The mums in my front garden are beginning to reveal a splash of their deep rusts and golds as they bud and bloom this fall. I must admit I’ve never been a fan of autumn with its insistence on cooler temperatures and promise of the bone chill of winter, but the message of these faithful blossoms has not been lost on me each year.
Those perennial plants nestle low and quiet at times. They weather storms, adverse temperatures, insect and fowl intrusions, dormancy and pruning. And through it all they are made strong and hearty, blooming always at their appointed time.
I believe the most miraculous detail of a perennial’s beauty is that these plants survive year after year, many times to bloom louder and brighter with each successive season.
So how do we, as grief-struck human beings, become perennials with the hope of surviving our loss in the years to come, becoming stronger and heartier with each changing season?
I’ve found through my own grief experience and through the experiences of those with whom I have walked during their grief journey that like the enduring flowering plants, we must face and withstand the storms and pruning of our grief.
At first blush, the emotional bedlam thrust upon us following a loss seems as if it will last forever as we strive to make sense of not only the death of our loved one, but how to survive in this life without them in it. We may be faced with many different challenges from financial or employment changes to friends or loved ones who will push for resolution of our grief and even health issues.
But if we allow the grief process to proceed at its rightful pace, a pace as unique to each of us as our own fingerprint, our lives will begin to take root again as we discover who we are becoming in this new normal we create for ourselves. For me, that required a fair bit of investigation into what grief really entails and how I meant to embrace it, some trial and error, much pain and some rather crazy moments.
I have learned that most of us are afraid of grief and the work to be done to move toward healing. But in my experience it is not the grief that we work so hard to deny or avoid, but rather the pain that we experience because of our grief. Grief — our feelings about our loss — is simply that, feelings. The work we must do to release the pain requires a healthy expression of those feelings in a manner that works for each of us individually.
Like the sun and rain poured out for the life of those plants, grief is a tool to help us work through our pain toward healing and new life.
Shortly after my husband, Trent, died in a car accident, I found myself struggling with having to make life-changing decisions about finances, my two young daughters’ future education, living arrangements, etc., — alone. The deep sadness and frustration I felt were powerful emotions and there were many times I had to put on my gardening gloves and dig deep in the soil of my soul to survive. Grief is messy, but when the work is done the possibility of life’s beauty and joy blooms anew.
Grief expert David Kessler says, “Grief is a wonderful tool that has been given to us to help us work through the pain.” He points out that working through the feelings and trials of grief can bring healing. “So as you feel those feeling, in time, that’s how you will work through your grief in a healthy way, not trying to make it quicker or slowing the process down, but just allowing the process to happen.”
Like those hearty perennials that naturally allow their dormant and growing seasons to unfold as nature intended, we face the extreme heat, harsh cold and storms brought about by the challenges of grief. And like them, as the seasons change, relying on God, our heavenly gardener, and support from some reliable friends and family members, we will be able to bloom in our appointed time, with different colors than we had displayed before the loss to be sure, but colors nonetheless.
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