Moving Through Grief

“Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know it”s the end of the world?
It ended when you said goodbye.”

The words of this old country song spoke of the feelings one person had after a lost romance. They could just as easily have been written by a wife, husband, mother, father, or anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

After facilitating grief support groups over the years, I have come to the realization that the only sure way through grief is to do the hard work of grief. This “grief work” involves feeling the feelings of grief when they occur and learning to express these feelings in healthy ways.

Those who are willing to do the hard work of grief are the ones who move through to a “new normal” life. This new normal is not like the old life, but more like the place where a new beginning is possible. However, some people are less willing to do the work of grief. These people try to manage the feelings, rather than feel and express them. They do this by avoiding, denying, medicating, working, traveling, spending, moving. The list of possibilities for avoiding feelings is endless.

Those who try to avoid the feelings are often the ones who get stuck in grief. Grief that is not expressed builds up inside a person, like steam inside a kettle. Unless felt and expressed, they will boil over in many different, unpleasant and even hurtful ways.

So the only way through a season of grief is to do the hard work of grief. Here are some suggestions to help in your grief process.

1. Identify what you are feeling.

It sounds simple, but it can be difficult. It helps to know that we are created with the capacity to feel four (4) basic feelings. These are mad, sad, glad and scared. Any thing else is really just a degree of one of the four.. Furious is really just mad. Heartbroken is sad. Livid? Infuriated? = Mad.

Before you can begin to feel and express the feeling, you need to recognize it. Keep it in these four categories. Remember, we are always feeling something. Also, remember, feelings  are always changing,

2. Express your feelings in a way that works for you.

If you best express your feelings verbally, find a grief friend who will meet with you regularly. This person should be a person who you can trust. They should be a good listener and nonjudgmental. Find a support group. Your local hospice agency is a good resource for groups.

Some express their feelings through writing. If so, try journaling. Set up a fixed time for journaling and try to stay focused on what you’re feeling and then describe the feelings, Sometimes old pictures or special memories can help. At the end of the fixed time, put away the journal until the next time and go on to the next thing you need to do for the day.

Some find it helpful to write out their feelings in prayer journaling. The scripture is filled with examples of people crying out to God in prayer. The Psalms have many examples of this.

Others express their feelings through art. The point is to use a method of expression that works for you. Be purposeful about setting a time and sticking to it. Stay focused on identifying the feelings and expressing the feelings. The healing process of grief comes through feeling and expressing the feelings in healthy ways.

Grief can feel very dark and hopeless at times. Like the song, it can seem like your sun has stopped shining. God wants us to grieve our loss, but “not as those who have no hope” I Thessalonians 4:13. Doing the work of grief offers a way through the darkness to a new beginning…a new normal.

Grace and Peace to you on your journey. Skip Hedgpeth, Chaplain