for John Permesang
Grief is a broad term we use when describing the impact of losing someone. But it is such a broad term that it really does little to help us understand one another in grief. There are books on stages of grief and ways to overcome grief, but such attempts obviously cannot address all types of grief. There is nothing inherently wrong with such attempts, but they must acknowledge their limitations. My grief for Oliver is different from other people’s grief for Oliver, and my grief over the loss of other people I know differs from the grief I suffer for Oliver.
21 years ago today (August 18) our family suffered its first close family loss when my father-in-law, John Permesang, passed away from kidney cancer at 58 years of age. The time from his diagnosis to his death was just a matter of months, so clearly this caught our family off guard. As I write this at age 56, I think about the future plans I have that go far beyond two more years of life.
I actually wrote about John and his wife, Evie, in a Hope College Knickerbocker Film blog a couple of years ago. Without meaning to, they were challenging legal and social norms by settling down as a interracial couple in the United States (Evie is from Panama and they met when he was stationed there while serving in the army). The two of them were people who blazed a trail for a more just society simply by being in love and living their lives.
Mary Ann misses her father greatly and grieves over that loss. But she will also tell you that the grief over losing her father is different than the grief over losing Oliver. Not less, but different. My oldest two children can probably say the same thing since both Gray and Maria were very close to their grandfather and his death had a profound impact on them. But it is a different loss than what they suffered when their little brother died.
Instead of focusing on levels of grief, in that we grieve for someone more or less than someone else, we should understand that we grieve differently for different people. More importantly, we need to recognize that grief grows and changes. Not growth in the sense of it getting worse (although that can be the case) but growth in the sense of changing and developing over time. This makes sense since grief does not exist separately from people — and people grow. Plus, our relationships with people, even those we have lost, also change over time.
So 21 years after his death we still grieve the loss of John in our lives. We grieve differently than we did 21 years ago, but we still grieve. We still miss him. We still miss Oliver. And we always miss both of them.
I dedicate today’s blog to the memory of John. So instead of relying on Scripture, I’ll go to his favorite philosopher, Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S Enterprise (from Star Trek of course!) for an insightful quote: “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.”