Today, my high school band director died. I thought about his long life and the students I know that he outlived. There will be thousands of former students and other loved ones that will post on his family’s Facebook page and recall how he impacted their life in such a positive way. He was one of my all-time favorite teachers and taught as much about life as he did about music. His death today has me thinking about grief.
Many years ago, a co-worker’s 10-year old grandson was killed in a car accident. At the family visitation the child’s mother was laughing and joking with other family members and someone in attendance commented that her actions were inappropriate. Would you have thought the same?
One of my favorite sayings about grief is often attributed to Queen Elizabeth II, but is adapted from psychiatrist Dr. Colin Murray Parkes,
“Grief is the price we pay for love.”
Truly, grief is a hurt and an aching of love unable to be extended to the intended recipient.
Up until January 2013, I’d lost three grandparents. While I was sad they were gone, their passing seemed “circle of life” and didn’t necessarily rock my world. Later in 2013 when my brother died by suicide, I experienced the gut wrenching pain that can be grief. I felt like I was a purse that someone turned upside down, dumping the contents on the ground scattering them all around.
What I learned in the subsequent months is that grief is different for everyone – whose death triggers an intense pain, how we express grief and how long we dwell in life-impacting grief. I can certainly share my story of grief – and am willing to do so anytime with anyone who wants to talk about grief! – but my story is going to be different from your story. Talking to others about their grief can be helpful in figuring out how to navigate your own grief, but what works for one person may not work for you. However, I do think there are some tips that all of us can apply to help us with the grief process:
Own your grief. US culture tells us to hunker down and bear through, pushing grief feelings down. There is also an expectation that grief is only a few days or a couple of weeks. Three days company-paid bereavement leave? Recognize that simply the passing of time does not ease grief, but how we work through grief over time is what helps the sharp pain eventually subside. While the rest of the world will – and should – continue on, we need to recognize that we are grieving, allow ourselves to grieve and not let others dictate how long or how we grieve. Own that grief exists and that we’re allowed to grieve.
Let people know what you need and let them help. Whether this is help with daily living, like running errands or providing meals, or setting boundaries to keep people from forcing their timeline for healing on you, figure out what you need from people and then let them know. In grief, we may not know what we need. That’s OK. Tell people you want their help but aren’t sure what that looks like right now. Some of them may have suggestions that you appreciate. A funny memory from when my brother died is having a friend sit with me while I packed and made arrangements to leave to go to my brother’s place out of town. She asked if she could help me pack; I said no. When I unpacked at my brother’s place, I had 4 tops and one pair of pants for a week long stay. I definitely should have let my friend help me pack!
Be aware of your grief progress. Allowing ourselves the time to grieve is important, but experts say that the pain of grief should subside over time. Pay attention to your actions (or inaction) and how they help or hinder your healing. Is it the day after the funeral when everyone has gone back to their lives and you’re in the house alone sobbing? That’s probably A-OK. Is it a year after your loved one’s death and you feel the same intensity you felt the day they died? That’s probably an indication you want to seek help from a professional.
Detailed tips and tactics for dealing with grief abound! There are groups, online resources and therapists that can help you work through your grief. After my brother’s death, I found GriefShare – a Christian based support program – that helped me tremendously! In fact, it was such a blessing that I now co-facilitate a GriefShare group at my church. You can find group locations on the GriefShare website. Regardless of what resource you choose, I encourage you to find something or someone to help you work through your grief. Grief can’t be stuffed down, ignored or skipped over. You may be able to do that for a short while, but at some point, if you haven’t worked through your grief, it will come back for you to have to confront.
As I think about my high school band days and Mr. Hayward, I smile and remember a man who had the look of a “cool cat”, was full of energy and was kind but firm with the unruly teenagers he taught. He had a few sayings that any of his students can recite to this day. A frequent one, when expressing excitement was, “Hubba! Hubba!” For his family members and other loved ones that experience the deep pain of grief from the loss of their dad, family member, mentor, friend, …, I just want to wrap my arms around them and “hug them big” to squeeze out the pain. But no one can do that for them. They must go through their grief journey, with the reassurance that their grief represents the love they have for Mr. Hayward. I hope they will allow themselves the space, time and patience to grieve and that they have the support of many who will also allow them those things and will lift them up when they are out of strength. While thousands will miss, mourn and grieve you Mr. Hayward, I say Hubba! Hubba! to you for a life well-lived and for an eternal life of perfect healing and love. Rest in peace.
There is a point in grief where you are ready to move forward with your life – which may look different than it did before. A grief coach can help you identify what that looks like and set and achieve goals to start living that life. If you or someone you know is at that point, one of my passions is to work with people in grief. Schedule a free consultation session to see if I may be able to help you move forward in your journey.