Mourning the loss of a loved one can be a dizzying process in its own rite. Then add to the mix the demands of the holiday season and you may have a recipe for heart-wrenching sorrow. Support during our most difficult times is essential to the healing process of grief. But many of us have found that the holidays, or any special anniversary day, can be daunting even with the best of support.
Consolation comes in many forms. Some find it with a close friend or coworker. Others join a grief support group or church group. Still others find solace speaking with a counselor or member of the clergy. Most of us, I think, expect to find support in the midst of family. Many of us are blessed with family members who will stay the course with us as we navigate the stormy waters of grief. Many times though, rather than feeling supported by family, we may feel misunderstood, admonished or even abandoned by those closest to us.
I have learned that family members of a deceased loved one sometimes find it difficult to support one another in their grief. It’s not that they don’t want to be gentle and compassionate with each other, but their own feelings of confusion and pain typically render them more introspective than helpful.
You see, each family member enjoys a unique relationship with their loved one complete with all the joy and foibles that come with that personal kinship. Each member has a need to mourn the loss of their particular relationship and a heightened need to be understood in their grief. But at the same time their understanding toward others’ pain is sometimes diminished.
Understanding others in their pain means recognizing and accepting the unique circumstances and style set forth by each individual as they walk their path of grief. Grief over losing a spouse is different than grieving the loss of a child or parent. What works for the healing of one may not be the best advice for another. Mourning styles between genders is especially notable, but that’s for another column.
This past spring a friend of mine died after a very short and painful battle with cancer. Hers is a close-knit family that gathers religiously every week for Sunday dinner. Her family supports the work of each other, vacations together and shares much of life’s journey together. When she died they were collectively bereft.
As the months have moved on however, individually these good people have come to witness the differences in each of their grief journeys. They each mourn in their own way. One daughter has found a healing venue in journaling, penning her deepest thoughts and feelings as a way of acknowledging her grief. Another finds comfort in sharing her grief verbally, but is frustrated with family members who sometimes cannot be present to her in her pain. Their father discovered his renewed need for companionship and is dating, much to the surprise and discomfort of his offspring.
The frustration these family members feel with each other is not uncommon. And though they wish to be united in their grief over the loss of their loved one, they must walk their own path. I believe an important part of that path is learning to respect not only our own journey and all that it entails, but also the road others take in their search for healing.
Walking our own path sounds a bit lonely I admit. We each are responsible for working through our own grief in our own time and with our own style. No one else can heal our hearts for us. However, that is where the solitude ends. None of us is ever truly alone in our grief. God offers His divine consolation through His grace in the very people around us.
Finding a safe person or group in which to seek support is paramount on our sojourn of grief. It is with those safe others that we process our thoughts and feelings and come to a resolution about them. It is with them that we can feel safe to try on new life from the ashes of our loss. And that is healing!
So if our family members are immersed in their own grieving and unable to support us, it may benefit all if we seek our safe place to grieve outside our immediate family. Join a support group of folks with a similar loss. Or seek out a trusted friend or counselor to share the burden of grief. As we learn to respect our journey and the journey of others’ as well, along the way we may discover that our own understanding and compassion is deepened and that support may come packaged in people we would not have expected.
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