Grief is universal. So is remorse.

Grief is universal, regardless of the age of our children when they die. My daughter, Jess, was twenty-six years old when she died of an overdose in 2015. Had she died at age three, my sorrow would be no less, and no more.

Researchers that study “intensities of grief,” as they call it, seek to understand the many aspects of mourning — and so help us to understand what we are going through. They have learned much about grief, remorse, guilt and self-recrimination.

INTENSITY OF GRIEF

Bereaved parents feel the highest intensity of grief. One study that assessed mourning reactions…


South Carolina Wood (Photo: David Bannon)

Since my daughter died, I spend more and more time in the wood. Is this helpful? Yes and no.

Many people feel their dead loved ones with them in nature, whether in parks or trails, joining them as surely as the birds and deer and otters. I certainly do.


“Grief is integral to life and not a condition to be treated.”
— Dr. Nina Jakoby, Center for Death & Society, University of Bath

My daughter, Jess, died of a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose. She was twenty-six and my only child.

My grief at her death does not take a specific course or follow a predetermined time-line. Moments of mourning and keening come and go unbidden, uninvited. At times these waves of sorrow seem to carry me along, rather than the other way round.

Despite this lived reality of grief, felt by millions across the centuries, the myth of a grief…


God and our dead won’t leave us be, apparently

This afternoon I relaxed and treated myself to an old movie. While I was watching, a knock on my door.

We live in the country. A knock at the door is rare, even from our neighbors, who keep themselves to themselves.

I answered to a young woman, thirty-four and pregnant. Her name is Sandi.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought this house might be for sale.”

She had a look: one that I know all too well. So I put on my cap and stepped outside.

After informing her that our…


As we worked, Thomas spoke up : “My son drownded.”

God’s intervention is also seen in sudden experiences, like an unexpected signpost upon an uncertain road.
— Paul Tournier

My wife is a librarian. Usually I take her to work, though we rarely lunch together — perhaps 2–3 times a year. Our schedules don’t accommodate frequent visits. Earlier this year, out of the blue, I felt compelled to go to the library a good hour before my wife’s lunch break. I use the word compelled with care.

I got in our truck and started on my way. During the twenty minute drive, I felt my late daughter’s presence and her…


Our sorrow will end when we see them again

Grief lasts a lifetime. Mourning, on the other hand, has specific times and places — a wake, a funeral, a memorial. These are the cultural responses to death. Grief is personal.

Grief washes over us, recedes, returns in gale force, stays for a period, recedes again, yet always remains. “Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions,” wrote Joan Didion, “that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

In the first moments of acute sorrow, we may naturally turn to the facile answers that any Sunday School student could recite: “Live Life,” “There Is an…


Death often leads to a search for meaning

The death of a loved one shatters our world. Grief surrounds us. Our expectations and hopes have disappeared. We are adrift and bereft. We felt this emptiness the moment they died and may feel it for the rest of our lives. Our pain and doubts cannot be wished away.

Loss demands answers to profound questions about the reality of life and death. Why did our loved one have to die? we may ask. Where was God when we needed him? Where is the justice? The grace? The mercy?


This is what it feels like when someone dies — some part of us that cannot be measured has been taken away, we are not ourselves, we are not whole, we face each day soul-crippled.

My daughter and I used to watch foreign films. Jess could be quite adept at picking up languages. For breakfast one morning, after having watched a family-friendly Samurai film the night before, my sweet four-year-old girl announced in perfect burly-man Japanese, “Time for chow.”

Later, a few years before she died in 2015, Jess scolded me for not teaching her other languages. (I am a translator.) Now that she is gone, our roles are reversed. Jess is teaching me a new perspective.

The French phrase for “I miss you” illustrates how my world has changed. Tu me manques literally means…


The author’s new book offers a fresh, contemporary take on John Donne’s Devotions


The Evangelical Lutheran Parish Church of St. Matthäus in Neuses, Coburg

A grieving mother pleads for words of comfort

Luise Rückert eased into her familiar pew in the single parish church of Neuses, a suburb of Coburg. The winter had been relatively mild but this spring was unseasonably cold, wet and windy. The meadows along the Itz River had not yet started to bloom. It was Easter Monday, 31 March 1834.

David Bannon

Author and translator David Bannon has appeared on Discovery, A&E, History Channel, NPR, Fox News and in The Wall Street Journal. His daughter died in 2015.

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