Truths About Grief
Offers to help are still flooding in. Quite often, after a loved one’s death, a few weeks later, it seems as if everyone else has moved on. I’m so thankful for those of you who continue to be in touch and tell me how you are praying for us and sharing your favorite memories of Keith. If you still have stories and photos you would like to share, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I have been thinking about how to respond to all of your condolences and questions, I feel like it is important to give you a glimpse into my world and how I am grieving. Photos are of the luminaries we lit to celebrate Keith’s birthday. Caleb was so excited that he wanted to sing Happy Birthday; we let him light and blow out a candle for daddy once we got inside.
Here are some truths about my grief journey:
- More than anything, it is important to recognize that grief is different for everyone. Each person has different coping mechanisms and needs. There is no prescription for grieving and what may help you or I through a season of grief will not help someone else. Please don’t ever assume or tell someone that they should or should not do something. Grief is hard enough without any outside pressure to do it “right”.
- Grief is not linear. It is not predictable. If you like to describe grief using the seven stages of grief, know that you won’t necessarily go through them in that order, you may repeat certain stages several times, and there is no formula for moving from one stage to another.
- Grief can not be quantified: some people find healing after several months of grieving. Others take years or decades. No length of time is either better or wrong, it’s an individual process, so don’t fall into the trap of comparing your journey to others’ journeys.
- Please don’t qualify someone’s grief. Don’t tell me losing my husband, father, child, aunt, sibling, friend, etc. is easier or harder than a loss you’ve experienced. Don’t tell me that the loss I’m mourning is better or worse than a different loss I’ve experienced. Don’t tell anyone that losing a special person is any worse than losing a job, dream, health, or any other thing you expected to have forever. Loss is loss and when you’re in the midst of grief, someone trying to explain how your grief isn’t so bad is really hurtful.
- When you offer to help, if a grieving person tells you they are taken care of for right now, trust them. If someone asks you to help in a specific way, respect their wishes. If you aren’t sure how to help, ask them directly or ask whomever they have put in charge of organizing help. It can be very uncomfortable to love someone in the way they feel loved and not in the way that is natural for you to love, but if you truly want to love a grieving person, you have to be flexible to do things the way they ask.
- It is totally normal to feel exhausted and incapacitated all the time. Grief takes considerably more energy than you expect. Be kind to yourself.
- Seek out the wisdom of other people who have experienced grief. They can be a huge help in figuring out what is normal during a season of grief and what might be most helpful for you in your journey. I found the list 9 Things You Need To Know About Widows to be very true of most grieving. Some of the points are specific for widows, but most are a good general explanation of the realities of grief.
- An addendum to #7: be sensitive to the person who is grieving. Dropping by for visits and phone calls may be truly encouraging to a lot people. For me, phone calls trigger my anxiety on a normal day: add grief exhaustion and a random phone call can be a seemingly impossible and panic attack inducing task. There are some people I have told specifically to call and stop by, but otherwise, I appreciate texts, letters, emails, etc. since I can respond when I have the energy and focus.
- If you don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, say just that. There is no pressure to have the perfect sentiment. The best advice I have ever heard with regards to grief is that often the best way to encourage someone who is grieving is to “just sit down and shut up.”
If nothing else, recognize that everyone has their own, individual grief journey. Be sensitive to each others’ needs and be open and direct about your specific needs and be willing to adjust to the needs of others.
I can’t even remember when I started using the hashtag #MoreGraceMorePeaceMoreJoy, but it continues to be a life motto. In this grief journey, I continue to strive to give and experience grace, peace, and joy and would love to hear how you are as well. I’d love to see #MoreGraceMorePeaceMoreJoy in any of your social media posts!