On Grief Part 2
My grandmother died 15 years ago and I still miss her. The Grieving for someone we love isn’t something that we “get over”. It can be with us for a lifetime. At the same time that I still miss my grandmother, I have also moved through most of the grief process and remember her mostly with joy and thanksgiving, and only a little sadness.
The process of grieving is unique to each person and circumstance. While there are common characteristics, grief also has a life of its own.
In my last blog I described the common stages of grief. You can read it here.
When we talk about the stages of grief it might be tempting to believe that we move through these stages in a linear fashion and in a specific time frame. It would be comforting to know that one stage follows the other and that grief has a predictable end date.
Our grief process is far more complicated than that. The circumstances of the loss, how close the person was to us, whether or not it was a timely death or the death of a young person, our own life situation, our unique personality, our support system, our faith life, and more all impact the grief process.
Rather than assigning ourselves a grief timeline or check list, it is helpful to be gentle with ourselves and our process. There is no one “right” way to grieve. If we find that we feel particularly stuck in grief (or notice a loved one in that situation) it is always ok to seek help. In fact, even the most typical grief process can be aided by a great support network that can included family, friends, a faith community, a counselor, a spiritual director, healthcare providers, and a support group.
Not everyone will need all these resources but most of us will need at least some. There is never any shame in asking for help or visiting a doctor, counselor, or other professional.
Grief often acts more like waves on the beach than a timeline. Imagine for a moment standing on the shore. Waves wash in and retreat. They move in cycles where they grow larger with each in coming wave and then they began to recess growing smaller and smaller.
The larger waves can sweep us off of our feet, knocking us over and threatening to take us under. Grief, especially in the beginning, can be like a giant wave engulfing and overpowering us. It can knock us down and it might feel like we might never catch our breath again. We may not even care if we surface from the water of grief.
These tidal waves of grief often occur during the the denial stage where we are trying to comprehend how the event causing the grief could have even occurred. We might be questioning our ability to live without the person who has died.
But overwhelming waves of grief can happen in other stages as well – bargaining, anger, depression. Even as we move into acceptance we might find ourselves overwhelmed from time to time.
Like the waves on the beach, the grief will recede a bit. Maybe just for a moment, Maybe just for one breath. We might find ourselves experiencing our first smile since the death or a glimmer of life after the death. Sometimes in these moments we feel guilt. How could I smile or laugh? How could I imagine life continuing on? And thus the next wave of grief comes our way.
As time goes by, often the waves become less intense, less frequent, less overwhelming. We might experience longer periods of hope or joy. We might begin building a new life around our new reality. The guilt may no longer be so intense. While we will always miss our loved one, we no longer find ourselves tossed about in the rough waves of early grief.
Here is the other truth about grief. Often, we will experience the waves of grief for the rest of our life when we lose someone truly important to us. Anniversaries of the death, birthdays, special places or moments might trigger a wave to wash over us.
Which leads me back to my grandmother. She was the best card sender of any person I have ever met. Every holiday, and many days in between, were an occasion for a card. My grandmother didn’t just pick out a Valentine’s or 4th of July card, sign it and drop it in the mail. It came with a personal note that was mostly about praising the recipient. She would write about how wonderful I was, how proud she was of me, how delighted she was to be my grandmother. She probably sent cards out to 15 people each holiday but each one felt special and was a unique treasure.
Even 15 years later, there are times when I go to get my mail and a wave of grief washes over me. I know there will not be a card from my grandmother and I reminded how much I miss her. These moments of grief are a chance for me to remember her and to feel close to her for a moment. I reflect on all the things I wish I could tell her and offer thanksgiving that she was a part of my life. And then I pick back up with my life and feel the warm glow of my grandmother’s love surrounding me still.
At its best, this is where the grief process leaves us. We still miss the person, we remember them, and we even grieve from time to time. But we continue living our life, knowing that the loved one we lost is still with us and that we were blessed to have had them as a part of our journey.