Like so many of my writing projects lately, I seem to ignore the urgings that I feel to tackle a particular subject. I question if it’s of my own volition or if God is truly telling me to do this. I may not ever be completely sure but I’ve been ignoring this one for weeks now, even though it seems like God has already written it all in my head, including the title!
I want to acknowledge that what I share here doesn’t reflect the grieving process for everyone. It’s such an individual journey and no two people go through it in the same way. Many do not truly grieve for a long time, but I am facing this head-on, knowing that I can’t NOT grieve. But in talking with others, especially widows recently, there does seem to be some consistency with the areas I’m including here. But these are my words and my experiences on this (as of the original writing), the four-month anniversary of my husband’s death. I come from a newly-acquired unique perspective, from someone who is now on the other side of the deepest loss I have ever encountered.
I’ve Fallen Short, Too. As I’ve thought through what I want to share in this writing, it’s crystal clear to me that I have fallen short in every single one of these at some point in my life. My downfalls ranged from innocent ignorance all the way to willful dismissal of God’s strong leading for me to reach out to someone in need.
So, I don’t write this from the standpoint of judgment, because if I did, I would surely be in the middle of the pack of offenders. My hope and prayer is that this can be from the standpoint of education and enlightenment. I have been heartened when friends have told me they are grateful when I’ve shared honestly with them. In many cases, they had no idea and wanted to know how best to be an encourager to me.
The Grieving Person Shouldn’t Be Expected to Do All the Reaching Out. How many times haven’t we all said to someone dealing with a loss, “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.” I know I’ve done it all the time, and still do! And I know people say that with the purest intentions, as do I. But as I thought back over the times when I’ve extended that offer, I honestly don’t remember a time when that person has taken me up on it! Any time I reconnected with a grieving friend, it’s because I took the initiative to reach out to them.
Mind you, I’m still far from faithful in this, but I’m learning that this is the proper order. The grieving person is often in so much pain that the last thing they feel like doing is initiating that contact. For me personally, if I did reach out, it would be to someone who had already been reaching out to me. And quite honestly, when I’m having a meltdown, I just do it by myself.
Don’t Let My Normalcy Fool You. A friend texted me something recently I reposted on FaceBook that I thought was brutally honest and accurate. It said, “Grieving is like living two lives. One is where you pretend that everything is OK, and the other is where your heart silently screams in pain.” Oh my! Yes, that’s it, exactly. There are times when it’s all I can do to get through something in public without completely losing it. But we just can’t cry all the time because it’s exhausting, so we do our best to move on with daily activities. But, for me, there is ALWAYS a sense of loss and sadness surrounding my every day.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have times of fun or enjoyment. They are welcome respites in my day, and sometimes I’m not even faking it! But they don’t erase the pain that I live with – at a minimum, it’s always lurking just under the surface, waiting to come boiling over at any time, often when I least expect it.
One other point to make here is that I truly believe that having times of laughter and fun does nothing to dishonor my loved one. They are two completely separate universes. I can laugh at something, or have a good time and then turn right around and have a tearful breakdown. Every single day I cry; every single day is hard, and yet every single day, there is something to make me smile or laugh or enjoy or feel blessed by. That is the nature of this beast called grief.
Don’t Assume You Understand My Grieving Process. I think we all are guilty of assuming we know at least partially what someone’s grieving should look like. In my case, here are some reasons people might think it shouldn’t be so bad: He had been physically and mentally declining for years so it wasn’t that big a surprise. He was elderly. I had even wondered myself if the grief would be less since I had lost so much of him to dementia already. The last 4-5 years had been HARD. I had been living without him for 10 months since his move to the assisted living facility. “You are so strong…”
All of those are true, except the “you are so strong” one… (Nobody is strong enough to lose the love of their life and not grieve.) But the reality of it is that my grief is deep, painful, lonely, relentless, heartbreaking, tearful, with no relief in sight. None of those other things matters. Despite a difficult 4 years prior to his death, I am grieving almost 30 years of love and good times and precious memories.
I feel like it’s just the opposite of someone who comes from an abusive past where they have to peel through the layers of hurt, like an onion, to get to the heart of the issue before true healing can occur. For me, I’m grieving through the loss of layer after layer of memories from all those years. It doesn’t mean that we never had difficult seasons, or that there aren’t things that I regret. You can’t have a 35-year relationship without those things. But I know God and Dale have both forgiven me, so I’m not spending time or energy or emotion on that. There’s nothing to grieve about the difficult times. But there is MUCH to grieve about the loss of all that Dale was to me and for so many happy times.
One last assumption I ask you not to make – how long I should be grieving. At this point, I have no idea. I hear everything from 1 year to 5 years to “you never get over it.” So be careful about saying that the person should move on, or assume that things MUST be getting better by now. More often than not, things get much worse in the months following the loss, ironically about the time some people think we should be on the healing side of things. I know that has certainly been true for me. It’s harder now in many ways than it was back in October.
Please Don’t Ignore My Pain or Walk Away from Me. This is a really hard one to write, because I don’t know how to do it without it sounding judgmental. I know there are so many reasons why people don’t stay in touch with their grieving friend. And my role in this is to extend as much grace as I can in understanding that. Again, I’ve been guilty of using many of these myself. Here are just a few of the reasons I believe people don’t stay in touch:
- They think other people are staying in touch. But when many friends think that, it is a very lonely time.
- They don’t want to make me cry. I know that can be uncomfortable. And honestly, I really try NOT to cry! But sometimes, it’s so close to the surface that I can’t help it. Bear with me!
- They have their own issues with death or loss and aren’t in a place to reach out to others.
- They have other difficult issues they’re dealing with in their own lives right now.
- They don’t want to remind me of the loss. No way I’ve forgotten…
- See #3. They think my normalcy means I’m OK now.
- Life just gets in the way. Let’s face it, we get into our busy routines and that’s where the focus stays.
- They haven’t experienced a deep loss and truly have no idea what it entails or what response might be needed.
- They aren’t responding to God’s nudges – much like I have been guilty of in the past, so I get this.
Check Up on Me. Similar to #5, but specifically, it’s so encouraging to me when people reach out to see how I’m doing. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face. It could be a text, a note in the mail, FaceBook – whatever works for you. I do know that people care, but when you’re in so much pain, it’s hurtful when most don’t ask. That also makes me feel like I shouldn’t bring it up because it’s an uncomfortable subject. So, I resort to the first part of the earlier quote – Pretend that everything is OK.
Most of the time, I really just want someone who will listen to me with an open heart. You don’t have to have deep words of wisdom, but a caring spirit and willingness to let me grieve with you are so appreciated
I Don’t Expect You to Take Away My Pain. If you’re anything like me, you want to fix the problem! It is hard to see people you care about in pain. And I SO love the heart of my friends who have told me they just want to take away my pain. As I told someone recently, “Even God isn’t taking away my pain, so how could He expect you to!” I don’t mean to be flippant about that, but it’s true. I have to walk through this pain for as long as it takes until I’ve either absorbed it, created a new “normal” or outweighed the painful thoughts with happy memories. All of that takes a LONG time. I’m not anywhere close to that. And I don’t honestly expect to ever “get over it.
I Want to Talk about Dale! If you knew Dale, I want to hear your memories about him (well, mostly the good ones!) If you didn’t, let me tell you about this wonderful man that meant everything to me. He was handsome and charming and witty and so loved by everyone. I was blessed to be his wife for 31 years. It does my heart GOOD to talk about him. Yes, maybe I cry a little, but mostly it makes me smile. He will ALWAYS be a huge part of who I am and talking about him is the most natural thing in the world to me.
Careful Conversations? Oh, goodness, this is maybe the trickiest one of all! First of all, I need to have grace to know that people can’t be afraid that any little thing they say might be upsetting to me. And I have to fight the temptation to think that nobody has more pain than I do. This isn’t a contest and my pain doesn’t lessen yours.
And yet, I think it’s worth mentioning that when there is someone in your circle of friends who is grieving a deep loss, you may want to be sensitive to what they’re dealing with and select your conversation topics with that in mind. For example, I may not want to know what a wonderful anniversary your husband planned for you when I’m grieving the fact that I’ll never celebrate another one with my husband. As I said, it’s tricky! Maybe you refrain from talking about that. And maybe I have grace and be happy for you. I think both can be true.
This List Isn’t Finished. I originally started with the goal of journaling through this valley – and I do have that project “on ice” for right now. But this “article” just wouldn’t leave me alone and so I’ve tried to be obedient to what God would have me share. And being a numbers nerd, I thought I should have 10 things on the list! But I do know that I continue to learn things about this journey and I’m only 4 months into it. I think one of my next posts will be looking inward and sharing what I’ve learned about myself and my walk with God through the past months. Stay tuned!