Writer explores post traumatic growth
Linda Hunt shares insights from experiences of people who have lost children.
In her latest book, Linda Lawrence Hunt combines her experience from her journey of grief since her 25-year-old daughter Krista died in 1998 with research on and stories of others who lost children,
Pilgrimage through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child took her nine years to write, because she was teaching and faced a second bout of breast cancer.
Krista had died in a bus accident while she and her husband Aaron Ausland were serving three years with the Mennonite Central Committee in a remote village in Bolivia. After graduating from the University of Puget Sound (UPS) in 1995, they worked in Alaska and went to Bolivia to live among and come to know the people.
Linda said her book differs from other grief books because she explores “how people live forever with loss of someone they love, particularly a child” in a culture that emphasizes closure.
“There are many good books on immediate grief, but little is written on long-term loss,” she said, adding, “Parents live with ‘forever love’ of a child.”
Linda will have a book launching at 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 8, at Auntie’s, 402 W. Main in Spokane.
Linda said she “came into faith” during high school in Seattle. She and Jim met at the University of Washington, where she majored in history, English and education. She attended University Presbyterian Church and worked with Young Life. After graduating in 1962, she taught two years in Glendora, Calif., and then taught in Edmonds while Jim completed doctoral studies.
In 1963, she joined a biblical scholar for a 35-day tour of the Middle East and Europe, acting on her desire to explore the world.
They came to Spokane when Jim began teaching at Whitworth University. Susan was born in 1970. Krista was born in 1972. Linda worked part time in public relations at the YWCA, until they adopted Jefferson, a four-year-old Korean child in 1976.
She completed a master’s degree in education at Whitworth in 1980, and began teaching writing at Spokane Community College and a Jan term class on women and history at Whitworth. Half-time teaching at Whitworth grew into to full-time teaching. She worked 20 years there until Krista’s death.
The next year, Linda and Jim co-founded and she became director of the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship to foster international service for young adults.
“We buried Krista on her third wedding anniversary,” Linda said.
A Shaker box with her ashes was placed on the altar at First Presbyterian Church where she had been married.
Devastated after Krista’s death, Linda remembers being on her porch talking with God, not understanding, but wanting to keep her heart open to God.
“I knew no one is immune to facing difficulties,” she said, telling of her brother’s death in a car accident in 1962, “but I believe God walks with us in hard times.
“In today’s world, most people have three days off work. For us, it was the end of a school semester. We had three months until teaching in September, so we were fortunate,” Linda said.
“A month after Krista’s death, our daughter Susan was to marry in Newport, RI. The minister made it clear, it was Susan’s wedding, not another memorial to her sister,” Linda said.
Then she and Jim went to Bolivia to help Aaron close the house and learn about the last six months of Krista’s life. They went to the accident site. They listened to a tape Krista had made telling about her experiences.
In Bolivia, the words of the hymn, “Sorrow and Love Flow Mingled Down,” came to her.
“Our challenge would be to live creatively with sorrow and love, because Krista would not want us to grieve forever. She would want us to live joyfully and vibrantly,” Linda said.
She began to hear myths about families who lose children and to hear typical things people tell friends and family in times of loss.
People told her everything changes when a child dies. Some said 90 percent of marriages end. However, Compassionate Friends, an organization of parents who lose children reports that only 16 percent of marriages end.
Soon after returning from Bolivia, she wrote a 50-page piece, “A Terrible Beauty: Loss and Love in Bolivia.” It was too long for a magazine article and too short for a book. She shortened it to publish in UPS Arches.
The article also told about the Krista Foundation’s efforts to encourage young people to be involved in international experiences.
“While writing this, I cried and felt close to Krista,” she said. “I began to wonder if people fear moving out of grief because they fear losing the closeness to the person.”
Being half Norwegian, she went inward. She put a professional wall around herself at work. Friends in the church and at Whitworth seemed to know what they needed to do.
Pilgrimage through Loss speaks of the need for both solitude and companionship.
Aaron took a year off to travel and stayed with the Hunts a while. Then he went back to Bolivia for four years and met his wife, Gabriela. They and their two children, the Hunt’s heart-grandchildren, now live in Seattle where he works for World Vision.
Linda said Jim grieved differently. The first year, he poured himself into work and being a church elder. He took a sabbatical the second year. He found solitude backpacking with their dog for a week in the Olympic Peninsula.
Jim continued his commitment to introduce students to Central America.
While in Ecuador for an international service learning conference, he met a woman on the bus from Quito to Machu Pichu. When he learned she, too, had lost a 25-year-old daughter in a bus accident, he broke bread with her.
“Our loss immerses us in international ties. Suffering happens to many,” Linda said. “Through history and international affairs, we are aware of the depth of suffering of people around the world who lose their homes and countries, who are refugees in Syria and Africa, who have seen violence or lost family to violence, who lose children, who suffer health and a multitude of other losses.
“We lost Krista. We treasure that we had her for 25 years,” she said.
International experiences are important to the Hunts.
With Whitworth programs, she and Jim had visited Berlin, Mexico City and Spain. This spring, she and Jim will spend in Costa Rica, where he will teach five weeks at Whitworth’s program there.
Krista joined them in Spain and joined Jim on a semester immersion trip to Honduras and in El Salvador.
Later when Jim took students to El Salvador, standing by the altar where Archbishop Oscar Romero had been assassinated, he remembered being there with Krista and grieved the loss of his dreams for her life.
Linda and Jim also went to Korea—to trace the roots of their adopted son, Jefferson—to Japan, Ecuador and the Gallapagos, and on a Barcelona-to-Venice tour.
Through the Krista Foundation, the Hunts encourage young adults to be engaged in global service in developing nations and in American urban centers.
Believing they need support before they go, while there and when they return, the Hunts decided to open a guest house to offer them and others hospitality.
Linda took down an old barn in their back yard and built a guest house, called the Hearth.
In 2003, she invited nine women to come there for a weekend as part of her research and story gathering for Pilgrimage through Loss. They had experienced different losses—one to suicide, one in a car accident, and an elderly woman who recently lost her son.
“I wanted to find out what gestures helped give them strength, renewal and resilience,” she said. “I saw people I knew who lost children lead creative, vibrant lives.”
Linda said she and others experience “post-traumatic growth.”
“Several said they long to hear their children’s name, but at family reunions, people do not want to say their names,” she said.
Linda suggested ideas for people who want to help—friends, family and caring professionals.
For example, she said, religious clichés, such as saying the person “is in a better place,” may be counterproductive.
She interviewed 30 people for the book, sharing their wisdom and current research such as on the myth about divorce, ideas about male and female approaches, and closure as a cultural cliché arising from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ description of five stages of grief.
“We don’t need closure but can live with ‘forever love’ in a culture that expects peace and healing in three months,” Linda said.
“The 12 pathways I offer to renewal—such as solitude, nature, work and forgiving—are not a prescription,” she said. “My goal is to spark people’s imagination, to share stories and think together how to be strong after a devastating loss.
“Often we do not see that under great sorrow is great love, energizing people for future creativity and experience. The pain is strong. If people who lose children tap into their lives, it can be an energizing force in time,” said Linda. “Everyone’s timetable is different depending on the loss. Parents need to trust themselves.
“They also need a companion,” she said. “I hope the book can be one companion.
“Faith is important in my journey, particularly the community of faith,” Linda said. “I have been deeply blessed with friendships. Love from faith nourishes us.”
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Copyright © February 2014 - The Fig Tree