I remember one afternoon a couple of months after my brother had died. Things were really busy at the time. I was serving as Interim Pastor at an amazing church in addition to my counseling job. After work, Makena and I flew to dance practice or looked over homework. I got to bed late every night and woke up early every morning. I was consumed with the need to get everything done at the highest level possible. I think that somewhere deep inside I believed that if I just stayed busy enough I could avoid the pain of this epic life loss that I had just faced. So, I was driving down the interstate that afternoon, my head in a thousand places at once. I grabbed my cell phone, punched in my brother’s number and was about to hit send, when the reality of his death crashed down around me all over again. He was gone and I couldn’t call him to talk about life anymore.
Lesson number 4 that I’ve learned about grief: you can’t control grief, only endure it.
You can’t control grief. You can hide from it for a while, but it won’t go away. Grief is a roller coaster ride of emotions, and it’s best to let it play out however it will. Trying to hold back or ignore the pain, or trying to manufacture emotion when you are numb doesn’t work. You may hold things back for a while, but sooner or later, just like a pressure cooker that never releases any steam, you will explode in a way that is unpredictable and painful. Here are a couple of things that will help you avoid controlling your grief:
Let it out.
Emotions will rise to the surface at random times in the weeks and months after you lose someone you love. Finding an old card or riding by a favorite restaurant may trigger emotions that you weren’t expecting. It’s ok. Cry if you need to. For that matter, get angry if that is what is called for. I know that there are moments when you need to hold it together, but those should be rare. Whenever possible, be emotionally honest with the feelings rising up inside of you.
It’s ok if people don’t fully understand what you are going through.
Grief looks different for everyone. So, set aside what you think it’s supposed to look like. It’s ok if the grief of losing your mother is different than the grief of losing your father. It doesn’t mean that you loved one less than the other, or that you are somehow not honoring their memory. Grief doesn’t have a predictable pattern and can be different for each person experiencing it. Beating yourself up for how much you feel or don’t feel is counterproductive. Just because someone doesn’t understand what you are going through, doesn’t mean that it isn’t valid.
Avoid hiding behind Christian sayings.
Embracing the truth about God’s love for you and the person you lost is very important. It’s easy, however, to hide behind Christian sayings as a way to avoid dealing with the loss we have suffered. “She’s in a better place” and “God is in control” are great thoughts and very true. I knew that my brother was “in a better place”, but the fact that he was no longer in the place where I was left me feeling depressed and alone. It’s ok to think or say, “I know that God is in control, but everything feels so out of control.” The psalmists were masters of this sort of honesty. God is ok with your honesty. He already knows what you are going through, and cares more than you can imagine.
Grief can’t be controlled, but it can be endured. Grief is a healing process and over time we will become stronger and whole once again. If you are in the middle of grief right now, hold on, things will get better!