For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Grieving the loss of a loved one is possibly the hardest task we humans will ever face. I can testify to this personally being widowed and the sole survivor of my family of origin, as well from my 45 years practicing as a Licensed Clinical Social Work in health and mental health care settings. It is an assault on one’s whole being: body, mind, heart and soul. Not only does it entail being deprived of the presence in one’s life of the one who has died, but also the dissolution of one’s self which had been inextricably bound-up with that presence. Plus, our loved one’s presence is now no longer tangibly available to help us weather the aftermath of that dissolution.
Such dissolution disintegrates the boundaries within and without as one’s thoughts, sensations, emotions, memories, imaginings, behaviors, activities and relationships swirl in oceanic tides of reality, unreality and surreality. Given such disorientation, I have identified some maxims and suggestions to consider in navigating it:
1. Grief is exhausting as it depletes one’s whole being.
SUGGESTION: Cut back on your activity level 50% while maintaining healthy routines.
2. Do not confuse grief with depression. Grieving evokes emotional expression while depression restricts it.
SUGGESTION: Give expression to your grief in whatever ways that feel safe and unapologetic to you so it does not turn into depression.
3. Feeling is healing. There are no good or bad emotions, as all emotions give us vital energy and information about one’s experience of loss.
SUGGESTION: Try not to judge your emotional suitability or intensity. Rather, give yourself permission to feel and express whatever emotions you have, even though they may be uncomfortable and overwhelming.
4. Both solitude and community are essential in the grieving process.
SUGGESTION: Find both safe places and safe people with whom you can unreservedly give expression to your grief.
5. Grieving entails the loss of the sharing of the lived past, the lively present, the unlived future and the unique interaction with them between the departed and you.
SUGGESTION: Distinguish between feeling the remorse that life did not turn out the way you imagined, and the regret that you could have changed the outcome.
6. The physical presence has departed, but the heart of the love shared still infinitely remains.
SUGGESTION: Be aware of the loving presence of the departed that still reaches out to you, sometimes in mysterious ways such as in memories, dreams, and coincidences.
7. Grief has its own timetable and is often commensurate with the extent of the loved shared.
SUGGESTION: Take whatever hours, days, months and years necessary to grieve the loss AND celebrate the love.
8. The grief will abate, but the missing will remain.
SUGGESTION: Acknowledge the emptiness, accept it cannot be adequately filled, and live life in the afterglow of what you learned and received from the departed, your relationship and the love you shared.
Written by Samuel Prentice Jr.