Note from CM: We continue to go through an extraordinary season of loss — I can’t remember one in my personal experience quite like it. Last week we learned that our good friend, my college roommate and best man in my wedding, died suddenly. I did a funeral for a friend’s mom on Saturday and will do another one this Friday. We heard the news about our friend Rachel Held Evans. Last night we received an email about a friend from church who died while on a trip to California. I’ll be attending the memorial service Thursday for Marge Cornwell, David’s wife who died recently. Here is a reminder that there are no rules about dealing with loss like this. With God’s help and the love of those around us, we simply keep going.
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Make the Way by Walking
My friend, I have good news for you: you don’t have to “do grief right.” In our culture, we expect people to follow a certain path in the wake of a loss. I’m here to tell you: there is no defined path. Just be yourself, keep walking, and you will make a way.
You may be introverted, drawing strength from solitude. Or, as an extrovert, you may find help being with others. Some people need to sleep while others need to stay busy. Talking about it may help or hinder. Some read everything they can find to answer the questions that haunt them. Others want to simply forget. There is no “right” way.
Furthermore, you don’t have to come up with a “reason” or “purpose” for your loss. The plain fact is, there might not be one, at least one any of us will ever know.
You are not required to smile and say things are alright. You need not put on a positive front in order to “be strong” for others. “Falling apart” is normal. Give yourself permission.
You don’t have to always try to balance your sad feelings with positive ones. Your tears honor the immense importance of your loss. If it hurts, it hurts.
On the other hand, don’t feel guilty if you have a good day or want to do something fun. Even in a season of grief, there are ups as well as downs. It’s okay to still enjoy life’s blessings, to laugh, to lighten things up.
And perhaps you are one of those people who rarely cries and is not demonstrative about your feelings. Don’t let people pressure you into feeling bad about that. If you simply prefer to deal with your loss privately and process your thoughts and feelings more stoically or analytically because that is your personality, that’s okay.
There are some people who seem to handle pain, loss, and grief without much trouble. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are stronger or, on the other hand, in denial or unfeeling. Somehow, they can just absorb the blow and keep going. If that’s you, do it — keep going. Don’t allow people to question your lack of tears or outward expressions of grief. A sad face shouldn’t be required any more than a happy face. Just be yourself, you don’t have to explain it to anyone. You probably wouldn’t know how to explain it anyway. This whole life thing is pretty much a mystery, isn’t it?
If you are a person of faith, don’t automatically imagine that God will “speak” to you about your loss or give you a vision or a word that will explain it to you.
Don’t assume that, through your loss, God is giving you a “message” to share with others. Some of us are activist types, always looking for ways to help other people. But don’t jump to that, thinking that’s what “God wants” and what unselfish “faith” automatically does. Grief is not about that, it’s about you — your loss, your pain, your darkness. It is not “selfish” to focus on yourself. Grief means you have received a serious wound. There is a time to tend wounds.
“God-talk” can mean well, but it can also ramp up the pressure to “do grief right” and be “heroic” at a time when you need to heal. Church can be hard too. But if you find yourself dreading or avoiding it, don’t think you’re losing your faith. To be honest, congregations are often not good contexts in which healing can take place. I wish it weren’t so.
It’s okay to hurt, to cry, to fall apart, to withdraw, to get depressed, to be angry, to struggle within yourself and with God and others, to rage against the senselessness of it all, to have no words, and to feel like that for as long as you need. Grief doesn’t follow a timetable. Be patient with yourself, and seek the help of others who will let you be yourself.
There is no sure guide that can cut a straight path through the wilderness of grief.
You will make your own way by simply walking. And you will make it.
And by the way, if you need a friend to walk with you, give someone you trust a call.