“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” Genesis 4:8
One thing I learned is that varied experiences of death are similar but diverse. While loss is loss, the circumstances surrounding a particular death deliver dynamics that must be addressed.
First—to reiterate—you should never diminish or downplay your loss. Never compare losses. Your loss is in relation to your life before your loss and not in comparison to someone else’s loss. Second, however, you should consider the specific dynamic circumstances accompanying your loss.
For example, a long journey into loss such as a battle with cancer brings a long goodbye. It delivers anticipatory grief. Juxtapose the long journey into grief and loss to a sudden and stunning loss. The suddenness delivers a dynamic that must be addressed. Then consider the dynamics of sudden natural causes to sudden unnatural causes. Consider loss delivered by an accident or a murder. Those unique circumstances deliver dynamics that must be recognized and faced. Layers of questions unfold as you consider your loss.
Depending on the circumstances, you will face a compulsion to find answers. Some answers may remain hidden forever. I found there to be a balance that must be struck. A healthy balance.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
For us, our loss was unexpected and very confusing. Kim was healthy. I lived as if I would never have to face her death. Her ancestors lived long lives, one even past 100 years old. Some life circumstances impact expectations. Expectations are powerful. While it was a very difficult decision for me, my children and Kim’s parents wanted an autopsy. We all wanted answers.
I waited nine weeks for the report. Since I had requested the autopsy, the findings were mailed to me. I will never be able to “unsee” that report. Painful. Even confusing. I’ll never forget reading the cause of death: “diffuse alveolar hemorrhage.”
That report began a journey. Those three words were not very helpful to my medically untrained mind. Nurses and doctors know immediately what that means. I didn’t. I shared the findings with family. I shared it with a doctor friend who explained the alveoli are where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged in the bronchial system. It hemorrhaged and cut off oxygen, and Kim collapsed and died. But why? That set me on another journey—a compulsion—to find more answers. Why did she hemorrhage and die? What caused it? I sought to speak with Kim’s doctors. One didn’t reply. One replied and helped me somewhat, but she could not definitively answer all of my questions.
“Why is not just a question—it’s a heart-wrenching cry of protest.” H. Norman Wright, Experiencing Grief
Eventually, I called the medical examiner who had performed the autopsy. She could only answer what had caused her death. But she could only speculate as to what precipitated the failure of her alveoli.
A friend of a family member was killed in an accident. In their case, there are simply no answers for some parts of the story. In the case of murder, you may never learn who or why—no matter how compelled you are to discover answers.
My experience led me to realize there are simply some difficult circumstances surrounding death. If you’re facing loss, seek to strike a healthy balance in your quest for answers. It’s absolutely normal to seek answers. However, I found there came a point when I realized I may never fully understand what precipitated my wife’s death. Acceptance is an important part of the survivor’s healing and recovery. You may have a compulsion to seek answers but consider the importance of addressing that compulsion appropriately. Seek answers, yes, but seek healthy acceptance, as well.
“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” Ecclesiastes 7:1