My father recently passed away, and while I knew it was heading in that direction and he certainly had fought a good fight against what turned out to be seven cancers over 30-some-odd years, there was more to grieve than just his death. Death has a way of putting what is unhealthy under a microscope and forcing it up to our eyeballs to view it whether we wish to take a close look at it—or not.
If you are grieving a person, a relationship loss, or even a shift in the plans you had for your life, some of these may work for you. I am not an expert on grief. I share this as a layperson going through the motions in real time.
Say what? Huh? My therapist handed me an adult coloring book. If you need one, here are some examples at my friend Mary’s site (which is fun to check out anyway): inspiredbooksguide.com. Some similar books can be found at Walmart for $5. I spent the holidays coloring through visits with family, a funeral trip, and some relationship dynamics.
I almost laughed out loud when my therapist recommended coloring, but I gave it a try, and I have to admit: It is so grounding. I often pray as I color. It causes me to be still, so I can hear and not just talk when I pray. I use twistable colored pencils so I don’t have to keep sharpening.
I even color through my children arguing! We all have to usher the peace in any way that we can, right?
9. Rest, Be
As Dad was passing and even afterward, I found it difficult to focus. Everything moved in slow motion. The rest of the world seemed to be moving at a swift pace while meanwhile I floundered between stunned and weary. I gave myself permission to go to bed earlier, whenever possible, and to catch a catnap here and there.
I also expected less out of myself for a while. I didn’t want my days to be spent escaping between the covers, which can be its own red flag after a while, but I also didn’t try to take on the world. I lowered my expectations for each day and focused on the few things that had to be accomplished, like feeding and driving family members to activities. I didn’t write a lot or even keep my blog marketing schedule going.
One of my favorite songs is “Be Still” by Selah. I needed someone to record this concept for me because I am usually resistant to Be Still. I have been attempting to get to know Be Still for a while now.
8. Look at Pictures and Cards
If you are visual or a word person, on the days you are ready to confront and work through the grief, it can be really nourishing to read over the sympathy cards again and flip through photo albums.
When my grief was raw and real, I simply couldn’t handle the cards. I read through some of them quickly and set the rest aside until a day I felt strong enough to face it.
On my somehow-less-tender days, I pushed through and found them to be very healing. It’s a beautiful thing to feel loved for, thought about, and remembered. It’s especially helpful to read reflections of your loved one.
7. Know Your Fragility
I have to say that some days I awaken to find myself feeling shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. I want to wake up and find that my loss was a nightmare and all is well with the world again. On other days, I function almost normally.
In this state of unpredictability, be aware that there is a tendency to misread other people, be oversensitive and easily annoyed, and wish the rest of the world was feeling what you are (not really, but kind of really). Know this upfront about this process so that you surround yourself with people who can handle it (see Number 5) and avoid situations where you are likely to be triggered, at least in the short term.
I am not ashamed to say that I bawled my way through Walmart several times. I have no idea why. It was a trigger. One day I just couldn’t handle being with people in a crowd at church so I sat in the empty nursery in the dark, rocked in a rocking chair, and prayed.
6. Help Others
One of the most essential steps I took was to spend part of my week helping a friend or two out. It might be something small or more significant, but it always helped me feel like in my pain, I was offering compassion to another heart in need.
A word of caution: It would be dysfunctional to completely throw ourselves headlong into someone else’s situation or problem and not take care of ourselves. It can be tempting to distract ourselves with another person’s woes at the expense of working through our own. This step isn’t intended to replace our grief; it is meant only as a way of feeling purposeful during a season of deep discouragement.
Helping others propels us forward in purpose, reminding us that although we’ve lost a loved one, life goes on and there are many people out there who benefit from our kindness.
5. Keep Your Circle Small
I can’t say enough about this one. Choose your inner circle well, and don’t have unreasonable expectations on anyone else.
It’s not that you reject others during your mourning, but at any given time, only a few people have the assignment to walk a difficult road with us. It isn’t realistic to expect the friend you catch the occasional yearly lunch with to necessarily want to talk three times a day with you about this.
Allow the people you know more peripherally to extend their love and comfort and graciously acknowledge their role in lifting you up to higher ground that day, but know that only a few folks in each season of our lives are God-assigned to wipe our snot and to listen to the same memories rehearsed over and over again. They may not be the same people who hold our hands through the next crisis or loss, but God bless them for being available this time.
I took a train to see a cousin several states away because I so desperately needed to be with family to grieve.
4. Get Out!
I am an introvert by nature. Holing up in my room with my laptop and a few good books is my daily preference. Because I tend to enjoy alone time, it can be too much of a temptation to stay in and marinate in my mood. It is definitely helpful to take some time to process on my own; space can be good for a time, but if I stayed in all the time, I would never come out.
Make sure to have a coffee date or jogging buddy or two so that at least once or twice a week you are talking to someone either about your loss or life in general. Be sure to pick someone you can be fragile around (Number 7).
3. Understand Your Cycles of Grief
There is a lot of debate over the cycles of grief and their order. If you generally accept that they are present in one form or another and don’t get bent out of shape that you experience them with some variation in length and sequence, being familiar with what to expect can be so healing.
I literally went around them like a clock at first, to the extent I would tell my older children: “I’m sorry. I am in the anger phase and am very impatient and stressed. It will pass, but my state of mind right now is not a reflection of my relationship with you.” For my younger child, I simply said: “I’m really missing Pop-Pop, and that’s why I have a lot of feelings right now.” After about 12-18 hours spent wanting to swear up a storm, I would move onto sadness again.
Articles I found helpful include:
- “The 5 Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don’t Help Anyone” by Megan Devine
- “My Friend Just Died. I Don’t Know What to Do” by GSnow
- “The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief” by Julie Axelrod
2. Attend Counseling/Support Groups
There are some complicated parts of my grief that are simply not going to work their way through the cycles without a little help. Help can certainly come in the form of conversations with good friends, yes, but if you’re stuck after a while or your grief is mixed in with challenging relational struggles, you may benefit from seeing a therapist. I always walk away encouraged, strengthened, and equipped with concrete strategies and tools.
If you aren’t keen on a therapist, consider a grief support group. You may find one in your local area unique to your particular area of grief: child loss, suicide loss, traumatic event, etc.
(My friend Tammie shares her journey after child/suicide loss.)
Hands down, the best way I am working through this period of mourning is talking to God throughout the day and sharing with Him every emotion I experience. He understands. He is not intimidated by cycles of grief. If you need help knowing how to talk to God, read the Psalms. King David was among those crying out to God so honestly, so raw. If nothing else, cry out: “Jesus, please help me!”
If it helps you, I wrote about my prayers of grief at Your Tewksbury Today: “When You’re Stuck Like Me.”
— Bonnie Lyn Smith (@BonnieLynSmith) January 21, 2016
Whichever of these strategies/tips you choose, if you are not walking through it but are stuffing your sadness someplace, I guarantee you that escape cannot be forever. One day it will bubble up from a geyser within you, and you will not be able to contain or control it anymore. Walk through it. Compartmentalizing may help you get through your work day, but shoving it several layers down within your heart just guarantees an eruption weeks, months, years later.
Grief has to be experienced. It has to be engaged. It’s a long-term thief unless you grab its hand, understand its purpose in healing, and let it be your companion for a while. If you ignore it, it’s a beast that will claim more and more spaces of your heart and mind, lashing out when you least expect it.
Be grief’s friend—at least for a little while. It may not seem like it, but it is your friend if you let it in.
Remember: Grief wouldn’t have shown up if you hadn’t loved deeply. You spent your heart currency, and now your heart has to carry that pocket around empty. Healing is necessary. It can’t be skipped.
How have you handled your grief? Would you care to share any tips here at Espressos of Faith?
#Grief is a long-term thief unless you grab its hand, understand its purpose in healing, and let it be your companion for a while.
— Bonnie Lyn Smith (@BonnieLynSmith) January 21, 2016
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Anecdotal stories about an everyday relationship with God can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (includes Book Club Discussion Questions).