by Eric Ojala
I was about to fly out to a conference. Our newborn daughter was 4 weeks old and we had an 18-month old son. My mother had purchased a one-way ticket to come see us–I guess it was prophetic. We decided we would fly her back home when the wife had had all the love she could handle. That fateful morning when I went to wake her up before I flew out, I knocked. Then knocked again. I knew something was wrong. I threw open the door and for some inexplicable reason grabbed her leg.
It was cold.
My mother died in my house. My mother just died in my house.
A heart attack in the middle of the night. What do I do? Who do I call? Within an hour her body was taken and I began to make phone calls. Did she want to be buried or cremated? Who do I call first? How do I get her body 1500 miles back to Ohio? Does she have a will? Where will we get the money? Ten days later…the funeral was over and Leila and I were going through her home. I remember feeling something physically coming from my gut, up my throat. It wasn’t a sickness, it was grief. I remember thinking, I can’t cry right now, as I physically moved my hand from my throat down to my stomach. There’s too much to do. I’ll cry later.
Fast forward 5 years. “Have you been able to grieve your mother’s death?” the counselor who specializes in burnout asked me. I think so, I replied. “Well, why don’t you tell me about her?” I think I got maybe one syllable out…then the uncontrollable sobbing began. I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t the soft, quiet kind either. I could not see and I could hardly breathe. Tears, snot, gasping for air…you get the picture. “Eric,” he said, “I have a strong feeling that you have not grieved this one.”
No, not this one.
Nor the death of Leila’s father or her mother, the death of all our grandparents, that time our firstborn almost died at birth, the gut-wrenching betrayal of our best friend, a failed business…and yes, my mother’s death all within a few years. After the session I elected to stay in the room. I cried and then cried some more. It was terrible.
Terrible because I was not in control.
And yet…wonderful. So much of the pain I had shoved down started to come up. With every tear I felt better. With every tissue I felt my soul heal a little more.
Grieving is a lot like throwing up.
Most of us will do anything we possibly can to not throw up. However, our body is telling us there is something that needs to come out, something deep inside us that is not right. The funny thing is, we always feel better after.
So how do you grieve? The answer is, however you want. Laugh, cry, look at pictures, visit a physical site, yell, scream, think, replay a memory. And of course there is always the nuclear option of watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. What I am trying to say is, grieve, and grieve on purpose. Lose control and let your emotions out.
Don’t be afraid of grieving. It will feel difficult at the beginning, but you will always feel better after—the true vomiting of the soul.
Eric serves as Executive Pastor of Elements Church in Summit County, Colorado. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. He received his BA in Bible in 2002, and his Master of Business Administration in 2007. He is a gifted leader and recruiter, and loves to invent new ways of integrating church and business. As OUT Team Leader, Eric coordinates the arm of Elements Church that reaches farthest into Summit County to serve and love those outside within Summit County.