Someone asked me recently how I could write about grief and loss in a way that seemed like I really “got it.” The question made me realize that I should probably share some of my personal journey of experiencing heartbreak—my vantage point for mining the depths of anguish caused by loss. So, over the next few blog posts, I’m going to tell some stories that shaped me in my understanding of loss and led me to test the legitimacy of hope. Allow me to begin with what seemed like a normal spring day, April 22, 1970.
I can’t remember the details of how my brothers and I arrived home after school that day. We may have taken the customary school bus ride back to our neighborhood. With only one family car, I don’t think my dad left work to pick us up early. But I do remember the news we received after school: my grandfather’s dry-cleaning store was robbed. A gunman confronted him, demanded money and shot him. My grandfather was in grave condition in the hospital.
It didn’t take long for his body to succumb to the damage done when the bullet tore through his chest. After waves of sadness, a whirlwind of confusion and outrage, and a family vigil at the hospital, he was gone. My grandfather was murdered—randomly and senselessly.
Nothing can prepare you for the unexpected and violent death of someone you love. With rampant shootings happening around the country these days, scores of families understand sudden and devastating loss. The rude intrusion of heartbreak changes everything. But in addition to feeling sadness and a sense of unfairness, I was surprised by the invasion of hatred into my heart and soul. I hated the man who stole my grandfather’s life. I hated how this monster forcefully imposed hurt and torment into our lives. Our path was altered forever. We had to live with it. He didn’t even care.
There were no immediate answers to this tumult. We didn’t spot blessings; we couldn’t make sense of it; there was no bright side. That is how heartbreak intrudes. Loss brings with it no silver lining. Hope is out there, but it is not packaged up with grief.
Unfortunately, my grandfather’s murder wasn’t the end of my introduction to the way violence can grip the heart. Another April death was waiting. This one would bring even deeper horror and pain. It would present an unimaginable dimension of heartbreak that would test my personal sense of strength and resilience.
More about that step of the journey next time…