Grief. It’s a life experience that’s unavoidable. It affects the young and old alike. Grief has no regard for race, color, creed, culture or gender; it shows no prejudice. It is an equal opportunity defiler of happiness.
Rochester author Harriet Hodgson is no stranger to grief. In 2007, Hodgson’s life was permanently changed with the deaths of not one close family member, but four—all within the span of less than a year.
In February of 2007, Hodgson’s daughter died in an automobile collision, leaving 15-year-old twins to be raised by their father. Two days later, her father-in-law passed away. In April, the father of Hodgson’s twin grandchildren was killed in an automobile accident, and eight months after that, she received news of her brother’s death. It was too much too soon.
“We would just start to feel better and another family member would die. Then start to feel better again and another one would die. I didn’t know how I was going to cope,” reflects Hodgson.
As an experienced health and wellness writer and member of the Association of Healthcare Journalists, Hodgson turned to her greatest coping skill: writing. “A week after my daughter died, I sat down at the computer and turned to my occupation and [decided] I was going to write about this,” Hodgson explains. “I would pour out my soul in words.”
Finding Happiness Again
The result was a short, easy-to-read guide entitled “Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss.” Drawing from her own experiences and meticulously researching information about the grief process and healing techniques, Hodgson provides the reader with intimate insights from her own grieving process and practical approaches to help move past the grief and find happiness once again.
“‘Happy Again’ is purposefully succinct,” Hodgson explains. “People who are grieving do not want an encyclopedia. They want reliable help, and they want it fast. But they may not remember what they read 10 minutes later,” she said. Hodgson’s goal was to give information that could be read in one sitting.
Grieving Is Work
In her book, Hodgson discusses not only the stages of grief, but includes the lesser-understood sub genre of grief known as “secondary grief.” In secondary grief, the mourner grieves not only for the lost loved one, but also for those aspects of life associated with the original loss: income, home, security, way of life and even friendships. After their father’s death, Hodgson raised her twin grandchildren, and with that came the secondary grief of losing the retirement lifestyle she had enjoyed. She and her husband traded social gatherings with other retirees for homework, sporting events and the challenges that come with raising teens. Her grandchildren lost both parents, as well as their home, neighborhood, friends and even their family dog. There was much to be done to overcome the grief, and, Hodgson says, “Grieving is work.”
One important aspect of coping with grief can be finding a new purpose. Mourners sometimes need to redefine themselves by creating new roles, and it may be helpful to take on volunteer work to give them a sense of purpose. Among Hodgson’s new roles was parenting her grandchildren. “I get up every day with a sense of purpose,” she says. “I have very good reasons to get out of bed and face the day.”
Hodgson identifies two key components in the healing process: tears and laughter. Tears help cleanse the body of its pain, and laughter heals the soul. “I remember the first time I had a belly laugh after all these family members died, and it felt so good,” she shares. “Every time I have a hearty laugh, I dedicate it to my daughter, and it links me to her.”
Helping Mourners Heal
Online communities and support groups can be critical tools in overcoming grief. Hodgson recommends the online resources opentohope.com and thegrieftoolbox.org for those looking for online support. In Rochester, there are a variety of grief support groups available, including GriefShare, which meets at 6 p.m. on Mondays at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in room 223. More information is available by calling 507-206-6621. Rochester Assembly of God Church sponsors a support group for those who have lost a spouse or a child. For information, call 507-288-0868. Other resources are available in the back of Hodgson’s book.
Catherine H. Armstrong is a full-time community volunteer and stay-at-home mom. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and is currently working on her first novel.