As I drove home today, it hit me. We are again in grief season. Just about a year ago, my father in law died. Two years ago, my mother in law died in November. Three years ago last June, my sister in law started the avalanche.
Grief is hard. It is also inevitable. Grieving as a family is tricky.
When you are caught in the throes of grief, you feel like you your ship has capsized and you are holding onto a plank in the middle of the ocean.
Yet, I can tell you, that survival is possible. In fact, my family is evidence that grief truly can make you stronger.
Yesterday, I was talking to my neighbor in the yard. She mentioned that she can hear us sometimes. Teasingly (and with a bit of trepidation) I asked if she was hearing our squabbling. “No!” She said. “I’ve never heard any of that. You guys just laugh all the time.” And we do. We have learned as a family to hold what is real and treasure our relationships. We root for each other and stick people who take themselves too seriously because, after all, life is precious. We must enjoy it.
Tonight, I was looking through old files, and I discovered a resource that I’m putting up for you. About a year after my sister in law’s death, I wrote about our experience – tips on surviving grief as a family. So now, I have this resource for you. Click on the button below, and feel free to pass it along. I hope it helps.
In addition, here are a few things that work well:
1. Give grace. Everyone has to process their emotions in their own way. This is especially hard in a multi-generational family because of the vast differences in ages, experiences and maturity levels.
2. Celebrate. Take time out to enjoy life, even in the midst of pain. When my sister in law died on June 15, we made a point to stop and enjoy each other on the Fourth of July. We followed our regular pattern and found a local park that was doing fireworks and spent the day together.
3. Let friends walk with you. This is probably the hardest for us. We are very private by nature, but we purposefully reached out to some friends and asked them to walk with us through the next year. They joined us for all the major holidays and helped us not just sit and stare at each other.
4. Expect pain. Hurting people hurt people. Knowing this up front helped us all take each other in stride and realize that sometimes grief comes out sideways. This knowledge also gave some of us the ability to process our pain in appropriate ways because we were able to recognize it for what it was. Experts tell us that grief has 5 or 7 stages (depending on who you read). I find that misleading. When we think of stages, we think of progression. In truth, there are 5-7 common emotional responses to grief. During the journey, you will likely experience all of the – not in any particular order, and sometimes several at the same time. If this is confusing, just remember – grace and kindness – for others and yourself.
5. Anticipate the journey. We walk THROUGH the Valley of Grief. We don’t pitch tents and take up residence. It really helps to realize that what you are feeling today won’t hurt the same tomorrow. It also helped me to know the stages of transition, because they work well for grief: 1. Knowing what you are letting go of, and letting go of it; 2. Disorientation (this is a painful but important step because it is here that you define who you are without what you lost; 3. New direction.
Jesus came so that we could have life, and have it to the full. Unfortunately, experiencing grief is a natural part of that abundant life. It doesn’t have to stunt you, and in the midst of it, you will find new and wonderful depth and growth in yourself and in your family members.
If you think you might be stuck in grief, I found this interesting online assessment that might help you define where you are.
If your condition persists, it is important to see a medical and/or psychological expert. Some negative mental pathways get a little muddy and you need a tow truck to help you get unstuck.