Grief feels pretty bad.
It can feel like anxiety, depression, shock, outrage, emptiness and more. When someone we love dies, we’re going on an emotional ride, like it or not. You can shut your eyes and pretend like you’re not hurdling through the air at high speeds against your will…but if you’ve ever been to Cedar Point, you know how well that kind of denial works. Most of the emotions are unpleasant. Like really tough. Parts of you that you didn’t even know existed hurt. Time seems to pass slowly. The pain springs up in unexpected and awkward ways. Hot, stinging tears fill your eyes while you’re just trying to pay for your milk and eggs and (let’s be honest, chocolate.) Choking back sobs while you’re putting a sweetly clueless child to bed. Burning the toast because you got lost in a memory that swept you down the river of grief…rendering you pretty useless and frankly not hungry anymore.
I would like to start a new tradition. When we lose someone we love we should be issued a t-shirt that says “I am grieving. Please be nice to me.” Why? Because it feels like the entire world is acting like a jagoff to you when you’re grieving. You get cut off in traffic. Your boss yells at you. For some reason the hardest times (and I’ve only had a few) of real, life-altering grief I’ve experienced, I’ve actually, physically found myself at some point in some kind of situation where I’m essentially standing in the rain, cold, drenched and unable to feel anything but totally sorry for myself. And no one even notices! In fact someone in a large vehicle drives by splashing muddy splatters everywhere. That’s what the real nitty gritty of grief feels like to me, standing alone, freezing, drenched, dirty and void of hope.
So the title of this post is good grief. How can it be good when it’s so bad? I have a few thoughts.
Grief is good because its usually so intense we can’t help but be real. Typically, we spend a lot of time managing our reputations, creating ways for people to think we’re cooler, smarter and stronger than we are. Grief yanks those masks right off and burns them. Grief is not gentle but it is helpful in this way. We allow ourselves to be seen more authentically when we grieve. Of course there’s always the deeply unhealthy attention seeking jackass who has to collapse in a public puddle of sobs when the opportunity for a lot of attention arises. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean quiet (or loud…but maybe at least a little private?) moments with people who love you. Stripped bare of your tough facade, crying and saying things out loud that you know sound a little crazy. “We were supposed to go to the mall on Tuesday!!!!” Or “I forgot to give him back his sweater!!!!” It’s ok. Let it out. This lets people love you in a unique and wonderful way. Frankly I completely hate that part of grief, but I know it’s good for me and my relationships.
Grief stops us in our tracks. Shows us what little things have been taking up our heart and brain space. Who cares if my gray hairs are showing or that my car is full of empty yogurt containers and granola bar wrappers? Don’t sweat the small stuff, you know?
Grief can be a gift. How? We look heavenward even if we’re not into that. God can use grief to draw us near. When you’re really desperate, really lost…sometimes we’re willing to believe, just a tiny bit, that there is actually something…someone out there who is bigger and better than we ever dreamed. Don’t be afraid to seek that out just a little…you can always go back to believing we got here randomly and that we’re on our own. That belief will always be available if you don’t find something better. God says if we seek Him, we’ll find Him. Ain’t no harm in taking a peek around, right?
Grief can bring up old hurts. Dealing with grief in a healthy way can help heal those wounds. Sometimes when a loved one dies people feel like everyone they ever love dies. Those are abandonment issues that, if unaddressed, can lead to some bad life controlling habits like refusing to connect deeply with anyone out of self-preservation or even starting down the path of addiction. Considering the seriousness of believing that (everyone we love dies) then responding by investigating what led us to believe that, defining reality a little more clearly and willingly releasing that belief and its associated fears can be very freeing.
Grief creates community. You know who has really got your six when life falls apart in this way. Also, I’ve become new friends with people simply based on the fact that we lost a mutual loved one.
Grief creates opportunity to serve those most impacted. However much you’re hurting, there is probably someone even more devastated. Think of your very best talents and resources and how you might offer them in some way. Food, music, your company, a poem that doesn’t suck, help with legal issues, cleaning, a foot rub, letters, texts and phone calls as are appropriate. Don’t just force yourself on hurting people. Pay attention and try to see what the best way to help is, and when.
Grief is the worst. But it is also an opportunity for growth, learning and love. Don’t waste your grief.