Loss is not foreign to me. Grief is still somewhat of a stranger. I'm still learning what it looks like to grieve well.
At age 12, my mom died of cancer. In 2008, our first baby, Chloe Faith, was diagnosed with fatal down syndrome. She was stillborn at 20 weeks. Two significant losses. Two different responses to the grief and loss.
As a 12 year old, I did not know how to grieve. I didn't go to a counselor or grief group to process feelings and receive comfort in the midst of grief. Instead I coped by avoiding, numbing, and pushing down the pain. It worked until it didn't work anymore. In 2006, I finally starting talk about my grief and pain with a therapist. It was hard. It was healing. It was preparation.
Pete Scazzero says, "Loss marks the place where self knowledge and powerful transformation happen - if we have the courage to participate fully in the process." In 2008 when Chloe Faith passed away I knew I wanted to grieve well. This grief was too big to carry alone. I went straight to my counselor. It took a year of active grieving to move forward after Chloe's death. It changed me, for the better. Blooming Faith Ministries exists because of the transformation in me after her death.
Last month my aunt died. My mom's only sibling and a mother to me ever since. The matriarch of our family, prayer warrior to many, and an anchor of unconditional love and support. My heart always felt safe and loved with her. Losing her is another significant loss. (For some 3 significant losses seems minimal, for others it appears massive - my heart longs to hug you as you honor your losses.)
We honored my aunts life last weekend. A beautiful life, well lived. It was a celebration of a woman who deeply loved her family, her friends and God. My cousins did a great job. Now I am home and the cloud of grief comes and goes. Sometimes it sits directly above me, shadowing my life until it passes and I feel a bit of relief and sunshine. Most of the time it feels like the cloud of grief is lingering in the area. I see it, I know it's there, but I keep going, knowing it will reach me soon. I don't fear it. The rain cleanses, transforms and heals. I've observed how others respond to me when the cloud of grief is close. My daughters and husband are compassionate and loving in their support, even in the midst of their own grief. They hold the grief and pain of others so much better than I. Sometimes I create fake sunshine in an attempt to move the cloud of grief away prematurely. It never works. It's like shining a flashlight in someones eyes and telling them it's the sun. It's blinding, harsh and annoying. It is not an effective substitute. The sun will come when it's time. Don't rush the rhythm of grief.
I'm learning to grieve well. In a culture that avoids pain and discomfort, grieving requires courage and intention. I'm still figuring it out. I'm not a therapist or expert - I'm a fellow journeyer. Here are a few practical things I'm doing as I strive to grieve well:
* Cry in the shower. I'm alone, without interruptions. Plus, my nose doesn't get raw from tissues.
* Be gentle with myself and allow myself to cry. I don't push tears down (anymore). This is major for someone who pushed down tears for decades. I'm learning to be as compassionate with myself as I would be to a dear friend. This is not easy.
* I don't say, "I'm sorry" for crying. My tears are an expression of love and loss. I might say, "Pardon my tears" if someone feels uncomfortable, but "sorry" does not apply. Tears are sacred offerings.
* Some days I don't wear make-up. I do not need to wonder if mascara is running down my face. I let the tears roll freely without a second thought.
* Some days I wear make-up as an act of strength. I'm showing up in my life, doing my best in the midst of grief. This takes more courage than you realize until you walk a similar path.
* Wear comfy clothes. My grief expresses itself in different ways. Typically anger. Restrictive clothes might lead me to flip out. I don't need that kind of trigger.
* Conscious sharing. I don't open up to everyone with my raw and unprocessed feelings. The process of grieving is messy. I aim to share with people who are able to hold space for my grief without trying to fix it, change the subject or cheer me up.
* Minimize social media. It's an emotional landmine. Extreme highs in one post, heartbreaking lows in the next, then more good news. I can't. I don't have emotional margin to spare. It's too much for my raw heart to hold. This is not the time for me to scroll social media.
* Learning compassion. I'm a recovering "fixer". Bring me your issue, problem or challenge and I'll fix it. Except grief isn't fixed. It's walked through. Or it's stuffed and numbed (this does not work!). I'm learning to walk through it with compassion. My kids and husband are my favorite teachers.
* Re-reading the chapter "Enlarging Your Soul through Grief and Loss" in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This book changed my life. Pete lists 8 common defense mechanisms to protect us from pain. I'm proficient in all 8. The list helps me course correct if I fall into old unhealthy patterns. He also provides 5 phases of biblical grieving. This is instructional for me and guides me into a bigger concept God is teaching me through grief.
"Loss marks the place where self knowledge and powerful transformation happen - if we have the courage to participate fully in the process." Pete Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
May we be courageous as we grieve well.