A Decade With Grief: Eight Behaviors That Transformed Pain Into Peace
This article is different from ones that reflect on how grief evolves years after the death of a loved one. I’ll share what changed my grief – what got me on the other side of tremendous pain.
I howled as I stood beside my mother’s bed 10 years ago this week. After taking her pulse, I realized she was dead. I buried my face in my husband’s chest. I howled again when the hospice nurse arrived, put a stethoscope on her chest and shook her head “no.”
Mom’s house became my mourning place as I cleaned out hers and Dad’s belongings over an eight year period. Not that I didn’t mourn her elsewhere. But it was an operation room of sorts. It’s where I exposed all my insides to the full force of grief’s scalpel.
Last year, I sold their house. Despite all the years that had passed, I hated letting go of the place where I felt their presence the most. However, I definitely saw a change in me. My grief was not the same. How did that happen? Was it simply passage of time? I can confidently say no.
How long will grief last? When will the pain subside? I see social media posts from people who say the grief still feels fresh years later. They fear that sorrow will never subside. While each of us will follow a unique timeline with our grief, I sometimes wonder what might be happening that keeps a sense of healing out of reach. I want to connect, offer a hug, and help.
As I reflect on my grief, I see not only a different sorrow 10 years later, but I see things I did and things that occurred to help me experience a measure of healing. I’ve identified eight that I share below.
I put my hands on grief. I didn’t run away from it, ignore it or deny it access. I knew I could not get around, over or under grief. I had to go through I meticulously allowed myself to experience each feeling, thought and memory – from the regret over not being with Mom when she died to discarding the Equal sweetener packets I’d kept for her at my home under the illusion she’d someday return to use them.
I “spoke” of my grief. I let my husband and supportive friends know what was going on in my head and heart. I journaled my grief experiences, a written, private way of getting the grief “out.” Later on, I accepted engagements to speak to groups.
I seized something new. My mother died 16 weeks after my wedding. Being a new wife gave me something positive, challenging and joyful to do. While I would advise we wait to launch into something drastic the year after a major loss, finding something positive to put our thoughts into can be helpful. A new hobby, class, or house project.
I rested from grief. I seesawed between diving into grief and pursuing the joys of being a new wife. I learned later what I was following the Dual Process Model in which healing within loss is a mixture of acceptance and confrontation.
I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I’m talking about holding conversations with God – and listening for his reply and guidance. Of cuddling up to his friendship. Of discovering his love, comfort and peace. Grief is a doorway to God. It is up to us whether we will walk through it. Sometimes we get mad at God. That’s okay. I yelled at him – but I didn’t stop speaking to him. He alone had the answers and perspective I needed.
I found connection to my parents. As I’ve walked through this 10 years, I’ve realized we all seek out connection to our beloveds, though not always in the same way. I often found connection through my parents’ possessions. We may safeguard keepsakes of our loved ones, or use or wear items they used. We may support causes they supported. We may cook dishes they loved or visit places they’d lived. For me, the best connection is knowing they are with the God I serve. Their bodies died; their souls survive.
I sought to help others in their grief. Helping others gave the loss of my parents – and my struggle to find that “new normal” – meaning and purpose. I was blessed with new perspectives during the critical first years of grief. What a blessing it was to “give back.” And I learned from others’ experiences. Each time I felt a little more healing.
I allowed myself to return to grief’s classroom. I remember five years after Mom died, I relapsed into the “shock stage” for a few moments. At other times, I crumbled into a heap of distress and tears. Really? I said to myself. It’s been five years and you are no further along? I wanted to run away from new, intense feelings, but I knew no matter what the calendar reported, my journey was going to last a long, long time.
We will experience healing but we will not be healed this side of heaven. And that is okay. Grief isn’t a check list to complete that allows the declaration “I’m healed!”
We don’t just mourn a loss of yesterday but of the right now. And the right now of next year when a new baby arrives. And the right now of when a relative died that was a sort of stand in for a parent. And the right now of when we face age and illness like a mother and father did.
They still aren’t here to share whatever is going on in our lives right now, and so we mourn, but we don’t have to mourn like we did Year Number One. Or Year Number Five. I hope these stories about what helped me journey through the intensity of grief will help you incorporate the reality of loss into the beauty of life.
What coping mechanisms and healing measures would you add to the list above?
Copyright © 2019 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. http://www.tonilepeska.com