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Returning to whatever is normal

Published April 09. 2011 09:00AM

A recent, unexpected loss still weighs heavily for many of us.

We'll never totally heal. We'll always deal with emotions over losing someone vital and special.

That's how it goes. Loss doesn't necessarily become easier, whether it's a co-worker or family member. When we lose someone we care about, we lose part of ourselves, and we spend the rest of our lives dealing with it. I'm not sure how we continue, but that's what we need to do each time it happens.

I think of the advice given me by a dear relative, Emma Minehart Hahn. Emma was my great aunt and in her 90s. She said the hardest part about reaching that age is that we lose our friends and loved ones. They move on and leave us behind. I understand what she meant. Dealing with grief is a challenge.

Grief can affect our daily life and compromise how we perform even the simplest chores. It changes things. And that change can be hard to accept and deal with. At times, we need to lean on others. And that's perfectly fine. It's important to understand we are not alone.

For instance, my friend Pastor Kevin Roberts conducts a GriefShare session every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Bethany Evangelical Congregational Church in Tamaqua. Pastor Roberts advertises the opportunity regularly and encourages folks to take advantage of it. GriefShare is a national organization and we are fortunate to have it available locally. The doors at Bethany are open to anyone who feels the need for support and comfort, anyone whose heart is aching.

"The teachings are biblical and non-denominational," he says.

Pastor Roberts' GriefShare is a blessing to those dealing with loss.

Aunt Emma always told me: "When you lose someone, it's never the same again."

I remember so many of Emma's words. She was a wise woman from a long line of wise Pennsylvania Dutchmen who lived in Carbon County - Palmerton and Bowmanstown. She was the family matriarch on my mother's side. She never had children. In fact, she was 50 when she married, taking up residence on Hahn's Dairy Road. One dark early morning, after 10 years of marriage, Emma woke and found her husband dead in bed next to her. He had died quietly during the night and she never knew.

In those days, there was no phone on the farm and so Emma had to wait for daylight, for neighbors to arise. Then, she summoned help. Even now, I find it hard to imagine how Emma spent those few hours and what her thoughts and feelings might have been.

"He wasn't even sick," she told me. "He spent that day picking blueberries."

And so Emma warned me that death can arrive when we least expect it.

Years later, her words came back to me. On October 28, 1991, I walked into the living room to waken my father at suppertime. He had been napping on the sofa. Or so I thought. He didn't respond when I said "Dad, are you awake?" Then I realized the room was totally silent. The experience is seared into my brain. I will never forget.

When these things happen - when we suddenly lose family, friends and loved ones - life doesn't really return to normal. Nor does life go on in any manner comparable to the normal routine.

Instead, life changes. And the best we can do is to cope, pray, talk about it, and try to take care of ourselves and others.

At times like these, I think of Aunt Emma. She was, above all, a Christian of deep conviction. Occasionally, I'd take her to visit her parents' graves at Bowmanstown Cemetery, high on a hill not far from Faith Alive United Methodist Church. There, we'd talk. I remember one time she told me she wasn't afraid of dying.

"I don't know what comes next," said Emma. "I don't think about what comes next."

She said people should lead good, clean lives and care for one another. If everyone did that, everything would be OK, and there'd be no need to worry about what comes next.

No words exist to describe the deep pangs of hollowness we feel when those closest to us are suddenly taken away. Pain can cut to the very soul.

And sometimes a normal day is a day when we cry.

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