Losing someone you love poses an interesting dilemma. It is something we will all face at some time in life, yet it is often the one issue we have the most difficulty talking about. We might be good at acknowledging death and loss in the initial stages, but oftentimes once time has moved on, the grieving person is expected to move on as well. If you’ve lost someone you love, you most likely are well versed in this experience. At first, you might be inundated with cards, phone calls, visits. But as time passes, those visits and phone calls become less. It’s not intentional. It’s just that our culture can be extremely avoidant of an issue that frightens them. You might notice people will avoid you. What’s important to know is that many are uncomfortable themselves with loss. They don’t know what to say, so they say nothing or walk the other way when they see you coming. It can leave the griever alone and isolated in their grief. What is important to know, is that those who cannot talk to you about their grief are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing, or, worse yet they are afraid that if they bring up the loss it will remind you of it. Which is interesting because it’s not as if you ever forget. Your entire life has been interrupted-everything has changed. Life takes on a whole new flavor. It is hard to assimilate this new reality into your life. You might be hanging by a thread just to keep breathing.
For the griever: You will often feel foggy, like it’s hard to hold a thought together. You might notice you sigh a lot. You might notice less interest in the world around you. Being around people makes you wish you were alone, and being alone makes you wish you were people. Nothing “fits” anymore. You may notice a significant shift in sleeping patterns. Waking up in the morning is especially hard because those few seconds in time when you’re coming out of that dreamy unconscious world to the conscious is the moment when the reality hits you with a thud. You may notice that the colors of life have become muted – you’ve gone from color to black and white. You may notice that you are completely unmotivated to do anything at all. You may become forgetful. After the loss of one of my children, I once found myself in the middle of a department store and for a moment couldn’t remember where I was or why I was there. It’s a moment of panic. If this happens to you, remember you’re not crazy. It is often part of the process of grieving. Mental Health Experts have long recognized that grief is not just emotional; it’s also physical, biological, spiritual and psychological. It can challenge your entire belief system causing you to contend with what you believe about God and what you believe about God’s love for you. You might feel very alone. You might experience anger – at God, at the person who died, at yourself, or/and at people in your life. You might experience envy or jealousy for people who have not gone through what you’ve gone through. After my own loss with several sons who died from a genetic illness, I found it very hard to celebrate with others. I had great difficulty being around new moms. I don’t think I could go to a baby shower for years. I was mad at new moms and I was mad at myself for being mad at new moms. This is normal. Here is a profound quote by C.S. Lewis out of his book, A Grief Observed that spoke to my own experience:
“If a mother is mourning not for her own loss but for the lost dreams of her dead child, it is a comfort to believe the child is safe and has not lost the end for which he was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, having lost her only chief or natural happiness, has not lost the greater thing which is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” While this comforts the God-aimed spirit within her, this will not bring comfort to her motherhood. Her maternal happiness must be written off. Because never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed).
For those who know someone who’s just experienced a profound loss: stay in the trenches with the griever. Ask about the person they lost. Keep talking about the person who died. They need to assimilate the reality of the person’s existence, and it can be crazy making if people don’t want to talk about the person who died. Particularly if someone loses a baby or a child, ask permission then let them talk about it. Remember that birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays may be very hard. And remember, of all things really remember that because your life has moved on, theirs most likely hasn’t and will not for a long, long time. And please, please don’t immediately quote Bible verses. Their faith is in the process of being refined and they need time for that to happen. Please don’t say things like “God needed a new angel in heaven.” It doesn’t help.
I once read a quote from Rick and Kay Warren whose son died from suicide that “people wanted the old Rick and Kay back.” She wrote: “I have to tell you, the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again.” Those of us that have lost someone we love, particularly through traumatic loss, will never be the “old us” again. But suffice to say, we will and do become a better version of ourselves.
This writing may sound hopeless, but it’s not. As one who has been through the valley of the shadow of death, I have experienced the depth of loss as well as tasted the beauty of hope. You do breathe once again. You do like food once again. Your sleep will return back to normal. And your memories of the one you love and lost will become a place of profound joy once again. Your ability to love doesn’t shut down. In fact it expands to profound depths.
Advice to the person who’s grieving – don’t grieve alone. Seek out friends and “safe” people. By safe, I mean people who will let you have your feelings no matter how uncomfortable those feelings are. And those who don’t try to fix you or place a time limit on your grief. I have found it very, very helpful to be involved in a grief support group. There are many churches that offer various types of grief care support. There are groups specific to certain types of loss: Survivors of Suicide (SOS); Cancer Support Groups; Help After Neonatal Death (HAND); widow support groups. There is a special “language” if you will that grievers now speak. Finding a group of people who speak this new language is infinitely helpful. Finally, it really can help to see a therapist who specializes in helping you through grief. A therapist can educate you about the different stages of grief and validate your experience. A therapist can be a safe person/place to express the enormity of your feelings.
Most of all, don’t lose heart. Your sadness seems like it will last forever. The desperation of being “anywhere but here” seems like it will last a lifetime. You may feel as if you’ll never laugh or dance again. But trust me, you will. It takes time. And you really will never be the person you once were again. But God has a really interesting way of redeeming our deepest sorrows. Again, trust me. It will happen.