For those who are grieving and those who are loving and supporting those who are grieving...
Until I actually lost my mom to cancer, I had a really shallow understanding of grief.
Although I experienced loss and sympathized with others before — meaning, I mourned those who have died, attended funerals, sent notes, brought food, cried, prayed and held hands — I had absolutely no idea what it really meant to grieve. I thought I did. But as it turns out, I didn’t.
I was foolishly determined that (somehow) grieving wouldn’t be a problem for me. I would (somehow) work through the loss and didn’t plan to get too caught up in those so-called stages of grief that people often mention. After all, in my case, my mom was sick for a few years before she died, which gave me time to prepare, right? I am pretty in touch with my feelings. And besides, I am a go-getter with the support of wonderful family and friends. I have a strong faith in God, so that would keep me strong and make the loss a little easier to handle. I hoped so anyway. I had watched other people appear to get back to life as I know it after losing a loved one. By my estimations, surely I would feel and be better in six months. Surely.
Whoa was I wrong.
The loss is overwhelming. I had no idea.
There’s a story worth finding behind your heartache...
There’s always a story behind the story. And I am realizing there is so much left unsaid when it comes to losing someone you love and the grief that follows.
I regularly find myself so far off from what I expected and imagined the grieving process to be that I can’t stand it. So, I want to share what I am learning, both for those who are grieving and those who are loving and supporting those who are grieving. While I can’t offer you an “all better now” perspective, I can offer you hope in the fact that you are not alone or crazy for what you are going through from the heart of someone who is still grieving.
Grief is long and messy, so painful and unpredictable, annoying and frustrating. Grief is also natural, necessary and revealing.
I believe there is strength and healing in sharing the realities of loving deeply and losing. Grief is long and messy, so painful and unpredictable, annoying and frustrating. Grief is also natural, necessary and revealing.
What grief reveals...
The good news is, what grief reveals over time is worth your time and your tears. It is.
It gradually allows you perspective, perspective that invites you to hold on to what matters the most in life and let go of what doesn’t. And here’s the thing—what matters the most NEVER dies. It’s at the root of your grief, and it’s the very thing that will also allow you to grow from your loss little by little.
So what am I talking about? What does grief reveal worth time and tears?
We were made from love. We were made for love. We find life’s meaning in love.
The hard part you can’t ever imagine...
Here’s the hard reality. Loss is a part of life. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes—a job, a relationship, a home, a marriage, our financial security, our health, a life dream, a loved one—you name the loss. Loss is a definite end to life as you have known it. It forces you into a new beginning. And the truth is, the grieving happens because it’s a new beginning you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself if you had it your way.
The challenging part is that you have to let go of the way things were enough to find a way to live into the way things are now.
When it comes to losing my mom, I thought I was prepared for what I was getting into because I had imagined it. But, there is no way to prepare for losing someone who is a huge part of who you are day to day. Taking care of a loved one with a life-threatening illness or injury doesn’t prepare you for the loss. It causes you to grieve sooner and possibly longer for different reasons.
So many times I want to just throw my hands up and get over it already. Enough is enough. I thought I’d be done with this by now. But there’s no magic time frame for all you go through. And if I had to guess, I bet you will be surprised at just how much the pain permeates your life and lingers until you’ve been there yourself.
Shortcuts haven’t proven to be good and neither has avoidance, withdrawal, nor busyness. I think I’ve desperately and creatively tried it all to fill the emptiness that suffocates.
Let me assure you, though, when you are in the thick of loss, grief is a road you need to go down if you want to get somewhere else, a better place.
Those grief stages researched and named by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance? It turns out they aren’t really “stages” to move through with an end goal in sight. As neat and organized as they sound, they aren’t. They help you name expressions of your pain, but you may hit all of these or none of them or go back and forth among them like a bouncy ball ricocheting all over the place over the course of moments, days, and months. You may even discover some stages you didn’t know existed. Loss and grief are extremely personal, and there’s not a “right” and predictable way to experience it when it happens to you.
Things going back to normal is what you want the most, and there is no going back. It’s learning to live in a new way that feels so foreign at times you want to scream. Other times, you feel as if you are having some weird out of body experience. Even the most mundane and routine things can be hard when you are grieving. Everyone else seems to be going on with life, and then there’s you.
Let me assure you, though, when you are in the thick of loss, grief is a road you need to go down if you want to get somewhere else, a better place. None of us is so good and powerful that we can control the loss we face in life, but we can control how we respond to it.
Grieving is exhausting. The loss you feel has a way of showing up in your day, both in ways that become familiar and new ways that catch you off guard and throw you for a loop. It’s annoying and scary. Don’t beat yourself up for being unpredictable.
I’ve had to learn the hard way. It’s better not to waste time and effort trying to control your grief for the sake of everyone else. It’s better to save your time and effort for going through it as it comes, facing the loss in whatever way you can, in all the places it works itself into your days. This use of energy stretches you, growing your capacity to move beyond the pain to a larger, deeper understanding and ability to love and live and relate to others.
Grief is an expression of love, not weakness...
Grieve, friend, grieve. Grief is an expression of love. Let me just encourage you to love your loved ones after they are gone and be gracious to yourself as you do.
I have already seen that what that looks like and means changes with time. But take all the time you need to feel what you feel. Also know, being gracious to yourself sometimes means not being able to do all that you have always done in the ways you have always done it — at least for now.
And at the same time, you are so much stronger than you feel. Push yourself to see and be a part of the life that’s still happening all around you, one small step at a time. It is work. Every tiny step counts in moving forward. That is courage, friend.
When it comes to feeling what you feel, it’s good and helpful to talk about what you are feeling with the right people. Some days, it hurts too much to talk, and that’s okay. But regularly talking to the right people is key to your sanity. It’s another thing that takes effort on your part and provides some release from your inner turmoil.
Hurting friend, you are braver than you realize! Open up to those who are safe, willing to be persistent in acknowledging your loss and the pain that comes with it over time…even if it means you sometimes completely fall apart in the process.
The willingness to reach out, to listen to those who are hurting and acknowledge the reality of their pain, is a real gift. You need people who will:
- not give up on your relationship and see you through
- listen to you with their hearts and their eyes
- encourage you with their words and/or hugs in the spur of the moment
- help you remember the one you’ve lost with caring questions and memories
- allow you to feel whatever it is you are feeling with patience and love—without underlying expectations attached (no matter how messy it gets)
These people in your life are worth celebrating and embracing through your ups and downs.
I have to say, too, a therapist educated and trained in walking others through grief is invaluable. Don’t hesitate to seek this kind of professional help. This has turned out to be a lifesaver for me in making sure that my feelings and reactions have not crossed the line into an unhealthy pattern in which I become stuck. A therapist is confidential, knowledgeable, impartial, and good at equipping and empowering you even when others are at a loss for words and ideas.
Some of the most honest and helpful advice my therapist gave me was to be cautious and give myself a break from major life decisions for the first year. I get it now, and I also understand that everyone is different. Every situation is different. However, regardless of our uniqueness, the truth is — grief interferes with your rational and logical thinkings, making you a little unstable and out of your mind at times.
It’s smart to be more careful than usual.
So back to the story behind the story...
Most importantly, and my reason for writing, I pray you will be lifted up and carried by hope in the midst of your grief. Loving deeply and losing means there’s a story behind the story that you didn’t know would be there. It’s a story I am still discovering, the mysteries of which I imagine will not be fully understood and revealed in this life.
Don’t be afraid to remember — every single day — the person you loved so much.
I do know, my mom loved me with a great big love. In fact, I didn’t fully realize just how big her love for me was until I missed her so much, until I felt and lived in the huge void of her absence. I am thankful her love was so big because it carries and comforts me now that I am navigating life without her here.
We were made from love. We were made for love. We find life’s meaning in love. And love NEVER dies. Love lives on in our memories, our choices, our actions, and that same love takes on new life in those touched by it even after we are gone.
So don’t be afraid to remember — every single day — the person you loved so much.
Be determined to keep on loving the one you loved and lost. Think about what you loved the most and the least and use it in your own life. Learn from it. Allow it to inspire you and change you for the better. Carry it with you and look for it in others. Share it with those who need it, those who deserve it and those who don’t. Don’t hesitate. Don’t hold back. Be intentional about it. Let it be a beautiful part of who you are now.
LOVE, friend, LOVE without end…
This article originally appeared on amindmakerupper.com.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we startedCommon Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.