Mourning the loss of someone dear is painstaking work. The process can be marked by long days and nights of confusion and heartache, and the questions that bubble up repeatedly without warning sometimes drive us to near madness. But I’ve learned that there is purpose to this chaos we call grief.
I’ve long spoken about creating a “new normal” out of the pain of grief that only comes with hard work. That work means facing the pain and loneliness that vies for our attention and finding healthy and meaningful ways to move through it toward life. It means allowing ourselves to ask hard questions about the purpose of life and death, eventually acknowledging the fact that there may never be acceptable answers.
Grief work requires us to remember our loved one, both in solitude and in community, with simple thoughtfulness or meaningful ceremony, and to accept support offered by family and friends. Many times seeking support means we must do the asking, a task not easy to master for those of us who are caregivers by nature.
Doing the hard work of grief means treating ourselves with gentle care when we feel lost, angry, sad or numb. It means allowing our days to unfold in all their darkness and pain, and rolling with the tides of hope, believing that our hearts will eventually heal.
This grief work requires a readjustment of thought, belief and even movement in space. Our loved ones no longer walk with us on this physical plane and sometimes that creates a very real open space — a gaping hole if you will — that causes a need for our physical beings to shift and adjust.
All of this work, over a span only we can personally determine, brings us to a time when our hearts are ready to begin the climb back up into life. It will not be the same life — it simply can’t be. But with perseverance and trust in the process we will create a new life that will suit our needs as we hold our dear one’s memory in our hearts.
The first few years following my husband Trent’s death I felt small and lost in my life without him. I just was not comfortable in my own skin. Though I tried to focus all my attention on my new roll as single mom, my personal grief over Trent’s death regularly waylaid me and I found I couldn’t ignore it. Many a night I lay weeping silently for all that was lost as my two young daughters slept peacefully nearby.
But as I look back on those days, I see now that many times I did allow my tears (and anger, sadness or loneliness) to come forth unheeded and cleanse me of my sorrow. And slowly, and very gently, I began to rediscover myself in light of Trent’s love.
I discovered I was much stronger than I had ever considered and found that I could carry on. In times of need I persevered in creating a network of reliable Christian men and women to help me on my journey — those that would assist me with car maintenance, babysitting, friendship and more. I began to realize that my anger had a purpose and expressing it in healthy, productive ways released much of the darkness that was the bane of my grief.
Though it took me years of “trying on” new ways to live, I learned something important from every experience, including the choices I could make, even by myself, to create a good life for my two daughters and myself. Discovering myself meant taking all that was Trent and I, sifting through it and discarding what didn’t work any more. Though very painful at times, I have discovered — and continue to discover — the beauty of life and my evolving place in it.
The natural evolution of authentic grief work eventually leads us to exploration and self-discovery that will honor our deceased loved ones and bring new life. Out of the ashes, we can rise again.
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