There seems to be a general consensus in our culture today that those who lose a loved one must spring back into normal life activities directly after the funeral service. And those who wish to support their bereaved loved ones many times offer an abundance of activities to assist them in deflecting the pain of grief. “Keep busy,” they say, “It’ll keep you from thinking about it.” Unfortunately, after a loss there is a natural need to slow down and draw inward as grief begins to settle over one’s heart.
Navigating loss can be exhausting. Following the immediate flurry of activity surrounding the planning and execution of my husband’s funeral, my heart took a stand and wouldn’t let me move much further. I found myself, in the aftermath of his sudden death, slowing down to conserve what little energy I had, just to survive each day.
I did the best I could to care for my two little ones as the weeks and months went by, all the while feeling suspending in the sheer terror of my loss. I withdrew from much of my regular outside activities and sought refuge in my home where I was not held to any outside standard of normal behavior. This need for solitude felt right to me even as my loved ones persistently offered alternatives to my grief — those urgent invitations to rejoin the couple’s world I had been recently ripped from. Right or wrong, I wanted no part of it.
Now years later, I empathize with Joyce, a member of a widow’s group, who recently confessed that she felt the need for rest and solitude as she sought healing, but felt discouraged by her well- meaning friends who insisted she get out more.
“Have you turned any heads yet?” asked one acquaintance, only six months after her husband had died a slow painful death. This woman’s energy was focused inward as she navigated the necessary changes occurring in her life — not on finding a new spouse. She sought comfort in the quiet of her own home.
Joyce, like so many who have suffered a loss, found it essential to remove herself from some of the regular comings and goings of life, with hopes of doing so without reprisal or shame. She chose only those activities that were beneficial to her healing during this critical time.
Of course, we must continue to participate in those activities of our choosing. Some structure in life helps us maintain a bit of sanity as we experience the pain of grief. But it is in the stillness that we gain new insights into life and loss. And in this isolated state as we face our fears and loneliness we can begin to heal and be transformed — much like a caterpillar in a cocoon.
A caterpillar instinctively forms a cocoon, in its season, to protect itself from predators and the outside world. In this safe place, it undergoes a transformation such that it emerges, after great struggle, into a bright future as a new creation — a butterfly. Following the quiet time of cocooned isolation a new purpose develops as the butterfly takes wing. And so it is with grief.
We may find the need along our grief journey to cocoon ourselves and take time away, to just “be.” That may entail giving ourselves permission to relinquish some of our responsibilities to those who wish to help. We may let go of any unrealistic expectations we or others place upon us to grieve the “right way.”
It may also be appropriate to remove ourselves from certain activities for a while as we allow our hearts to heal and our new life to slowly emerge and take wing. It’s okay to say, “No thanks, not this time,” to well-meaning friends who continue to push for unnatural movement through your grief.
As we follow our hearts in discovering and honoring our needs as we mourn we will find what works best for us. Grief is only for a season and as we do the painful, sometimes solitary and very unique work of mourning, we will emerge, newly energized with new purpose in life. Allowing ourselves the luxury of cocooning ourselves for a season may just give us the time we need to discover who we are becoming and how to fly in a world without our loved one.
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