In a few weeks, Tywana and I will be starting up our grief support group, Helping Parents Heal. The goal of that group is to help others get through what we are going through. The goal is to take people to a place of hope, then belief, and hopefully to know what we know and what sustains us.
What we quickly realized after Shayna passed was that the traditional (materialistic) view of just accepting our “loss” and “moving on” wasn’t going to work for us. Speaking only for myself, not having hope meant not going forward at all. If I have no hope, I cannot live. I needed to have hope that there was something to live for, hope that I would see Shayna again, hope that this all matters. Fortunately, I had enough hope to get through those first few days and weeks, but soon I realized that hope alone wasn’t enough.
Hope is a lot like wishful thinking. And I like to think of myself as a realist. I can’t have hope in something I don’t honestly believe- at least not for very long. Some people can delude themselves longer than others accepting faith blindly, and never asking questions. I am not one of those people. More than hope, I needed belief. I think most Christians, most people who call themselves people of faith, are materialists at heart. They say they believe they are eternal, but they live in the materialist paradigm that dominates our culture. They live as though this life is all there is and as if acquiring material possessions is the only true measure of success. Life is measured by how much you can accumulate and how long you can keep breathing. One of the keys as to whether you have hope or truly believe is in how you accept death. My Aunt Betty was a true believer. When her cancer came back for the second time she was told she could fight it and she might live a little longer, but it would be a terrible quality of life. So many in our society take the option of “Keep me alive as long as you can at all costs.” We spend tens of thousands of dollars on the last few days even hours of “life” sometimes because no matter what we say with our lips, deep down, we only have hope that we go on. We don’t truly believe. She believed. She knew where she was going and a few more weeks or months spent in pain were not worth it for her. She went out with dignity. Man, I was proud of her for that.
I was reading about a tribe in South Africa that has been shielded from the materialism that pervades our world. They don’t hope there is an afterlife, they genuinely believe it. How do I know? Well, they go to the point of a circumstance most will see as unfortunate. 84% of the deaths that occur after 12 years old are suicides. Yep. They are generally healthy people with few diseases, but the average life expectancy is 35 years old. Why? Because they believe so much that when they “die” they simply go to live with their ancestors. If they are having issues in this life, killing themselves is no more a big deal than deciding to move is for us. They just go live with their ancestors. I’m not suggesting we’d be better off if we just skipped the hardships of life whenever things get a little rough. I think this tribe gets it wrong. Knowing this pain is temporary, knowing there will be joy no matter what life throws at me now, knowing that no matter what I do, I can’t fail too badly, all of that keeps me moving on. Don’t take the easy way out. You’ll be with the ancestors soon enough.
Beyond belief, there is knowing. Knowing is tricky. I think at a soul level, we all know what we are, where we came from, and where we are going, but that information isn’t accessible to most of us most of the time. And what do we really know? At one time, we knew the sun revolved around the Earth. We knew the Earth was flat. We look at our world, and we think we know how it works, then quantum physics comes along and blows us all away. The older I get, the less I know for sure. However, I know, as well as I know anything else, who I am and where I’m going. I’ll never get to 100% certainty, but how can I be sure I’m not just a character in someone else’s dream or that you’re not a character in mine?
My hope is that for anyone I can touch, I can at least move to a point of hope by presenting evidence, and logic and appealing to their intuition. Moving to a point of belief is a personal thing. Everyone has her threshold for when she crosses from hope to belief. If one is open to it though, there is more than enough out there to be persuaded. I hope that the people we touch through Helping Parents Heal can find comfort and strength in believing their children are still here and everything we do has a purpose.