I wish I did not have to write this. It’s much more fun to talk about sunshine and summer camp and really happy things in life. I’m wearing pineapple earrings and a pineapple sweater because they are cheery and fun, and grief can be really dark.
The truth is, sometimes people (& animals) die.
Many of us can think of a famous person who died suddenly, and we might even remember where we were when we received the shocking news. Some of us can remember when a beloved friend/family member died, and it was probably a very different situation. We might have even been there when they took their last breath. Even today, we might be trudging through the daily ebb and flow of grief as we walk through this hour, minute, moment. The thick fog is constantly among us.
As a pastor and as a human who has relationships with other people on this Earth, death and grief are a part of my daily life. Sometimes it is walking alongside a person who is grieving a season or time in their life that is no more; most of the time, it is grieving a person or creature who is no longer alive. It ALL hurts. I’ve learned one main thing about grief, and I hope this is helpful in your life for today or for a someday when the grief fog is thick.
What I’ve learned about grief:
Grief is an unavoidable journey, full of surprises.
- When a person or chapter in your life ends, you cannot avoid responding to this loss. You and I might try to mask it choosing unhealthy habits (insert many boxes of Cheez-its or other vices) or avoid it (insert 90-hour work weeks or the most thorough house cleaning ever). It’s human nature to fight or flee situations where we feel off balance or unsafe. However, even our avoidance is not avoiding it; does that make sense? Grief will seep out of somewhere–the question is, do you want to face it head-on or let it grow mold and be bigger and more toxic later on when you have to face it?
- Also, the sooner you and I start to move through the fog of grief (which is awful, don’t get me wrong!), we end up being able to focus on our core pain and not the outlying unhealthy avoidances that hurt, too. We know this stuff, but I need constant reminders to choose the lesser of two hard decisions, so I hope this helps.
- Journeys are not linear, 7-day vacations with a start and a finish. And journeys embarked upon are full of ups and downs and surprises, too. Grief can drain us emotionally and physically, and a journey implies moments of exhaustion and also moments of peace and rest. Similar to a faith journey, your journey of grief might have a wide range of emotions–sorrow, denial, anger, fear, loneliness, confusion, exhaustion, neutrality, joy, exhilaration, comfort, pride, gratitude, etc.
- Each individual’s journey is SO VERY DIFFERENT. I can’t stress this enough–I am constantly surprised by how each person relates to death in such drastically different ways, even using behaviors that are like opposites. Your journey is your own; however, your journey never needs to be alone. As you grieve personally and you grieve alongside others, let us all be a little more open and a little more patient with ourselves and each other. In the same way, we can discover ways of coping through the most painful moments of grief. Unfortunately, we cannot set an alarm or schedule when grief suddenly comes on; there are lots of resources for living fully in the midst of grief to look into.
- Life is full of surprises, as you already know. If you’re never surprised and have full control over the complete journey of your life, I’d like to check your pulse. Or maybe befriend you because you’re a hermit. When we decide to be a friend or loved one to others, we let others into our lives. And this beautiful tangle of vulnerable mess that is relationships is such a great honor and privilege. And, with the holy honor of being in relationships, we accept ALL of the parts of life, including the birth and newness, including the death and pain. We get to journey joined together, and it’s all a huge gift, the time that you and I get to be together with beloved ones. Cherish those moments. Far too many of us are longing for those moments back. Even when people die who we might not have had healthy relationships with, there are still opportunities to grieve and heal, allowing self-reflection and space to find our “new normal.”
- Grief is so surprising. Sometimes you see a sign on the road, hear a song, or order an iced coffee at a cafe, and it reminds you of someone who died. And the memories flood in. Writing last week’s blog about Nicaragua was bittersweet as I remembered one of my youth from that trip who has since died. I hope I cherish each moment God has given me with a strong grasp of gratitude for that golden time. I hope we are able to seal those visuals and sounds and smells and touches and feelings and thoughts as we remember the times that we were gifted with our loved ones’ presence. And I hope you have moments of laughter, too, as you reclaim the joy of life even through your tears of sorrow. And wear your brightly colored clothes (like my pineapple sweater) and thank God for the breath you are now inhaling and the time you have today to cherish your precious life.
Never, ever, ever are you alone. Always, completely, all ways are you loved by the God who created wonderful you.