By Adunke Olatunji
GRIEF is a messy emotion. Its face can be tearstained, blank, or a pasted on smile. Sometimes we camouflage it well. Other times there is no mask stiff enough and large enough to cover the fact that we are engulfed in the moment.
When anyone called me to tell me his wife or her husband had passed away and how hard a time he or she were having, I found myself frankly at a loss. Conventional wisdom about how to console people who’ve suffered grievous losses includes platitudes like “be there for them,” “listen,” and “let them know you care”-all valid and useful guidelines that I’m sure have brought comfort to many suffering people. But inevitably conversations end, people go home to resume their normal lives, and the wife or husband or son or daughter is left alone with pain now occupying the space their loved one used to be. Though I don’t know how comforting you’ll find this article, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about grief in hopes of making your journey through it somewhat more bearable.
Why do we suffer when we lose those we love? I think the true answer is because we believe we can’t be happy without them. Knowing how much you loved your husband, I can only imagine how strongly you must feel this to be true. And yet I often think the only reason the pain of loss abates at all is that we do become convinced we can be happy again-just slowly and unevenly.
Certainly, some people find themselves stuck in grief, unable to move on. Sometimes this happens because we actually become reluctant to surrender our grief even after it’s run its proper course, believing the pain of loss is the only thing keeping us connected to our loved one, or that to feel happy again would be to diminish the significance of the relationship we once enjoyed. But neither is true. Even when people we love die, our relationships with them do not. We continue to have feelings about them, memories of things they did, imaginings of things they might say were they with us now. Just because the pain of losing them diminishes with time, their importance to us need not. Normal grief is like a roller coaster: there are ups and downs, moments of pain intermixed with relief. If, however, after the first six months or so there seem to be fewer periods of relief rather than more, normal grief may have changed into full-blown depression.
How do we get through it? Of the following thoughts, I hope at least some will be helpful.
✅Be kind to yourself:
Sleep in if you need to. Only you know how to take care of yourself. Curl up in your fuzzy robe and slippers and sip tea. Stop to watch turtle doves. Take a deep breath. Wonder slowly through a park.
✅Give yourself permission to forget the task at hand:
Grieving does take time and work. If we don’t allow ourselves to stop and recall, stop and weep, stop and drink in a memory, we miss a valuable moment of healing and moving forward.
✅Surround yourself with positive people:
You know who they are. If you have been a helper and encourager in the past, it may be hard for you to NOT make yourself available to those who would drain you at this time. Some people actually seek out those who are grieving. They want to connect to tell them of their losses and woes. Not now. Maybe later, maybe not at all. While they are seeking understanding, please know that your emotional tank is already low, and you cannot risk it being drained further by their story. While grief support groups help some, they are not for everyone. When the program includes going over each person’s story, this may be too much for you.
✅Give yourself permission to try new things:
Visit a place that has no memories. Change your schedule – meal time, sleep time – discover a comfortable new routine. Eat foods you’ve never tried before. Look for something on television that is new, curious, interesting, or funny.
WHEN IT FEELS RIGHT, change the furniture layout in a room.
✅Follow your own wish on when, how, and whether to dispose of his/her things:
I read a checklist that advised giving away clothing at least by month three after your loss. (The reason given was that they would soon be out of style and not as useable to others.) I know a person who had to move within two months due to an unmanageable mortgage. She did not have the luxury of keeping things. We all must do what we must do—without laying guilt on each other or expecting others to be like we are.
✅Attend to your health:
Grief weakens the immune system. This is a tough one. If you became a widow suddenly, unexpectedly, you may be thinking, “Who cares?” So much simply does not matter anymore. Or, you, like me, may have spent months and years being your mate’s primary caregiver. You are tired. I understand. Your weight has changed; you can’t remember the last time you called a doctor for you. I stayed in that “Who cares?” space for several months. Perhaps we are numbed by grief, or have no reserve to focus on ourselves as we simply make it through each hour, each day. But I can tell you that it feels good when you are able to focus on some exercise that renews your body and your mind.
✅ Don’t compare yourself to others:
First, the reasons we grieve are so different. Many are private. Secondly, we are created so differently as individuals including the intensity of our emotions.
No two life journeys are identical. So why are we comparing? There’s no good reason.
Rather than judge, let’s grant freedom; rather than analyze, let’s accept; rather than compare, let’s show compassion.
In conclusion, learn to live, heal, grow and thrive because of God’s love and the strength.
If you think this might be happening at any point, please let us know. Tabitha New Life Foundation can help.
Adunke Olatunji, President, Tabitha New Life Foundation