatment, or she had come to the point where she had no love left for life because of a collection of unhealed wounds.

Months after they moved and were settled, my father had a mental breakdown and we intervened. He spent several weeks hospitalized for psychiatric care and recovered well. During his hospital stay, I phoned the psychiatrist treating him, and made him aware of my brother’s suicide. My parents had not disclosed that, they hid it. Suicide has the shadow of shame that extends far beyond the damage of losing a child, yet they didn’t tell his doctors about that important and most challenging part of his life.

Their deaths, decades later, brought them peace and freedom from both physical pain, but also the pain and anger that they carried in their souls until their last breath exhaled.

When we parent, we teach by example in two ways: We teach how to be and how not to be. When our son died in a firefighter training accident five years after my brother’s suicide, I quickly resolved to not be what my parents had become through their loss. I resolved to heal the pain to the smallest possible scar on my soul, to come back to loving life fully, to forgive those who failed my son, and to forgive the Universe and life itself.

Your soul will heal itself naturally, over time, but only if you can resolve and extinguish the cancer of anger over the loss. If anger remains unresolved, it will consume most or all of the love that naturally collects in your soul.

One of the sources of anger will be the sense that because of grief you will never be the same as you were before grief. That’s a reality that you must come to accept so that you can grow your soul around the loss of a loved one. The closing of the wound in your soul needs love, self love and gathered love, to fill that void with good memories and examples of love. That filling of the void removes all space for the cancer of anger to take root.

My cheek is missing a big deep elliptical chunk of flesh, yet there is only a tiny insignificant visible physical scar. There are invisible scars on my soul from being angry at a diagnosis of cancer, angry at the inconvenience, angry that it will hang over me in some way for life. Those angry patches have been healed with gratitude and love. I love the technology and skill than heeled me and removed a melanoma that would try to kill me. I love that it was caught early, I feel guilty at times that my brush with cancer was so simple and quick that I shy away from calling myself a cancer survivor.

You must make the choice to battle the anger from your grief. Some people will never do it, some sadly are simply too wounded and broken to ever do it, and some just run out of time to do it.

We are here to love life, to love each other. Love is what transforms the existence we are born to into a life that we love living. In all parts of life, anger is the enemy of the love we collect in our soul, and grief creates the opportunity for that cancer of anger to take hold.

Not just in grief and loss, but your life and those around you will be enhanced if you come to understand anger as an enemy of your soul. I’ve been told that anger motivates action, without anger in politics for example we would never accomplish change. I disagree and reject that thinking. We must see a greater love of life as the motivation and never allow anger to infect us for longer than it must.

Be well, seek peace, find growth through love rather than anger.

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