How Am I Supposed To Grieve?

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13

A grieving friend wrote this week to ask about their own journey of grief. We both lost teenage sons, but I have had more time to walk this path ahead of her. I remember asking the same questions, wondering if I had lost my mind … or if this is just how this new experience works.

That’s the terrifying part – it’s all new. Everything is new. Every television show, every song, everything we witness wherever we go, every painting and every word people say – it’s all new. I remember talking with a friend a few months after John Robert died. He was very tired and sore and said, “I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.” It’s a common expression and I’ve probably said it a hundred times. But since my son was killed when he was struck by a truck,  that moment was painful for me. It was no fault of my friend, he wasn’t seeing the world through these new grief glasses.

Even reading the Bible and singing hymns at church seems all new. I remember the song leader in one service leading ‘Sing and Be Happy‘, a song I used to love. But now it seemed trite and phony. We would sing ‘God will take care of you‘ and I would mentally interject, ‘but not my son‘. Emotions were so raw, so painful.  Not only that but I was the preacher. I knew all the right things to say, but the questions were ringing in my head.

My friend wants to know how to grieve. There is no answer to that question. We hurt and the way in which we respond and deal with that hurt will be as varied as our own personalities and experiences. But there are some truths to remember.

1) The first year is hell. There isn’t any other way to say it. The jagged edge of pain is so pervasive that none of our other life experiences are left untouched. There is no corner of your mind in which grief hasn’t reached.  I often felt that I was free-falling through life with all supports kicked out from under me. As I evolved through the first year, the numbness began to wear off and the pain would at times be very intense. The only job anyone has in the first year of grief is to make it through today. Honestly, you can’t do more than that anyway.

2) Destructive means of coping only bring more pain. I understand how many people turn to alcohol and drugs to deaden the pain. If you need help, talk to your doctor about an anti-depressant regimen. I did and I am unashamed to say that I needed that help and appreciated it. However, when we self-medicate on alcohol or abuse drugs (or food or sex or anything else), we are setting ourselves up for even greater pain. We could even harm others while under the influence. When you are through with your self-prescription the pain will still be there. It has an inevitable quality.

3) Hang on to your marriage. There may not ever be a greater strain on your marriage than the loss of a child. Allow your mate to grieve in their own way. Each parent had their own unique relationship with the deceased, and that will require a unique grief. There can be no expectations of one another. This pain is going to endure through your life, but it will not always be this sharp. Endure for the next few years, support and love one another. Give one another freedom, but also assure your spouse you are not letting go. It’s not easy, but you don’t want to lose another loved one in your dark days of grief.

4) Expect a better day. Spend some time with others who are farther down the road than you. One of the strengths of The Compassionate Friends group to which I belong is that I know people who lost their children many years ago. They are demonstrating a faith and perseverance that I need to see. And of course there were many friends who were a blessing to us as well. But it takes a long time to get to a better day. The only thing to remember is that it’s coming … sometime… and not to give up.

How am I supposed to grieve? No one can tell you. But maybe these thoughts might give you some hope and a little help. No matter how dark the day, now lonely the night, how much you long to hold the one who is now gone … out here, hope remains.

Thanks for reading,

John

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