As a therapist, if you would have asked me at the beginning of the year about dealing with grief, I probably would have discussed the 5 stages of grief with you, helping you to identify which stage you were currently in and providing support in each phase.Today, dealing grief takes upon a whole new meaning. I do not believe you have to experience something yourself to be able to help someone else going through it but I do think that experiencing grief has educated me in a way that no text ever can. You should not struggle alone.
As I thought about writing this article, I questioned whether I should share my experience or just discuss the phases and challenges that dealing with grief brings. But I expect vulnerability in my sessions and therefore I offer it to you. Yet, to protect other family members I will not give specific details of my personal experience but hope that sharing pieces will educate others on the phases and hurt that dealing with grief may bring.
On March 21, 2018, my husband and I were sitting in our living room when I received a phone call from my dad. Never would I have expected him to be calling to tell me that a close family member had unexpectedly passed away. I was lacking answers and it did not make sense. I was crushed yet numb.
I was across the United States from where my whole family was. I had so many questions. This man left behind a family, a little girl, and a loving and devoted wife. When I sat in the pew on the day of his funeral, I listened to the preacher talk about this person’s life, the individual he was, the legacy he left. Along with his family members still present, I hurt deeply.
I thought how could this be. I cannot believe I am sitting here at his funeral. I had so many thoughts at once but mostly to hold it together for the wife of the family member who had passed. I wanted to be her rock while she was facing the absolute hardest day of her life.
I lost someone very dear to me, someone no one else could replace. I met him in 8th grade. He absolutely was made for his wife. He made her feel like a queen and they were the most compatible couple one could ever meet. Fifteen years of deep love shared, to unexpectedly be told he has passed. How do you even make sense of that?
I think one of the hardest things is that sometimes you cannot make sense of it and the more you try the harder it gets. You feel guilty at times finding joy in things; you think to yourself you do not deserve to be happy. This is normal, yet not true.
You feel numb at first or you may yell and cry and throw yourself on the floor. There is no stage that is first. Every person experiences grief differently and that is okay.
You may wonder when life will be normal again. You may ask how long it will hurt. I think the important thing to focus on is that you are processing the event, that you are not running from your feelings yet are not drowning in them.
Grief is painful and as humans, we crave and desire connection. Grieving alone is an unnecessary battle. When you grieve alone you are shutting people out from being able to provide resources, advice, perspective, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to share laughter with and so much more.
Dealing with grief alone can worsen your pain. It can lead to anxiety, depression, negative coping and perhaps choices that can negatively affect your life. When you grieve alone it deepens the emotion of feeling completely isolated, deepening the emotion that no one around you understands. You may push the hurt deep down and not know how to handle the pain.
It is important that you use healthy coping skills; that you do not run to things that will only worsen your situation in the long run. Opening up about your grief can be scary. You may think no one wants to hear how dark and deep your pain is but the truth of the matter is that there is someone who desperately wants to be there for you.
Grieving alone is like carrying the weight of a dozen gallons of water. It is so heavy you feel like the water may fall from its container, busting and leaking out all of what is inside.
Your emotions are those dozen gallons of water. They are heavy and without expressing them they will burst and leak from you when you least expect it. Having a support system while you are grieving is absolutely vital. Do not try to hold all of the weight alone.
Although I am far from my family I have found coping skills that work for me. I have made sure I am expressing what is in my heart and not holding onto that deep sadness. I have found things to distract my mind and I know with time things will get easier. I pray and cling to Christ during this time. He is my rock. A few verses that have helped me and I hope may help others who are hurting are:
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26
As I talked to a friend who lost her father to cancer she expressed to me, “Things do not necessarily get easier, they just get different.” I say this not to discourage you but actually to give you a particular perspective.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Matthew 5:4
I believe things can and will get easier but without the person that you are grieving, your life looks different. You have to give life a different meaning.
I will say this: I think it is important to find positives in tragic circumstances. Sometimes this can be very difficult. But it is always possible. For this tragic loss taught me life is short, at times shorter than we could ever imagine. Therefore, seize the day.
Tell those you love how much you care. Hold on and hug a little longer. Live authentically, genuinely, fully and purposefully. Forgive, spread joy and kindness. Never go to bed angry. Love every day as if it could be your last for we do not know when our last will be.
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43
I believe it is important to keep that person’s spirit alive; to share memories, to laugh about the past and to continue living your life so that you can be the best you possible.
My hopes for you from this experience is that you learn how to express your hurts, you learn to lean on others for support, you let go of the stubbornness you may have that prevents you from asking for help, you create positive and new memories, you find hope and joy, you are able to laugh and you turn to Christ, the one who can bring you the peace your heart so desperately needs.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
I do believe that there is a great purpose in this tragedy, that I am able to help others because of these circumstances. If you are struggling as you are dealing with grief, I beg you to seek counseling. I believe having a professional support system is needed. I will be there for you. I will listen, encourage, and support you and help you to continue to live your best life.
I hope that you are able to express those hurts allowing healing to be a part of your therapeutic process. Please do not try to take this upon yourself. You do not have to. I am here.
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