Hello, friends. The past couple of months have been very insightful for me. I have learned so much from conversations with others about their grief journeys; in fact, their wisdom and deep faith is both humbling and inspiring to me, especially as I continue to struggle with my own interior troubles.
I’ve collected some helpful tips from many people across the world who have shared their hearts with me on social media and in personal, face-to-face conversations. Since the holidays can be triggers for many who are grieving and aren’t sure how to recognize or manage their emotions and experiences, I thought it might help you if I wrote a simple list that you can share with others if you’d like, print out for reference, or simply browse if you’re interested.
Here’s what I’ve found in my own experience, both personal and professional as a former counselor, and in talking with others:
Take your time to grieve.
It’s not necessary to speed up the process just because the world or other people in your life tell you to “move on” or “get over it.” Devastating loss breaks us; we need time to process our emotions and how we have permanently changed. Healing is possible, but it often takes a lifetime.
Time doesn’t heal wounds, but it helps you deal with them.
Cliches are common, such as the one above, when you are in the aftermath of grief. Others include, “Everything happens for a reason” or “God has a plan,” and though there is truth in each, they ring hollow on our hearts. Understand that grief never leaves your life once it enters. It transforms you. Time will help you manage your understanding of how you deal with loss and integrate it into the reality of life.
Be patient with yourself and others.
You will encounter many well-intentioned people, including family and friends, who say or do the absolute wrong thing. In fact, often what they say or do is deeply hurtful, especially if you feel increasingly isolated as a result. But it’s important to have compassion on them, recognizing their intention to help, not harm, you. In addition, don’t push yourself to grieve or avoid grief. Allow it to naturally unfold as it will in your life. God is with you in the journey, and He knows what each of us can and can’t handle at any given moment. If you are open to the grieving process, you will maintain interior peace along your journey toward healing.
Be clear about what you need.
Everyone grieves differently. There really is no panacea for how or when or why we grieve the way we do. It’s complicated. People will usually say, “Hey, call me if you need anything,” but it’s unlikely that you will reach out when you are in need of something. When grief is still raw, it’s overwhelming to do this. But if you think of something specific that might help you – babysitting, a ride to an appointment, a weekly meal, housecleaning, yard work, running errands, etc. – write it down and keep a log of it. Once you have collected several items on your list, present it to those who offer to help and ask them to select what they are comfortable doing or able to do to help you out.
Adjust your expectations.
Understand that, especially when grief is new, you will need to step back from what you are used to doing and take care of the basics. Grief is very emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining. You may discover that the most you can do in a day is focus on getting proper nutrition, drinking plenty of water, and resting/sleeping. That’s okay. Don’t be discouraged by that reality. Build up to where you want to be by allowing your mind, body, and soul the recuperation it needs.
Don’t avoid suffering.
This one is hard, because we’re accustomed to run away from what hurts us. It’s the “fight or flight” instinct that many mental health professionals deal with for those under duress. Despite societal standards, realize that suffering is a normal part of the human condition. It was never part of God’s plan, but it exists as a result of sin. Jesus redeemed suffering on the Cross, and we, as baptized Christians, can thus participate in this redemption when we also suffer. It’s not easy or simple, but it can be done if we allow God to reveal to us what significance, meaning, or purpose He wants us to spiritually grow from in our pain.
Pain is an indicator that something needs to change.
When we are in emotional pain, we often distract ourselves from it, because it hurts too badly. We might overmedicate, overeat, or overspend. But mental health professionals understand that pain is actually our teacher, our mentor. It signals to our bodies and brains that we need to pause long enough to address it in some way. Maybe your grief has become unmanageable and you can’t bear the load alone. That’s okay. Find a solid counselor, spiritual director, or pastor who can guide you through it with love and care. God didn’t design us to be solitary creatures; we are meant for community, and it’s a beautiful gift to others when we ask them for help.
There are so many more gems of wisdom I could share with you, and I will try to do that in a future blog post. For now, I hope these have given you some insight into your own grief journey.