Grief is a gift that our culture doesn’t take seriously or see as valuable. We do everything we can to avoid the process of experiencing pain, letting go of the past, and accepting that we might have been wrong. Doing these things, I believe, was meant to be the pathway to peace. A system also known as surrender.
Personally, I’ve picked up the pen after a several month hiatus. Looking back at my last post (Redefining Success May 2022), I got a sense of where I was mentally and emotionally when I needed the break. In that blog, I confessed to grieving my beliefs about success. As it turned out, when given my full attention and restraint from putting on a “Pollyanna” front, I was grieving much more than one misguided thought. There had been many upsets and I desperately needed to take up the gift of the season of grief. Several losses back-to-back were requiring me to experience it honestly and completely.
DROPPING THE SMILE
In the American culture (and perhaps in other cultures as well), happiness is the only acceptable emotion to express publicly. Showing sadness and anger are both shunned in our society, making people feel uncomfortable…and heaven forbid anyone feel uncomfortable! It is only recently that depression is okay to discuss — but note discussion and expression are distinctly different things! Our traditions have shifted in what is appropriate to discuss, yet not in what it is fitting to show.
I married into a family in funeral service. Being in that line of work, participating in industry specific seminars, and listening to the dinner conversations of generations of experience, grief is a subject close to my heart. I’ve seen the trend of funeral services with burials change to immediate cremation and no memorial.
In some cultures, there has been a grieving period set aside after death that made at least this time frame an acceptable window to wail.
A SAFE PLACE TO CRY
When did you last wail? Verses when did you last feel like you needed to wail?
When I was a child, Marlo Thomas produced a children’s album with songs and skits meant to give children permission to explore and accept all parts of being human. Feeling feelings was an integral part of that recording. There was a song entitled “It’s Alright To Cry,” sung by Rosey Grier (link to listen to the song). I loved that album as a kid. It validated all my experiences and fears. But I didn’t continue to replay those words as an adult…and frankly, I desperately need them now.
We sold our Mortuary business a couple years ago, so I have no financial gain in saying that cemeteries are a physical place people can go where it is always alright to cry. There are very few times or places where a person can feel safe in letting out the tears, feelings and guttural sounds grieving holds. I recommend the cemetery for just that purpose. It is built for grievers. Even if you prefer cremation, some type of memorial place that doesn’t ruin memories of a favorite recreational place is truly helpful. It’s a gift you can give yourself when you need to get out those sad feelings.
In February 2000, within the span of one week, I lost to death both a pregnancy and my mother-in-law. Shocked, I stayed numb to everything for a while. It took a long time to thaw out and actually begin the process of feeling the sadness, anger, depression….But by the time I was ready to enter into that time, most everyone else had moved on. And so I moved on too, without receiving the gift that the grieving process offered. Since, I have grieved those losses, and even yet I still cry.
PANDEMIC OF AVOIDANCE
Since 2020, the whole world has experienced huge waves of loss. And America was ill prepared to deal with all that sadness and fear. In the grief cycle, our country stagnated in anger and there the biting began. Pointing fingers, name calling, blame shifting, trigger pulling…all immature behavior of a people who have ignored the needs of the heart for the dominance of the mind.
But grief, in all its uncomfortable parts, is a gift. It is the journey through hard times, if only we would give ourselves the time and space to go through it. There is no set timeline of completion. No one-year-of-firsts and then you are all better. Each person takes as long as they need to go through that tunnel. And sometimes sections need repeating. So, to step on that path takes courage and trust that staying the course will indeed be worth it.
COURAGE IS MOVING FORWARD DESPITE FEAR
This year I swallowed my pride, ignored the stigma and sought help from a therapist. I cry every week when I talk with her. I’ve survived the emotional releases and have felt better for it. She has asked me leading questions, suggested I set up plans for upcoming difficult conversations, and pointed out reading material that has helped me think differently. It turns out my perspective is not always the best or most helpful perspective in a situation! (Note the bulge of tongue-in-cheek.). I’m glad to have reached out for help.
Earlier I mentioned the term surrender. The grief process is, in part, about coming to an acceptance of (or surrender to) the way things are as opposed to the way I want them to be. I am currently not only been grieving death of close people, but grieving plans and dreams and expectations. I’ve been saying goodbye to familiar patterns and habits as well. I am slowly growing accustomed to the new patterns of daily life as I accept that these alternative routines are just different and not bad. I am looking for how I can like the changes that are unavoidable.
In my head, I know life does not follow my instruction, I am the follower. However, my hurting heart knows that I’ve been doing my best for a long time to be the one-in-charge. I’ve lived fooled.
TRUTH SOOTHES THE ACHING HEART
My Bible reading this morning was Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, and what I note about each phrase is there are two sides. One we like and label “good,” – as in laughter, healing, and peace. And the flip side we call “bad” or even “evil” – weeping, killing, or war.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what it planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence; and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace….”
Yet, the chapter begins by saying all these matters, both good and bad, are “under” heaven. God is in ultimate control of all things, and we will never understand all of what God is doing (vs. 11). So, surrender cannot occur without trust in God’s good nature. And trust is the thing that is so broken in ourselves and in our world. Grief brings that up and out. Have courage with the cycle, no matter how long it takes and how many rounds you go.
GRIEF IS A GIFT
Smiling once again.
Grief is not to be avoided. Have courage. Grief is a gift.