We’ve probably all grown up with the adage “Time heals all wounds”. Most take that to mean they can go about their daily routines, and some miraculous day POOF! We’ll wake up feeling all better. Sorry to burst that bubble, but it just ain’t so.
Just about any change in life has grief issues attached to it. Moving, job change, empty nest, trauma, illness, relationships, certain birthdays, care giving and, of course, death. Grief, grief, grief, each one.
This may come as a harsh reality check – working through grief means – ummm – working! Yes, there’s stuff you have to DO to heal. Yes, it takes time, lots of it. Lots of effort, too. If you don’t do this hard work, you may spend the rest of your life angry, bitter, isolated, lonely and joyless. You could develop depression. In enough time, your physical and mental health suffer. Ish! Let’s get to work!
Everybody knows you don’t want to do this. It’s okay. We’re going to start at just 15 minutes a day. Set a timer, so that for those few minutes you can totally focus on the pain. It’s going to get better. You will feel better. Honest. Really. There is no ‘one size fits all’. What follows is a brief description of your tasks, in no particular order. Your homework assignment. It’s algebra all over again. But you will use THIS the rest of your life.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to grieve. Your employer expects you to be over it in three days. The people who don't understand it want your grief -and you, maybe- to go away. Don't be bullied.
TELL THE DEATH STORY. Over and over again. It helps make it real, and increases your understanding of events the more you tell it.
EXPRESS SADNESS. This is difficult for men and stoics. Also hard for those who hide behind helping others, with no thought to self care. With the new trend of “Life Celebrations”, aka funerals, the pain may get ignored. Not good. Feeling the pain allows us to address it.
EXPRESS GUILT, ANGER and other negative feelings. This is where the “If only I had - - -“ stuff comes in. You need to get these issues out. You weren’t the cause of the death, who the person was, or what happened. Avoid the danger of idealizing the deceased. Tell it like it is and was. This step is particularly important for military personnel.
REVIEW THE RELATIONSHIP with the deceased. The whole relationship, not just at the end, not just bad times, not just good times. Do not make them into a saint, nor condemn them. Just review.
EXPLORE POSSIBILITIES of life after the loss. You will go on. How? This may come later in the process. It’s important to remember that you are not dishonoring the deceased by doing this. It is of UTMOST importance that no major decisions – emotional, relational, sexual or financial – be made too soon. Take plenty of time.
FIND NEW RELATIONSHIPS, since some previous ones may change. If you were part of a group of couples, you may make new friends with single people. Find a grief support group to relate to. Romantic relationships are not recommended at this time.
UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS & PROBLEMS OF GRIEF. Read. Ask. Learn. Our society is no longer communal, and we don’t have the experiences to call on. Grief comes as a surprise to people. Knowing the process, you learn that you are grieving, not crazy!
MAKE YOURSELF UNDERSTOOD by others. Let them know what you know about grief. Let them help. Tell them you’ll have bad days, and what you want them to do/not do about it. Be honest with yourself and others.
LET GO of shame, anger, pride, trying to be God, distortions about God, blame, self judgment, idealized images, resentment, fear and, yes, your loved one. You may guess that this will take a while? And letting go is hard because you’ve been comfortable in this state for a time. You don’t remember how to live any other way, and you may feel a void. Trust that love from God and others will fill empty spots immediately.
LIVE from a forgiven and forgiving place. The further you get in the process, the more humble and gracious you’ll feel. If you are not fully alive, you do not fully honor the one you have lost. Nor do you successfully adapt to the changes that are inevitable.
WRITE. Type. Blog. Email. Journal. Whatever form of written communication you like best, it is crucial. There is a connection between the muscle movement and brain processing you need. Yes, really.
CRY, LAUGH, SCREAM & SHOUT. Relieves tension. So does exercise (and it doesn’t frighten the neighbors). Your choice, but do it. Laughing is not disrespectful.
EAT WELL. Comfort eating isn’t good for you now. Skipping meals is dangerous. Your engine needs high quality fuel, or you end up needing roadside assistance. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and drugs now.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TODAY? Most people cannot answer this question on a good day. Learn to answer it. Answers may include, but are not limited to, a hug, a good laugh, a movie, dinner with friends, help cleaning, access to a hot tub, new clothes, someone to spend some time with you. Get the idea? Then make plans to have your need met.
There is only one constant in all of this - the only way out of grief is through it.
Learn all you can. Put the words "grief work" into your search engine, and explore.