Put Me In The Corner: Brawling with Grief

Imagine for a moment that you are a professional strike artist. A master of the body shot, and a prolific producer of the “right hook”.  You’re fast, strong, and calculating. Anybody who has ever stepped in the ring with you has found defeat, whether it be by knockout or unanimous decision. You’re unstoppable, unbeatable. The ultimate fighter.

Photo Courtesy of iStock/thaddeus_griffin

Photo Courtesy of iStock/thaddeus_griffin

Now imagine you step in the ring, just like any time before, and as you turn your gaze upon the foe in the other corner, you are crushed by fear. Your chest tightens as you see that they outweigh you by 100 pounds. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you notice its reach is greater than yours by about 8 inches, and your stomach squirms as you look into their eyes and see nothing but a void of darkness and pain. The odds are insurmountable. The hopes of a win: diminished. This foe is going to beat you.

Then, from behind you, you hear a whisper, “It’s ok, you can do this.” You turn around and see a swarm of faces, some you recognize and others are unfamiliar. They look to you and nod their heads in unison, reaffirming that although the fear and fight is very real, winning will not be impossible. One of them reaches out a hand and lays it upon your shoulder, looks into your eyes and says, “We are here for you. We will be your strength.” The tightness in your chest subsides; the hair on the back of your neck rests, and your stomach turns from a roaring squall to a calm ocean current.

You have found it. Your confidence. Your strength. Your will to win.

Now, who is this mystery opponent?  Well, it’s Grief.

1e93c45cbcfe23d93b0b5bcc8533bffaThe ferocious, blind siding, merciless monster of grief is there to fight, to beat you down, to overwhelm you.

Its weight is sorry, its reach is endless, and its deep-set eyes are dark. Each person who experiences a death of a loved one has to step into the ring with this unmatchable foe, and fight endless grueling rounds with it. The whole time, death is throwing jabs of anger, left hooks of despair, and haymakers of regret. Perhaps you are countering each strike with a happy memory, maybe you are in denial, or you’re telling everyone “I’m fine”.

But it’s not enough. Grief seeks to break you. That is where the man in the corner comes in.

Photo Courtesy of iStock/DaddyBit

Photo Courtesy of iStock/DaddyBit

I’ve never been a huge fan of boxing, but I have always found the idea of the “man in your corner” to be the best coaching method. They are only a few feet away, yelling out instructions or boosting their player’s confidence. No fancy signs, no whistles, and no prancing up and down a sideline. The coach’s involvement in boxing is personal, beside you the whole way.

Getting to meet grieving people is what I do. I am one of those unfamiliar faces, but I’m there to support and help.

When you meet someone who has gone through loss, my challenge for myself, and to each one of you reading this is:

–       Be that person in the corner. Offer love, care, and be a presence in their journey.

–       Be bold. Say what your heart tells you to say, not what your brain finds more comfortable.

–       Be physical. Physical communication is important, too. Offer a hug, an arm around the shoulder, or a two-handed handshake. If the person isn’t particularly touchy, respect that and find a way of connecting with them that is comfortable for them.

 

The more I think about this notion, the more I have become fond of boxing. The man in the corner is a gift, and I hope to offer myself as that gift to anyone who needs it. I hope you, as a reader, will do the same.

Who’s corner have you been in?

Who has been in your corner for you, when you stepped into the ring with grief?

Share some stories below or offer tips to be the ultimate “corner coach”.

Michael

About Michael

I started working for O’Connor Mortuary in December of 2012. At first I was working as a part-time service assistant just as a second job, but soon I found that I had fallen in love with process of a memorial service and the staff I work with. I was recently hired to a full-time position, and I’m now a Service Director. On my time off I enjoy playing softball, disc golf, and spending time with friends.

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  • Lori

    Michael,
    What a great analogy! I really enjoyed reading this post.
    I am privileged to be in a position where I get to hear families depict how you have been their “man in the corner” during their services. One lady in particular commented on how you are “wise beyond your years” “so kind and loving”. This is a gift to nurture. You have already proven in your short time at O’Connor that you have the knack of relating to the families we serve.
    It is a pleasure to see you grow in your role.
    Great job!
    Lori

    • Michael Thomas

      Thanks Lori! I hope I can come up with some more interesting topics. I think Ive used up 2 good ones in my first 2 blogs! Panic! haha

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Michael, I had never thought about grief this way- it is so true when you say grief is your “opponent”. To have someone in your corner when grief has completely overwhelmed you is what gives you hope and helps you see that your painful journey is bearable. Thank you for being that person for so many people. Your presence is truly a gift!

    • Michael Thomas

      As is your presence, Becky. When I first met you, you were the person “Replacing Pat”, but now I have grown into loving an appreciating your company and care for our company! Thank you so much for everything you do.

  • Anne

    Michael
    When our job is something we love and look forward to, when it is a place where we feel a sense of making a difference and being needed, we have found ourselves in a huge part of our lives… in fact at least 1/3 of every day, and over half of our waking hours.
    You have found this here and it makes me happy for you.
    Grief is my current, ongoing opponent. Yesterday and today, it has been winning the rounds, but I know that I come out on top in the end. The man in my corner is the Lord, with Lou’s spirit urging Him to do all to help me win the battle. Behind Him are all of you, my family, my church, my friends and all those who want me to beat it. Behind grief are dark spirits that can’t stand the light, so that is where I am trying to stay. IN the light!
    Great blog!

    • Michael Thomas

      I will continue to be a man in your corner, Anne, as long as you need me. You can count on that. <3

  • Michael,
    I really love this blog and the great visuals you give to the struggle and support we face in the midst of grief. I remember (though I didn’t know it at the time) being a support for my mom when my step-grandpa died. She was grieving for herself but also for her mom who lost a dear husband. I remember wanting to cry for her, to take the pain away for her but I couldn’t. Like you say, all I could do was stand with her and watch the fight take place.

    I recently heard a quote where the person says, “You’re lucky to live sad moments,” and I believe that’s true for many reasons but the two that come to mind are that we are lucky because of how they break us open and for the people that step forward that we can recognize as true friends. There is so much truth in grief, we are lucky to be surrounded by so much of it.

    Thanks for the blog!

    • Michael Thomas

      Thank you, my esteemed colleague. “To be, or not to be, that is the question…” Sure, this is out of context, but I think be have both chosen “to be” the strength for hurting individuals. Thanks MoDog!

  • Neil O’Connor

    Hi Michael –

    Great blog and analogies! After 25 years of serving our community, with many of my close friends and family members, I cannot recall how many people I have personally served. I can recall that when I had a death in our family the people I did not expect to attend the services showed up, I was overwhelmed with gratitude & love. On the other side of, some of my closest friends who choose not to show up and support me, wow that even deepened my pain. The greatest gift you can give someone in life is “showing up” or your presences in the difficult times, not just the parties. Thank you for embracing this honorable journey we are all on together. You have already made a major difference in many of our families lives.

    • Michael Thomas

      Thank you, Mr. Fearless! Keep being a great coach so maybe I can grow up and be just like you!

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Michael,
    What a great blog!! You drew me right in. You know, all I thought about while I was reading was Million Dollar Baby. You know how much I love Clint Eastwood and his role in that movie. You are in the fortunate position to be in the corner for many who need you. I am so very proud of you. I look forward to watching you grow and develop in your position here at O’Connors.

    Kari

    • Michael Thomas

      I know! weird, huh? Thanks Mom

  • Sharon Watkins

    Michael
    I’m continually amazed at how mature and thoughtful you are for your age. You are right, we are indeed fortunate when we feel that we have someone or many people in our corner – truly a gift – particularly when we are grieving. The people who are there for us at that time are NEVER forgotten – ANGELS FROM GOD!
    I am so glad that we have the chance to be there for others during their grieving time. You see more of it than I do and I am grateful that you listened to your heart and came on board in this profession. You are perfect for this job…..
    Sincerely,
    Sharon

    • Michael Thomas

      Lori has taken to calling me “Old Soul”. Thank you so much for your input on this topic.

  • Fitz

    Michael,
    Thanks for sharing your thought provoking take on grief. It can certainly be a battle. The grief stricken at times need to “slug” their way out to move forward. We are so blessed to be in a position to provide a safe place for grief, to be present and shepherd the families we serve as they begin their journey dealing with grief. You have the wonderful ability to connect and support those we serve at the most difficult time of their lives. Thank you.
    Fitz

    • Michael Thomas

      Thanks Fitz. I appreciate your diligence and leadership here at O’connors.

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Good blog Michael. I have to say that I have always been bad with physical contact especially with people closest to me. But as I have learned working here, that is what families need. Comfort. I have seen how you connect with people and comfort them and you have just started. So good job!! I absolutely am rewarded with what I do and am proud that we walk alongside in the positions we are in!

    • Michael Thomas

      Thanks JoJo. You have taught me a lot in these “squire” months that I have been here. I thank you, dearly.

  • Jeff Turner

    Michael,
    I love the metaphor and your description of the opponent. I have found, just as you have illustrated, that past losses can come back on you when you least expect it. I am so appreciative of your heart for people and in particular, those who are hurting. I appreciate your willingness to dive in with people and openness to learn new ways to make connections. Thank you for what you bring everyday to our work family and those we serve who need someone in their corner.

    Jeff

    • Michael Thomas

      Thank you, sir. My heart keeps growing as I learn by example from some of the most caring but also professional directors in our business.

  • Shayna Mallik

    I love this BLOG! What an amazing way to describe grief. I never thought of this metaphor before, but it hits the nail on the head. I have seen you make such great connections here with all the different families. You are the first to step up and comfort families that truly need it. You have a gift Michael! Thank you for sharing this blog with us. You are such a great writer and I can’t wait to read your next blog.

    Shayna

    • Michael Thomas

      I can’t wait until my next one, either. It’s fun offering little tips for the grieving and hurting.

  • Greg Forster

    Michael,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your use of words and the captivating images that they created. What you say is so true, the grief process can be a battle which, in turn, if one is so fortunate, can open up a window to a much-loved source of support. I have been supported by others and I have supported others. As with the human condition, some people step up to the plate when the time is needed, and, alas, others do not. Sometimes some of the best support comes from “corners” where we least expect it.

    You show some very good maturity for a young man of your age and I congratulate you for it. As you go through your own life’s journey, may you always find the glass “half full” rather than “half empty”. May the support that you so willingly give of yourself now, come back and wrap itself warmly around you when you have need of it.

    Greg

    • Michael Thomas

      Thank you Greg. I’ve learned how to speak with all kinds of families by learning from the best in the business 🙂

  • Erin Fodor

    Hi Michael,

    I absolutely love being that person in the corner. I feel extremely lucky to have been guided down this path for a career. I know there were some key people in my journey through grief, and unfortunately even 13 years later it can be a daily struggle.
    But I have always had a great support system and many corner coaches throughout. I thank our O’Connor family here everyday for help starting mine and my families paths of healing. Sometimes all you need is to hear everything will be okay, or a friendly embrace to show someone cares.

    Erin

    • Michael Thomas

      If you love it, you will fit in awfully nice here at O’connors 🙂

  • Tom

    This is an excellent metaphor for grief and support. We ought to give people space who are experiencing grief and allow them to cry.

    • Michael Thomas

      Warmest regards, tom.

  • Mitch Gibson

    What a terrific analogy. I never really thought about grieving that way. It can be a real battle & each one is different. Your blog has renewed the importance of what we do & provide. Everything we do & say can help or hinder & we need to be thoughtful and caring to our families needs & how we can be helpful. We also need to care for each other in the same way. Great job to everyone.

    • Michael Thomas

      Thanks Mitch. I came to the realization of the analogy when you and I were on a transfer one day. How ’bout that?

  • Elsa

    Michael,
    This is an interesting way to compare grief. It really is very important to be that coach in the corner. Just having someone behind you at your most challenging moments to offer you that bit of encouragement can be the world of difference. I have noticed in my own experiences in not only guiding families, but also in personal experiences, that just being there can be all the support needed.

    • Michael Thomas

      You know where to go if you ever need someone else in your corner 🙂 and it doesn’t have to be just for grieving.

  • Carrie Bayer

    Wow Michael- what a powerful piece! So well written, thought provoking & inspiring. It has been so awesome watching how you interact with our families & seeing the TLC you give them. I love that you are so “warm & fuzzy”, it comes to you naturally & I always feel comforted knowing you will be helping one of my families. I have been in the corner for hundreds of grieving families & have made lifelong friends with many of them. But being in the corner for my sister & her kids these past couple of weeks has been the most heartbreakingly rewarding moment I’ve had so far. It has been such an honor to walk by her side & guide her thru the funeral process start to finish. She was in my corner while I went thru my divorce & I will always be grateful for her love & support. Thank you, Michael! Love, Carrie

    • Michael Thomas

      Thank you so much carrie. I hope I can grow into as good of a corner coach as you!

  • Jenn

    I have only had the opportunity to be in the corner for a friend of mine who’s mom passed a few years ago, myself and her other friend sort of “tagged teamed”. One of us was always with her while the other was running around behind the scenes wether it was picking up flowers or food or knee highs. I hope when I have to step into the ring I have a good man in my corner!

    • Michael Thomas

      When it comes to being in the corner, I say, the more the merrier!

  • Mark Adams

    Michael…..Thank you for sharing your thoughts about grief…..by the way C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors….what a great quote from him…..Mark

  • Michael Thomas

    I haven’t had this much fun on any job I have had before, and a lot of it is thanks to you, sir!

  • Michael Thomas

    Thanks Shaster. You know that I will always be in your corner 🙂

  • Michael Thomas

    Thanks A-Train. You keep fighting, and I’ll keep coaching and motivating 🙂 promise.

  • Michael Thomas

    Stronger is what I aim for, my friend. Thank you for your kind words.

  • Michael Thomas

    Thank you, Old Squire. Thanks for showing me the ways of wisdom in our profession. It is greatly appreciated.

  • Lauren

    “Say what your heart tells you to say, not what your brain finds more comfortable.” Great advice!
    I’m so grateful to those who’ve been in my corner and kept me shuffling.

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Michael . . .
    First let me say how very proud I am that you are my grandson! You have always been a source of great joy to me, from the moment you were born. And now, I am in the presence of a great young man. I must say that I could not be more overjoyed with the decision you made to commit your life to helping others through your care and support of families here. How many grandmother’s get that opportunity. Your description of grief is spot on. None of us are prepared for that “punch in the heart”, even when we know that the death will be soon. Having that special “someone in our corner” give those who grieve an opportunity to be cared for, supported and guided throughout their journey. You have become that “corner man”, Giving loving direction and caring for the injured soul. You are becoming the consummate shepherd in a profession that requires you to be so much more than an “undertaker-ordertaker” I thank you for your heart!

    GP