Tag Archives: grief

Moving while Grieving

I thought about titling this post Moving Forward from Grief or something like that, but I intentionally didn’t want to send the message that at some point you just “get over” a loss. Maybe for some people that happens. But often, when you experience the loss of a loved one, your life is different forever. Not always in a bad way, but things just aren’t the same. You develop a new sense of normalcy. For some of us there might always be a void. So, you move while you grieve, because it’s a reality that life has to keep going. But how do you do that?

from http://avenuescounselingcenter.org/grief-hangover/
from http://avenuescounselingcenter.org/grief-hangover/

I think an important step in the process is to work to accept the fact that things won’t ever be the same. Longing for the familiarity of “life before” is natural but it can also stunt our progression. Things won’t be exactly the same, and that has to be ok. When I think back to losing my dad 7 years ago, I remember being so confused by the idea that life could go on without him. It just didn’t seem possible. He had been such an integral part of my life (and the lives of so many others), that I could not fathom a world without him walking around. For weeks, I would call his cell phone, expecting to hear his voice, before I even realized what I was doing.¬† But still, every morning the sun rose, my day started, and I had things to do. The world did, in fact, keep turning without him. That didn’t necessarily make my days seem easier, but I did begin to believe they were possible.

For people with whom we’ve had important relationships, it can help to think about how that relationship can remain with you in a different form. This is certainly connected with your religious and spiritual beliefs. As a Christian, I believe that people’s spirits continue after their physical bodies die.¬† So for me, there was the hope that he was watching over me, still with me in some way. When we knew he was dying, my dad and I made a deal that if we needed to talk after he died, it would be in a dream. Now, I am so grateful we had that conversation. It was his promise to me that his dying wasn’t an eternal goodbye and it was our promise to each other that our connection was bigger than physical bodies. So, while his physical presence left me long ago, I’m still very connected to him. I often dream of him- usually they are mundane conversations about the goings on of my life. It was how we spent much of our time together while he lived, and what I’ve missed the most. But during those dreams I am reminded of his wisdom, the wise counsel he gave me, and I can feel him cheering me on, even if when I wake up he’s gone again. Death can take a person from us, but it can never take away our relationship with them. Whether the death is anticipated or sudden, we have the opportunity to rework the relationship we have with the person we lost so they don’t have to be completely gone from our lives.

Sometimes, we need a tangible reminder of the person we lost. That can be in the form of a picture, a trinket, an item of clothing, whatever the case may be. For some, it helps to keep the person close in that way. I’ve had lots of milestones since my dad died- things that I would have wanted a pep talk from him before, or wanted to see his face smiling in the crowd; my college graduation, licensure exams, my wedding day, the day I received my PhD, the list goes on. On each of those days, though he wasn’t with me, I took him with me in some way- a sticky note, a ring he wore, a piece of jewelry he gave me, something. I’ll probably do it until I’m old and gray. It’s my way of honoring him, of carrying him with me as my life changes and develops.

Often, the thing that helps the most is to talk about the person we lost, either with people who knew them, or people who didn’t. Just the act of talking about the person keeps them with you, reminds you of what they meant to you, and keeps their memory alive. The more you talk, the more you understand and the greater your opportunities for moving toward healing. For some, it’s helpful to visit the gravesite or look through the funeral¬† program. For others, they like to extend energy outward- reconnecting with social groups, activities, or other endeavors. This doesn’t represent a betrayal to the person you lost. Our loved ones would want us to have healthy, fulfilling lives in their absence.

As you begin to adjust to the “new normal” there are often logistics involved- bills, insurance payments, new organization of who does what household duty, etc. As for help with this if you need support. Some people prefer to handle these things alone, and others need someone to hold their hand. Do what you need to do. Handling these things scratches at the wound of your pain- a jarring reminder your loved one is gone. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Prioritize the most urgent needs and save the others for when you’re ready.

These things help, but understand that there will still be times when sadness rushes over you with no apparent trigger. For me, it was the shower. I don’t know if it was because it was always quiet time, or because I was alone. I’m not sure, but the reality of him being gone often hit me in that vulnerable moment- I cried for him and for the moments I would never get to share with him. He didn’t see my graduations. He didn’t walk me down the aisle. He will never meet his grandchildren. Now, it’s not as often, but it still happens, 7 years later. I’m ok with that. I’m glad to have known a person whose death can bring me to tears so long after their passing. Then, there will be other times where you feel great and you feel a sense of great joy. I had anticipated that my wedding day would be a day a grieved for my dad, felt his absence keenly. Instead, I felt his presence. I felt him beaming as I walked down the aisle. I felt his blessing on the life choices I’d made since he died. I felt pure joy. All of this is grist for the mill when moving while grieving. There is no prescription. There are no right answers. Just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. It gets better.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices! Tell me, what are some other things that have helped during the grieving process?

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Dealing with Grief

Recently a Facebook friend of mine has been posting about appropriate ways to handle situations where people are grieving. I was happy she did it, because she addressed some of the ways that we can be unhelpful to people when they are going through difficult times. I think that most of us truly do want to help and have the best intentions, but sometimes we say things that send implicit (hidden) messages to people that they should get over it and move on. While we certainly wouldn’t wish for anyone we love to be grieving forever, it’s important to give people the time they need to go through the process. It’s natural to feel sad, upset, angry, and frustrated at the occurrence of a loss. So, what do we need in the face of grief?

1. Time- It is a natural human response to a loss to feel the need to get away for a while. Sometimes, people don’t feel like being bothered, and sometimes they feel fine. There is no prescription for grief and everyone’s process is different. Give yourself time to feel the loss and throw all the stuff about how you are “supposed” to grieve out the window. Often, people can have a delayed response. So, it could be really meaningful if you drop and email or call 2-3 weeks after a loss, when most other people have gotten back into the swing of their lives.

2. Support- Support can come in a lot of different ways. Some people just need someone to sit there while they cry. Some people need to talk about the person that they lost, look at pictures, and reminisce. Some people need instrumental help- food, laundry, washing dishes, opening mail, etc. If you’re going to offer something to a person who’s grieving, do it. If you aren’t really willing to do “anything” they ask- then don’t promise that. If you aren’t actually going to answer the phone at 3am, don’t say “I’m here whenever you need me.” Sometimes, people don’t know what they want. Offer some choices of things you can offer, or just do it! People who are grieving may need to be gently reminded to eat, sleep, go for a walk, or shower. If you need to do this, do so in love and understanding.

3. Space- Give people the space to feel their feelings about the situation. As church folks, we are famous for giving people all these churchy phrases that are supposed to help people feel better: “They are in a better place.” or “Don’t cry. It will be ok.” or “Be strong.” Sometimes, people don’t feel like being strong, they don’t want to look at the big picture of God’s plan, and they don’t want to think about anything after the minute they are currently trying to survive. This was one of the things I remember being most frustrated about after my dad died. People were telling me how good of a man he was, how he was now with God, etc, etc. All of those things were true, and I still believe them. But, the day after his death, they were the furthest from my mind. I really just needed someone to hand me a tissue and tell me that they were sorry it happened. That’s all.

4. Pray- Combine whatever physical acts you do with the act of prayer. Just as we need it every day, people who are grieving need more than ever to feel God’s comfort. It can be hard to understand or make sense of your loss. Sometimes people feel angry at God and that’s ok. Just remember that God’s protection and love is bigger and better than any a human can give. It might feel like too much for the grieving person to pray for themselves at that time, so your prayers are important.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed the well known model of Stages of Grief. What we now know is that while these don’t necessarily go in a certain order, they are common reactions to a loss:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

So, if you find yourself or a loved one having these feelings after a loss, remember, what you are feeling is normal. Don’t try to force yourself to feel something else, or “get over it” before you’re ready. Try to take care of yourself and move through the process naturally. When we move to the place that we have accepted the loss, we can begin to figure out what life looks like without our loved one. But, this is only after we give ourselves the time we need to grieve.

Note: Feeling of sadness, crying, etc. are all a part of the grieving process. While there is no prescribed time, most people are able to return to some sense of normalcy within a few weeks or a month. Things will still be hard, but they often feel less overwhelming and impossible. If it’s been several months and things don’t seem to be getting more manageable, it might help to reach out to a professional for support.

More next week on Recovering from Grief. Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!