Everyone experiences grief at some time in their lives. Part of grief is learning to face reality, work through the hurt, adjust and live well. While there is no specific timeframe to getting through the grieving process, here are some timely lessons that grief has taught me.
Day 1: Pray
Amid the shoulder-shaking soul, cries at the news of your loved one's passing, get on your knees and pray to God. God will not leave you comfortless. Hold on to your faith. If you don't feel you have faith, seek it out in nature, in church, in scripture, in prayer.
3 Weeks: Embrace nature
For the first few weeks following a death, mourners are generous with their love, time, patience and even their food. But around week three, those same friends and relations get back to their everyday lives including work, school, children and activities. It's not a bad thing that they do this. It's a necessary thing to keep moving forward. If you feel a let-down of emotion at this point, you are feeling something perfectly normal. This is a great time to go outside and reconnect with the universe. Nature reminds us that we are not alone and that death is not the end. Go on a hike. Plant a tree. Meander through a flower garden. I never feel alone when looking at the stars on a dark night.
6 Weeks: Be patient
You've gotten up every day, breathed in and out and have returned to many everyday activities; yet life may feel like a trudge through a muddy field. Ecclesiastes 3:1 states "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Following the death of a loved one, adjust your expectations. What used to be easy may become less so. Meeting deadlines or even grocery shopping may require more time and energy than you're used to giving. Be patient with yourself. You have just experienced a dramatic life change.
Grieving doesn't mean you erase the person or memories of the past. Instead let their memory make you better and your love for them grow in a new way. Record in your journal insights and feelings about the person you lost and your new life. As time passes, you'll be amazed at all that you have learned.
An acquaintance of mine, Jaime, lost her 8-year-old son Jared to cancer. Each week during a family meeting, Jaime, her husband and children take turns saying a "Jared memory." "Whether it's something we saw or an event that made us think of Jared, we share it to keep him part of our family time." Jaime has also made photo books filled with pictures of her young children and Jared. These books help soothe the little ones when they miss their big brother.
12 Months: Celebrate the anniversary
Celebrate your loved-one's life by remembering the day she became an angel. I like to go visit my angel's graveside, look through her scrapbook and listen to music that reminds me of her. Don't forget to congratulate yourself for how far you've come in the past year.
5 Years: Write
A special way to honor your deceased love one is to write a letter to him explaining how you've grown. Be honest about the joy and pain you've felt in the wake of his absence. After making a copy for you to keep, put the letter into a helium-filled balloon and release it into the air. Watch as it drifts toward heaven. This pattern of writing and release is cathartic and healing.
For the friend who grieves
If someone you know has recently lost a loved one, the following suggestions can help uplift him or her during the grieving process.
Day 1: Listen
Follow the advice of musician Michael McLean. When someone is grieving, "show up and shut up," because the grief-stricken need to be heard and feel that someone cares. They may need help organizing funeral arrangements, readying the house for out-of-town guests or preparing to go back to work. Let her talk while you work side by side. Listening to one who grieves is an invaluable gift.
3 Weeks: Check-In
A few weeks after the funeral, call, email, or drop by. Let your friend know that you will be around for the duration and have not forgotten her grief.
Monthly: Provide Joy
Your smiling face can be the best pick-me-up, so be cheerful in your interactions. Do something fun together like visiting a museum, attending a concert or taking a trip to recharge her batteries. You can encourage your friend toward joy by giving her a "happy book" to record all the blessings she notices in life.
12 Months: Remember
Bring flowers or a small memento on the anniversary of the day your friend's loss began. This is a beautiful way to say "I honor the grief that's inside you yet applaud your resoluteness."
5 Years: Write
Write her a letter explaining what you've learned from her example over the past five years. She will consider it a cherished keepsake and fitting tribute to all she's endured.
Over time, the sadness associated with grief diminishes, and beautiful memories and lessons come with it. "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller