The death of a lifelong beloved, a child, a close friend, a dear pet. A baby never born. The ending of a relationship. Divorce. The loss of a job. The loss of a dream. A serious illness. All are great losses. All deep wounds. How are we to heal from these life-changing experiences?
While there is no one formula for healing from any kind of loss—each of us is different in how we will respond to loss and consequently what we need to heal—the following proven steps are valuable as a guide.
Give yourself time, time, time. Grief is a process, not a single act. It is a season, often a long one, measured not in days and weeks, but in months and years. In the case of a death, only after the funeral and all of the out-of-town friends and relatives have gone, does the actual work of grieving begin. Be gentle with yourself during this time, and remember over time, you will begin to feel better.
Give yourself permission to feel and grieve. Feeling the loss and grieving can feel like hard work. That’s because it is. Accept that. Know this to be a liminal time, and a natural, necessary part of life to be embraced, to be befriended, to be experienced.
Reach out to others. Seek the support you need from friends, family, your church community, grief support groups, your priest or spiritual director, a therapist. Find the people you need to help you. Share the burden and the weight of your grief. Let people care for you, even when that is difficult to accept. While spending time alone is important, this is not the time to totally isolate yourself.
Get plenty of exercise. What we may forget is that grief is physical, and so therefore needs bodily expression. Go for walks—these can be slow and meditative or all out power walks. If you are a runner or swimmer or cyclist, lace up your shoes, get in the pool, or hop on your bike. Dance, even if it is only in the privacy of your kitchen. Walk a labyrinth.
Pray or Meditate. Find psalms or prayers that you find particularly comforting—ask others who have experienced loss what words helped them get through their pain. Say them daily. Turn to them through the day. And remember, expressing anger, even yelling at God, is fine. God can handle it.
Create new traditions. Holidays in particular can be difficult times. Anniversaries or birthdays can also be painful. Do what you need to create new memories by embracing new activities for these times. Changing from how you have done things in the past to meet your needs is all that is required. There is no right or wrong here. You are simply doing what you need to do. And for a few years, your practices may be messy and unpredictable as you work out what is best for you. Know that is okay.
Take care of yourself. Self-care—eating healthy foods, drinking enough water, getting enough rest, exercising—are so important at this time. Avoid the temptation to turn to alcohol and other drugs that momentarily numb the pain. Be outside and in nature as much as you can. You will find nature to be a source of great healing.
Engage in life-giving activities. Sign up for a class. Try something new. Explore. Create a poem, a painting, a garden, a new soup recipe. Knit a scarf. Volunteer in the community. Find what gives you life and do it.
TASKS FOLLOWING LOSS
1. Accept the reality of the loss.
2. Experience the pain of grief.
3. Adjust to the new environment or circumstances.
4. Withdraw emotional energy from the subject of your loss and reinvest it in other activities and relationships.
Adapted from Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy by J. William Worden. Springer Publishing, 2002.
Christ Church Cathedral will hold a Blue Christmas service, a candle-lit time of prayer and quiet, for those who are grieving on Saturday, December 17, at 3:00 pm. Anyone is welcome.
If you wish to join a grief support group, contact Sherilyn Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org.