Loss is difficult. Grieving is difficult. How does one go about grieving anyway? Some years ago (1969) Elizabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced the concept of Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This moved us forward in terms of accepting that grief was a natural, normal process of living after loss. It also encouraged people to talk about the loss more than secretly hurting. What we now know is that not all people go through all the stages, not all go through in that order and many of us revisit some of those stages. There is not a single process or way to grieve. Nor is there a precise timeline. Grieving is a uniquely individual journey.
I have come to appreciate that most benefit from “actively” grieving. What I mean by that is there are specific, intentional activities that help us grieve. These may include, but not be limited to:
- Just sitting being mindful of what that person meant to us
- Looking through pictures that remind us what that person was all about
- Talking with someone about that person
- Doing something you used to do with that person in their honor
- Continuing those activities that were important to both of you (e.g. church, friends, grandchildren, etc.
- Continuing something they used to do in their honor (e.g. volunteer work)
- Journaling about that person
- Reading things they may have written or singing/listening to songs they liked
- Placing some reminder (maybe subtle, even, such that others may not notice) that brings a smile or warm feeling
A common myth is that the hurt goes away in time. You never “get over” the loss, but you can come to a place where your loss experience is integrated into a new reality and you pay less attention to the hurt and more attention to the new meanings and other aspects of life that continue. You may choose even after years pass to spend some time purposefully grieving, but it is generally best to limit that time and remind yourself that you were blessed to have had the experience. Ultimately, I do think it is helpful to honor the memory of those we have lost by recalling what it is their life meant to us and commit to sharing with others those characteristics, qualities, values, etc.
Another myth is that if I am not depressed about the loss, then it is dishonoring to the person lost. On the contrary, it is more honoring as they would want a good life for you and would want your life to be encouraging and supportive to other loved ones. Additionally, I believe as long as God leaves you here, there is something God wants you to do. Victor Frankl (psychiatrist/author who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946 having been an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor) said that “Life until its very end is meaningful …..”
This Christmas, please don’t miss the joy of Jesus and don’t miss the opportunity to let those you love know what they mean to you.