Over time, people learn to live with the loss, but it's not something you get over. You don't have to like it, you just have to accept it and deal with it. ~ Cokie Roberts Ed's parents died last spring. Of course, we miss them, but I find myself talking to them in my head (and sometimes even out loud). "You'd laugh, Dad, if you could see what I did." And... "Oh, Mom, you'd have loved this little red dish I found."
Interestingly, I also talk to my parents - and my dad's been gone for over 30 years, mom for more than a decade. "Well, Dad, I hope you like what we've done with the place." Or... "OK, Mom, I hear you," as I remember some long-ago admonition.
I'm not grieving for them anymore, not really; but I do acknowledge that I miss them still. And that's OK.
Grief is often misunderstood. Basically, it's an intense reaction to some significant loss in our lives. There are no rules, no parameters, and no time tables with grief. However we feel and respond is natural and normal for us. It's important to understand, however, that grief should ease with time and life should begin to assume a feeling of normalcy, even if it's a 'new normal'.
If you've even had someone tell you, "Get over it", they may not understand the experience of grief... or they may simply grieve differently from you. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Here are some factors that are often misunderstood about grief.
#1 - People only grieve because of the death of someone close to them. So not true. Grief can accompany loss of any kind - divorce, job loss, a broken friendship, or the loss of a pet. A serious accident or illness, or the loss of physical ability can trigger grief. However, the stronger the relationship, the more intensely we feel that sense of loss and grief. Moving, changing jobs, or other life trauma can tip our emotional equilibrium out of kilter, leading to depression, despondency and grief.
I've known women to grieve when a child 'left the nest'. Men sometimes grieve when forced to retire.
#2 - Only family members experience grief when someone dies. Also not true. Friends, co-workers, church family, neighbors - and perhaps a few more that we can't be aware of as we plan the inevitable funeral arrangements - feel the loss, often intensely. The ritual and comfort found in gathering together to remember and honor that person cannot be overstated. We held a service for Ed's dad in the living room of his home. Family members were amazed as neighbors shared stories about a couple we didn't recognize - as we learned about our parents from the eyes of their friends. A time of sharing after the service deepened our understanding of the people our parents had been.
#3 - Grief is just an emotional reaction to loss. We all know that's not true. Grief is defined as deep sorrow or mental anguish. But that definition doesn't acknowledge that grief affects every area of our lives, not just our emotions. It can affect our mental ability, appetite, relationships, physical energy and our spirit being. Ed lost 30 pounds after his parents' deaths; nothing tasted good. He lost interest in day-to-day happenings and had little energy or focus. He's OK now, but the process took some time.
#4 - Grieving people always cry. It's true that crying is an emotional release for many, but it's not the only one and it's not for everyone. I cried enough tears in my teens (oh, the trauma and grief of growing up!) that I almost never cry now. Sometimes, however, tears well up when I least expect them. It's OK. A good cry is therapeutic for all of us. And yes, men cry, too. Even Jesus wept.
#5 - Grief has a formula and a timeline. Every person is different, and our reactions to loss are as individual as we are. For some, grief is short-lived and not particularly intense. For others, it can be deep and lengthy. There is no 'one size fits all' where loss is concerned. In the early stages, grief seems unbearable, but with time (sometimes weeks, more often months or longer) the intensity lessens. It often feels more like a roller coaster than a steady progression. Grief is also often accompanied by a sense of guilt and relief. I still remember bouncing from gratitude that the ordeal of long-term illness was finally over when my mom died... to guilt because I felt so relieved. It was many months before I came to terms with my many opposing feelings.
#6 - We have to 'let go' of the loved one to get rid of the grief. The feelings we have for those we loved never really disappear, they simply adapt to a long-distance relationship. The intense loss will eventually ease as we find comfort and peace in our memories. For Christians, we also have the assurance of seeing our loved ones again in heaven. Grief fades with time as we learn to live within our altered lifestyle; yet our loved ones remain forever in our minds and memories. You don't need to put away the photos, clean out the closet or take off the wedding ring until you feel ready to take that step. "Get it over with" is usually not the best way to handle those life changes. Give yourself the gift of time to adapt to your new reality. A good timeline for major decisions or changes (such as selling the house) is at least six months, preferably a year. That gives us time to examine our decisions with more perspective.
#7 - The best way to deal with grief is to be alone. I know, we somehow feel we shouldn't burden others with our sadness, but it's so important not to stay isolated. God designed us to be connected and to support each other through life's trials. That includes loss and grief. As a society, we recognize the need for connection through the rituals of visiting hours, funeral service, and breaking bread together. Similarly, there are support groups for divorce, illness or other trauma. Get together with family and friends. Don't neglect your faith or your church family and don't be afraid to share your memories and feelings with someone close to you. Stay connected.
Life changes. And loss is, unfortunately, one of its unavoidable experiences. Most of us will deal with it several times in different ways. We are almost always unprepared - whether the loss is sudden or anticipated.
Grieving that loss is just one more experience in life. Denial won't make it go away. But we can choose to understand it and allow ourselves the freedom to overcome it our own way... in our own time. We can allow ourselves to grow and change through the process of grief and recovery. We will then discover that the sun still shines, life really does go on and that joy and peace are still possible.
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Ruth Seebeck has built a reputation over the last three decades as a life-skills coach, mentor, Christian counselor and friend. She is a business owner, author, community volunteer and event coordinator whose passion is helping others overcome life's challenges. Seebeck Solutions: Helping you make the most of What Matters Most!