Grief has a rippling effect. Throw a stone in the pond and you can see the impact of that stone ripple out in an ever-widening circle.
When we lost Oliver at the age of six, the stone was thrown hard and the ripples went out a long way. Clearly, as his parents, we did not see the ripple effect since we were consumed in our own grief and that of our other children. We closed ourselves in to focus on our grief while still trying to go through day-to-day life.
Understandably, when someone loses a loved one we focus on those closest to him or her. But it is important to watch where those ripples go and see who else needs someone to reach out to them. The family is obviously impacted and we tried to balance our grief with the needs of our children (I think we failed rather miserably, but we tried).
But I’m also close with my work colleagues and they were close to Oliver. The impact on them was strong and they were balancing their grief with trying to support me. And Hope College, where I work, had embraced our family during the nearly three years Oliver was in treatment so may of those people, even those who had never met him, took the loss hard. Those ripples continue out.
We had friends who supported us throughout the ordeal and felt the loss severely. One of Oliver’s aunts dealt with her own grief while trying to explain to her own 5-year-old son, Oliver’s cousin and best friend, the concept of death. A young teenage girl who often came over to play with Oliver, and whom he was planning to marry when he grew up, clearly felt the loss.
The nurses, doctors, child-life specialists, techs, and everyone else at the hospital were in grief. Most of their patients don’t die, and you never get used to having a child die. They were grieving. And some of them even carried an undeserved sense of guilt at not being able to cure an incurable cancer.
How the grief plays out for all these people will differ. Some of those ripples turn to calm water sooner than others. But the grief is there. As we reach out to those who have lost someone, remember those surrounding them who are impacted.
Perhaps the impact of our lives is seen in how far those ripples go out. A small word or gesture, positive or negative, has a wave of influence. Oliver’s short life left a long, positive rippling effect. But the length of the ripple is not important — what is important is we remember to reach out to all those left behind in grief no matter where they are in the pond.