My sister in law who battled cancer for 3.5 years died last week leaving behind three children as her husband had died of cancer almost two years ago (https://www.facebook.com/mullencancerX2/). Grieving is an unavoidable, messy process that all humans experience. Whether it’s the death of loved one, loss of a job, opportunity, injury or disability that changes a life path or ending of a marriage, grief brings sadness and anger that crashes over us like unavoidable waves we feel helpless to control. While we can’t evade or speed up the grief process that takes grace, truth and time to heal (Cloud/Townsend), I’ve learned that there are some basic principles that steady us as we walk.
1) Take time to grieve but then contain it. Too little grief leaves you stuck. Avoiding it can create either emotional or physical illness. I often encourage clients to let the feelings come, but as time passes and life demands such as parenting, work or school demand our return, setting aside a time to grieve – whether during a commute, after the kids are tucked in or even during a hot shower can help contain it while still acknowledging and allow the sadness and tears to flow. Some clients make weekly appointments so they can designate a time to focus on their grief, honor their loss and heal with loving support. They desire for someone to acknowledge that although the world around them has moved on, they still hurt.
2) Allow people to care for you and take time to care for yourself as you would a child you dearly love. Love makes a HUGE dent and fills our hearts even in the midst of deep heartbreak. .I love what Anne Voskamp writes in her book and Bible Study The Broken Way. “Let him pour out. Let yourself receive.” (p.105) In a world where many company companies allow three days for a death in the family, it’s OK to say long after, I’m still struggling and yes, I’d love a meal, time to talk or a hug. One of the greatest gifts I received last week was from some of my staff and best friend from grad school who were with me at a trauma training. At dinner one night, they graciously allowed me to vent, leak, and ramble in the midst of a loss that even though we knew was coming didn’t seem real, caught me unprepared, and happened in the midst of my having a speaking engagement hours after she was no longer with us. In the midst of an amazing meal, I found comfort, acceptance, and experienced a message that I was not alone.
3) Be patient with yourself and others around you who are grieving also. Grief messes with brain functioning, impairs memory and often leads to irritability. Allow for mistakes. As a Christian, I walk with many who feel the pressure of an unrealistic ideal that if they truly trust God, they or someone struggling won’t be affected so deeply. I see this often when working with injured teens who have to let go a sport they dearly loved that came with a planned path of college scholarships. Injury changes their future hopes and friendships as teammates move on without them. Their parents often are surprised when unresolved grief can lead to deep depression as kids rarely have the tools need to make these life adjustments easily no matter how resilient. Our counselors often find our greatest intervention is granting everyone in the family permission to accept that change is hard and often our immediate reactions our out of our control. Even those who love and trust God deeply struggle and ask tough questions. I love this idea from The Broken Way:
“We exist to be little Christs. No Little Ladder Climbers. Not Little Control Freaks. Not Little Convenience Dweller. Simply little giving Christs. Not ever in a way that’s divine, but simply, always, and every way, disciples.”
During seasons of grief, we will have messy homes, sleepless nights and overwhelming days. We will have days when we don’t want to get out of bed and days when everyone around us seems incredibly annoying. We may even do foolish things as I did the other night leaving my keys in the car running and discovering I did so an hour later. Grief drains us but just as Christ rose, we as Little Christs will rise to produce, serve, and experience joy once again.
4) Remind yourself that this season of life is a small puzzle piece in the midst of huge life picture. Several clients on their way to healing have shared with me the most meaningful things I said to them were: “You will not always feel this bad. In 20 years, I’ve walked with so many and it does get easier. Day by day. You won’t always be able to control the waves but you will come up for air and eventually be surprised to find that you can ride them. How do I know? I’ve seen it over and over and you are devastated as you are, are not the one exception. You too will heal”
I have the privilege of occasionally interacting with some whose grief journey is part of their history with only small momentary flickers. They often say that when I said those things they thought I was crazy and it wouldn’t be so for them but now they can see the pain behind them as not only something manageable but many have gone on to use it for good walking alongside others as they face sudden devastating loss.
Are you struggling with grief? Below is a link to some of centers recommended resources:
Do you have questions regarding grief or walking beside someone who is grieving? Comment below and I’d love to respond. Or if you have a word of wisdom, feel free to share.
The Broken Way Giveaway
Recent Presentation On Children and Anxiety
Follow this link to see some the resources we shared as well in the Counselor Thoughts Amazon Store.