I will never forget August 23, 1976.
Most of you were probably not even born yet, but I had just turned 20.
It was the day I learned about grief for the first time.
It was the day my father died unexpectedly.
He had been planning to take me to Shippensburg University for my junior year, but suffered a massive heart attack mowing the lawn at a property my parents owned. I won’t bore you with details, but that day was one of the most traumatic of my life.
When he died, I was alone. My sister and mother were both far away. And I was scared. I had no idea what to do. NONE.
Grief is messy, and not something any of us wants.
Over the next few years, I pretty much did everything wrong. I didn’t support my mother the way I wish I could have. I didn’t do anything to help myself process my grief and sadness.
I didn’t deal with my grief at all.
Less than two years later, I was still grieving, but I didn’t even know that’s what it was. I thought I was going crazy. Nothing felt real, or right. I felt like I was living in a fog.
I think, if I had the courage, I would have killed myself.
It was a miserable time.
I wish I had known then what I know now about grief. I could have spared myself and my family a lot of heartache.
I don’t even like to talk about grief now – no one does. It’s a bummer! I like to write to be funny, to be comforting, to give you formulas for helping you live your best life.
And grief isn’t an easy topic, nor a fun one. And the more you run from it, the worse it is over time. The only solution is to feel it – to grieve – and that is what most of us don’t want to do.
One of the advantages – if you could call them that – of my 20-year-old grief was that it was my father who died. I could move on a little easier because that fits the natural order of things – you expect that, at some point, you will outlive your parents. Even though I was by no means ready to do that, it still felt somewhat normal. We’re born, we bear others, we die. There’s a certain logic and peace to that, even while it’s sad and difficult.
I still did a lot of things wrong. I was way too private in my grief. People who knew me my senior year of college didn’t even know I was grieving. Most people had no idea how much it was affecting me. I ran from grief, rather than walking through it.
Here are some ideas to help when, inevitably, you are the one grieving. Sadly, all of us will experience grief in one form or another, just as we experience all the other facets of life.
Grief is a journey, and doesn’t keep to an orderly time frame.
You may have heard about the “stages of grief.” These are based on a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and are generally listed as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What’s important to remember is that they are more like suggestions than actual “stages.” They all come and go, and there is no logical order or progression. One may find oneself experiencing all of them in rapid succession in one day.
Grief is not a straight line. Writer C.S. Lewis, in his book “A Grief Observed” which talks about his wife Joy Davidman’s death, says, “In grief, nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps emerging from a phase but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats.”
We all long to avoid grief, and fight against feeling it, but, as with so many things, the quickest path to healing is generally straight through.
We know our grief makes others uncomfortable, and, when we’re the ones watching someone in grief, we don’t know how to handle it, either.
Almost anything you feel is normal and ok (except a desire to hurt oneself or others) … crying is normal. So is not crying. Feeling sad, lonely and scared is normal. Or not feeling those things.
Give yourself space to feel what you feel and express your feelings even if they seem odd or illogical. It’s also normal to have ambivalent feelings about your loved one who died. Give yourself space to rant and rave, to ask questions of God or others, to be honest with your emotions.
Don’t grieve alone, or at least not all the time. Find a group that can handle your grief (like GriefShare) and can be present with you in it. Don’t do this right away; it’s generally more helpful after some months have passed.
Remind yourself that you are alive and you will persevere.
Don’t lose hope. You will not feel the intensity of grief forever, though it will be with you for life in a lesser degree.
Support your inner emotions by caring for your outer body – eat, sleep, exercise, care for yourself.
Draw others closer, don’t push them away. Spend time with those who can support you. Accept help. Say what you need.
Remember that grief comes to all, and everyone struggles with it. If you are distressed by your struggle, give us a call. At Sanctuary Christian Counseling, we help grieving individuals, distressed teens and couples in conflict find peace, solutions and connection.
Sanctuary Christian Counseling
9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4
Shippensburg, PA 17257