Tag Archives: grief

Grief is the team member you didn’t choose but are learning to work with

Lately, Grief and I have been getting along fairly decently, not as old friends, but as associates whom you know well and respect deeply. Grief is the team member you didn’t choose but you learn to work with anyway. By pushing you–by pulling back the habits and feelings you’d rather hide–she moves you towards creativity and re-invention. Grief may annoy and hurt you at times, but you’ve learned how to take her aside and have a brief discussion about how much authority she can actually wield in your life. You remind her of the perimeters of your relationship.

This is what I’ve been doing with Grief while I purge my house for Lent.

Someone suggested collecting 40 boxes of stuff I don’t need anymore in the 40 days between Ash Wednesday to Easter, and I took the challenge. So far I’ve eliminated 4 boxes of dishes (but I replaced an old set with a new one, so I can’t count all 4), 2 boxes of picture frames, 10 boxes of clothes and miscellaneous household clutter, 1 box of cookbooks, and 1 secretary (I sold that, so I figure that’s worth a couple boxes). I’ve thrown out countless pencils, pens, and other office supplies. I’ve re-organized my laundry closet, one son’s room, my office, and my kitchen cabinets.

I say “I,” but I really mean “we.” Grief has hitched along for the ride, voicing her opinions strongly about the things which clutter my house. This weekend, we went through artwork and picture frames.

See, this is how Grief and I are becoming a team. I use her as motivation, because as I purge and re-organize, I take a second look at all the ways she’s imbedded herself into my life. Photographs, dishes, recipes, books, frames, art, furniture–all these remind me of my lost loved ones. Maybe that’s why some people hoard. They just can’t face the emotions attached with discarding something. I get that. With each item I encounter, I consider its sentimental and practical value and decide what gets the boot and what stays to live another day. I will not hoard, though. That’s giving Grief her own room to live in, and I don’t enjoy her that much. Continue reading

When Grief keeps coming back

I have an old friend who keeps coming back. Her name is Grief.

She’s been traveling a bit lately, and I haven’t missed her. But last night, while she was visiting someone else, she touched base with me again. The three of us had an unintentional conversation at a party, which is not a nice place for anyone to demand attention. (Grief gets around a lot, and she frankly doesn’t care when or where you interact with her. Only that you do.) She must not and cannot be ignored forever.

I have found that when she comes back, I must engage her in conversation, in contemplation, in tears, and in silence. I must acknowledge her in the middle of the night, for weeks, if necessary. I must think of her and feel her in the pit of my stomach during so many surprising daily occurrences–the smell of cookies, a book, a laugh, an expression, a necklace. A few dozen times a day, I’ve made space for her. She keeps showing up, clapping her hands. Demanding my audience.

Grief is not pleasant, but she is necessary. And she has such an exquisite memory! She can recall moments, both good and bad, with alarming clarity. She will help you recognize failings you never realized you had and virtues you never knew someone else had. She has the ability to stir in you so many unsatisfied longings–even ones you’ve worked hard to discard over the years. She’s not ashamed to pound them against your temples and compel you to consider questions that can never be answered:

Could you have done more, been more, loved more, forgiven more, enjoyed more?
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Do’s and Don’ts for friends of the grieving

When people you care about lose a loved one, go through a divorce, receive a frightening diagnosis, or mourn over a child gone astray–what, exactly, should you do?

I mean, really? And I’m not talking about casseroles here.

I think we’ve all got an idea of what being the perfect friend is all about–listening, encouraging, helping. But when someone’s tragedy actually hits, you might find yourself tongue-tied and immobile. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, but you don’t want to be that pesky person sitting in their living room making them feel like they need to host you, either. You want to help, but you’re not sure how.

I have a couple of suggestions–some do’s and don’ts.

6 Things NOT to do:

  • Don’t trivialize the grief experience. No “You’ll find another boyfriend” or “At least he didn’t kill himself” kind of comments. Just no. Grief traumatizes and makes it impossible to see alternatives unless the grief begins to subside.
  • Don’t compare your experiences to theirs. Never say, “I know exactly how you feel” or “That’s nothing! When my dad died . . .” All griefs are similar in neurology but unique in experience. You may empathize with them, but let them draw the similarities between your experiences.
  • Don’t promise relief. Try not to say “It’s will get better soon.” You don’t know what their journey entails or how long it will take.
  • Don’t expect them to know how to ask for help. Just jump in quietly with both feet. Set up the meal train, mow their grass, take them to lunch, buy their groceries. Just act–don’t tell them to let you know when they need something. They are just trying to survive. They don’t know how to ask.
  • Don’t judge their journey, Avoid setting timelines for their recovery or restrictions on their process. Encourage them to see a counselor, yes. Make sure they’re not a danger to anyone, yes. But don’t tell them to snap out of it or get on with their life. They can’t see how that’s possible, and they probably doubt it is.
  • Don’t ask them how they’re doing in a public setting. They might seem able to handle the question, but they also  might, for a few moments, be trying to forget their grief. Don’t take that moment away from them. Don’t make them melt down in front of people they don’t trust.

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