When our infant daughter died unexpectedly many years ago, I was overwhelmed with grief. It came in waves, not as swells gently rising and falling, but crashing, knock-down breakers slamming me suddenly from behind. Out of the blue, I would start sobbing uncontrollably and have to go off in a room by myself. Ten minutes later, it was over. Until her death, I had not cried since childhood and thought my body did not react that way anymore. But it was just buried deeper, waiting for the call. Later, I read that crying is cathartic, releasing soothing brain chemicals. The old movies were right when someone said, “Go ahead. Have a good cry. You’ll feel better.” Yes, you will. Good advice. I have been there.
The first evening after her death, my parents came to our house with long-time church friends of theirs, Helen and Howard Tarbotton, a plain couple who lived nearby on the corner of Stratford and Owen Avenues. The six of us played some simple card game for distraction. About every hour, a wave of grief would envelope me, and I would leave the table to recover. When I returned, they were all patiently waiting and said nothing. The game simply resumed. Life resumed.
I don’t remember ever thanking the Tarbottons for their kind, selfless support. They were not family. They had no obligation to share in such a difficult time with us. I was never even aware of when or how they died, and that adds to my regret.
The Tarbottons’ son, Bill, a few years younger than me, had died earlier of a stroke when he was only 16. A good kid, he had been grocery shopping for his mother at the 69th Street Penn Fruit. In the parking lot, he turned to a woman nearby, saying he felt sick, then collapsed and never regained consciousness. The doctor performing the autopsy said the arteries in his brain were as fragile as those of an 80-year-old man (not far from my age now). So they knew the pain of grief and were ready to help however they could.
Gradually, the waves of grief grew further and further apart. A week later, they only rolled over me a few times a day, and in another few weeks, some days passed without any. Eventually, I could look at her photographs, still sad, but not devastated, her death a distant memory. Grief had changed to melancholy.
If you have emotional ties to another person, those ties will hurt when they break. The stronger the ties, the more they will hurt. There is no way to avoid it, no way to prepare. But it is true, time heals all wounds. There is nothing you need to do, nothing you can do, but understand it will pass. We are resilient.