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Oct7TueLearning to give thanks in the midst of grief. October 7, 2014 by Major Kathie Chiu
It was Thanksgiving 2009, just four blurry 24-hour periods since the passing of my mother. I felt like I was walking through a fog as things happened around me. Looking back, I wonder how I navigated those days and the weeks that followed.
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
That was only five years ago, but so many of the memories are gone. I can't remember what day of the week she died. I remember our divisional commander, Lt-Colonel Susan van Duinen, arriving early at my mother's bedside to sit and pray with us. How did she get there so soon?
My kids watched, helpless, as I grieved. They watched as I sang hymns to her every day for seven weeks. They watched me sob as she lay in the hospital. They watched me walk around the house aimlessly. They talked to me without expecting a reply, or waited patiently for me to answer when I stopped mid-sentence to stare off into the air. They knew I was no longer hearing them.
My husband also lost a mother that day. My mother had become his mother, too. She accepted and loved him as one of her own, and he accepted and loved her back. He teased her mercilessly, and his quick smile and loud, crazy laugh would chase away her annoyance. He grieved heavily, responding with constant activity. Where I was overwhelmed and paralyzed, he got busy. While I felt numb, he got everything organized.
I can't remember the day of her memorial here in British Columbia—what songs we sang, what Scripture was read. I have no memory of getting on the plane to take her back to Ontario to be buried with my father. I do remember the funeral service at her home corps and all the people—family and friends; her Sunday school kids, all grown up; her junior soldiers, who loved her dedication to them; my school friends, who knew her as their Brownie leader—who came to send her off to glory. There was standing room only in that little corps on the lakeshore.
Everyone reacts to grief in a different way. For me, talking about my mom really helped. I reminisced, cried and laughed. It was cathartic. Even though I spent so much time with her in those last few weeks, I still felt guilty about leaving the day she had a moment of lucidity. My son was giving me a ride home and needed to be somewhere. All we managed to say was, “I love you,” and although it was sweet, I still regret not staying. Family and friends reminded me to be easy on myself.
The other thing that helped was reading the cards people sent with their sweet messages of grace and peace. Along with phone calls, they helped me feel the prayers and support of friends.
As a writer, I poured my grief and loss onto the page. Writing about my mom and the experience of her death helped me mourn.
Five years later, my grief has become a sense of peace and joy for having had her in my life for so long, and for so many wonderful memories. I was her youngest child and only girl—she spoiled me with love and affection. It is, I'm sure, what buffeted me against a distant and broken father plagued with alcoholism. She was my lifeline. She took me to Sunday school and Sunday meetings. She made sure I was surrounded by people who loved God. Even in her own brokenness, she showed me how to be resilient—how to persevere and get to the finish line. When I wanted to quit, she made me keep at it. When I said I was leaving home, she offered to help me pack. And when, as a teenager, I did leave, she waited patiently for me to return. She was a rock in a turbulent sea of family chaos and messiness.
When Thanksgiving comes and our family gathers around the table, filled with delicious foods made just the way she taught me—like her awesome turkey gravy—I give thanks for my mother. My children give thanks for a grandmother who loved, kissed and cuddled them, and gave them her unconditional support. In her eyes, we were perfect. In our eyes, she was simply the best.
Major Kathie Chiu grew up in The Salvation Army and has been an officer for 22 years. She has five children, including two teenaged boys still living at home, and eight grandchildren. She is the corps officer in Richmond, B.C.