August 14, 2018

Another Look: Make the Way by Walking

Garden Walk (2014)

Make the Way by Walking

My friend, I have good news for you: you don’t have to “do grief right.” In our culture, we expect people to follow a certain path in the wake of a loss. I’m here to tell you: there is no defined path. Just be yourself, keep walking, and you will make a way.

You may be introverted, drawing strength from solitude. Or, as an extrovert, you may find help being with others. Some people need to sleep while others need to stay busy. Talking about it may help or hinder. Some read everything they can find to answer the questions that haunt them. Others want to simply forget. There is no “right” way.

Furthermore, you don’t have to come up with a “reason” or “purpose” for your loss. The plain fact is, there might not be one, at least one any of us will ever know.

You are not required to smile and say things are alright. You need not put on a positive front in order to “be strong” for others. “Falling apart” is normal. Give yourself permission.

You don’t have to always try to balance your sad feelings with positive ones. Your tears honor the immense importance of your loss. If it hurts, it hurts.

On the other hand, don’t feel guilty if you have a good day or want to do something fun. Even in a season of grief, there are ups as well as downs. It’s okay to still enjoy life’s blessings, to laugh, to lighten things up.

And perhaps you are one of those people who rarely cries and is not demonstrative about your feelings. Don’t let people pressure you into feeling bad about that. If you simply prefer to deal with your loss privately and process your thoughts and feelings more stoically or analytically because that is your personality, that’s okay.

There are some people who seem to handle pain, loss, and grief without much trouble. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are stronger or, on the other hand, in denial or unfeeling. Somehow, they can just absorb the blow and keep going. If that’s you, do it — keep going. Don’t allow people to question your lack of tears or outward expressions of grief. A sad face shouldn’t be required any more than a happy face. Just be yourself, you don’t have to explain it to anyone. You probably wouldn’t know how to explain it anyway. This whole life thing is pretty much a mystery, isn’t it?

If you are a person of faith, don’t automatically imagine that God will “speak” to you about your loss or give you a vision or a word that will explain it to you.

Don’t assume that, through your loss, God is giving you a “message” to share with others. Some of us are activist types, always looking for ways to help other people. But don’t jump to that, thinking that’s what “God wants” and what unselfish “faith” automatically does. Grief is not about that, it’s about you — your loss, your pain, your darkness. It is not “selfish” to focus on yourself. Grief means you have received a serious wound. There is a time to tend wounds.

“God-talk” can mean well, but it can also ramp up the pressure to “do grief right” and be “heroic” at a time when you need to heal. Church can be hard too. But if you find yourself dreading or avoiding it, don’t think you’re losing your faith. To be honest, congregations are often not good contexts in which healing can take place. I wish it weren’t so.

It’s okay to hurt, to cry, to fall apart, to withdraw, to get depressed, to be angry, to struggle within yourself and with God and others, to rage against the senselessness of it all, to have no words, and to feel like that for as long as you need. Grief doesn’t follow a timetable. Be patient with yourself, and seek the help of others who will let you be yourself.

There is no sure guide that can cut a straight path through the wilderness of grief.

You will make your own way by simply walking. And you will make it.

And by the way, if you need a friend to walk with you, give someone you trust a call.

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    This is an important message for people to hear. Not only in the world of Christianity, but in that of widespread pop-psychology, there is the prevalent idea that there is right way to grieve, there are certain stages that all grief must conform to, and there are things that everyone must do to manage their loss by grieving correctly. These widespread expectations result in more suffering, and lonely suffering, for grievers than should be heaped on them. Neither God, nor God’s world, fit into neat categories of human expectation; why should we expect the grief that we suffer from loss to?

  2. john barry says:

    CM , good thoughts and a good guidebook that I need to be reminded of. Robert F. good valid observations.

    Well meaning people say God does not give you more than you can handle, I would say at times God does give us more than “we” can handle that is when we turn toward God’s love and seek the comfort of others , if we can.

    When E.F. Hutton speaks people listen, when CM speaks on this subject I listen.

    • E.F. Hutton!? Oh, wow! I wonder if anyone under 40 knows what you’re referencing regarding that ad slogan. 1%? Less than that? LOL.

      –> “Well meaning people say God does not give you more than you can handle…”

      That’s one of my least favorite Christian clichés. It’s like waving a magic wand and telling someone they should pretend pain and suffering don’t exist.

  3. I agree that there is no right way. I got married right out of college and a year later my wife died. Many people had what they thought was the best advice for me. They didn’t. A young priest became my friend and just sat with me and let me be honest and open. He didn’t try to give me the top ten strategies for overcoming grief. But this young priest changed my life and I will forever thank him. The best we can do is just listen and let someone work through grief themselves in their own time.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Stbndct.

      • Robert F says:

        Yes. I can’t imagine how traumatic it must have been to lose one’s spouse at such a young age.

    • As a pastor, I can tell you that people will remember that I am there in times of crisis. They won’t remember what I say. So, I try to be present, listen to their stories, and avoid the platitudes.

  4. Thank you, Chaplain Mike, for the wise words. Every love is different, and grief is the continuation of love.

    My mentor in the grieving process, Megan Devine, has written a book, “It’s Okay that you’re not Okay” which is full of such real-world words, both for the bereaved and for anybody else who’s trying to help.

    https://www.amazon.com/Its-That-Youre-Not-Understand/dp/1622039076/

    • Robert F says:

      “It’s Okay that you’re not Okay”.

      Reminds me of a saying I came across a long time ago; it was reformulated in response to the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” philosophy: I’m not okay, and you’re not okay, but that’s okay.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Actually, Transactional Analysis is a bit more involved than its one-liner tag line “I’m OK, You’re OK.” That’s reducing a whole to a Twitter Tweet, and we’ve seen what that does in other contexts.

  5. Christiane says:

    I was once told by a very wise person concerning grief, this: ‘it’s a process’

    He was right.

    • Not only is it a process, but the timing for each stage in that process is different for everyone, sometimes different for each loss. And then there are these twists, too: Why did reading about Old Yeller dying affect me more than when my grandpa died? I used to feel guilty about that; not so much anymore.

      • Robert F says:

        And the stages of that process get all mixed-up, and out of order. And sometimes when it feels like it’s over, you’ve been through the wringer and made it, it starts all over again from the beginning, and it’s like you’re at day one of grieving.

        • There’s a lovely youtube vid out there of Joe Biden addressing an organization called TAPS, of surviving family members who’ve lost loved ones in the military. As you may know, when he was a newly elected senator, his wife and (I think) one child were killed in a car crash which also injured one son. Someone took him aside and told him to get a blank book and keep a diary. Every day, was it a good day? Was it a bad day? They’re all bad at first. After a few months go back and tally up the bad days. If the time between bad days is getting longer, that’s how you’ll know you’ll make it.

          Grieving is tricky business, and it’s never anything like what other people tell you it will be. It has its own times and seasons and will not be rushed. Or even organized into stages. You feel what you’re feeling, and that’s your truth.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            –> “Every day, was it a good day? Was it a bad day? They’re all bad at first. After a few months go back and tally up the bad days. If the time between bad days is getting longer, that’s how you’ll know you’ll make it.”

            Over the past few years, I’ve tried to help several friends through the grieving process in a rather simple, yet I think they’d say effective, way. I’d text them once a day, asking, “On a scale of 1-10, 1 being in the belly the whale to 10 on a mountaintop, how are you doing today physically, emotionally and spiritually?”

            It was interesting to see those numbers go from 2s and 3s to 5s and 6s, then 8s. Also interesting was the physical toll (often higher initially, to lower later), and even the spiritual ups-and-downs, these people would have.

            • Rick Ro. says:

              –> “Also interesting was the physical toll (often higher initially, to lower later)…”

              I meant to say, their “number” was often higher initially, meaning they felt physically fine initially, then the numbers got lower later on, meaning they were feeling a physical impact, sometimes even as they felt better emotionally and spiritually.

          • Christiane says:

            ah, Joe Biden, a man with a heart

            I hope he wins in ’20 if he runs . . . . he would not be ordering the forced separation of little ones from their mothers, no, not him

            Joe recently helped John McCain’s daughter cope better with her father’s illness, as Joe’s son died of brain cancer and he had gained some wisdom through his loss and was kind to share it with her.

            (BTW, some group out there called ‘Q’ is pushing for Trump to arrest and jail John McCain, and I can’t imagine why . . . . apparently the ‘Q’ people are the new Trump supporters and they have some strange beliefs that are kind of murky to say the least.) (?)

            • Robert F says:

              Q is a cult, the worst kind of toxic religion: irrational and malevolent. We are no longer talking politics, in this case. And it’s becoming mainstreamed, in a big, big way. People with power have been feeding the fires of conspiracy theory, from Birtherism to Deep State to Pizzagate to Sandy Hook denial, and back again; now they are burning out of control. It will get worse, not better.

              • Christiane says:

                Thanks, Robert

                I have heard that some Sandy Hook parents are suing conspiracy promoter Alex Jones. He has called these parents and ALL Sandy Hook parents ‘liars’;
                but some parents have been approached and ATTACKED by ‘crazies’ because of the conspiracy theory, and seeing that they have already suffered the unspeakable, I do think they have a case against the likes of Alex Jones and his ilk.

                Why those victims? They will always be in grief over the slaughter of their babies.
                ?

                I’m sick of the whole conspiracy thing. Trump has a lot to answer for, the worst being his assault on the border babies, but those who follow his conspiracy lead are right up there with him in responsiblity for crazies acting out on innocent people. God have mercy!

                • Robert F says:

                  If the U.S. hadn’t destabilized all of Central America for decades in the twentieth century, using the CIA to topple democratically elected governments that were not friendly to U.S. business interests, this tidal wave of undocumented immigrants would not exist. The chickens are coming home to roost, and the mistreatment of families, and children, arrested at the border will not make it better, only worse. Soon the wackos will be calling for people, men, women on children, to be shot on sight; some already are calling for it. This country is on the cusp of losing its soul; when that happens, does it have a right to continue to exist, other than the “right” made by might?

                  • Christiane says:

                    Our country owes a debt of HONOR to see that the wounded border babies receive just treatment: restoration to their parents, and compensation for psychological injuries that may be crippling. What was done to them was done intentionally, apparently, as Trump was warned about the possibility of injuring the children. But he acted anyway. And since our country is responsible for his inhumanity to these little ones, our country owes the children a debt of help for their wounds.

                    It’s a debt of HONOR.

                    It will not erase the horror of what Trump did to the little ones, but it will restore our country to its place among humane and civilized countries that work to help children internationally, not hurt them for political gain. Our honor is at stake here.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              I hope he wins in ’20 if he runs . . . . he would not be ordering the forced separation of little ones from their mothers, no, not him

              To do that, the Dems first have to break the stranglehold of the Clinton Machine. Otherwise all we’ll see is Hillary in 2020, Hillary in 2024, Hillary in 2028, Hillary in 2032, Hillary in 2040… Losing every time.

              I agree that “Slow Joe” Biden would have made a good candidate. (For one thing, he often comes across as blunt and direct, which WAS a big advantage in 2016.) But he could not be allowed to get between Cersei Lannister and the Iron Throne.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And keep a baseball bat handy for Attitude Adjustment in case someone figures this makes you his/her Soul-Winning Witnessing Opportunity.

    People are going to say stupid things, but grieving a death brings Job’s Counselors out of the woodwork with their unwanted Godly Advice(TM). And if your’re grieving something other than a death that’s also hitting you hard, watch out!

    • Heather Angus says:

      Job’s comforters did OK for the first week or so. They just sat with him and wailed along with him. It was when they opened their mouths to “explain” that the problems started.

      I’ve always loved Job’s ultra-snarky response to them, “Surely you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.”

  7. This is a keeper, CM. Not only for myself, but to share with others.

  8. If I may expand for a moment into our overall walk in Christ, though certainly it applies to grief as well, there is actually something to the phrase, ‘Making it up as I go’. The letter of the law ‘pre-scribes’ behavior. The Spirit ‘in-scribes’. It writes in. It is not handed down but is active and current. Now certainly there is a balance. We don’t have a basis for the now without what has been handed down. Nonetheless, we are the active growth of the vine and as such must take what has been fed and bravely move ahead with it. That requires the innocent openness of the lamb and the shrewd discernment of the fox in combination. In short, an open spirit can embrace the unusual, the different, the uncomfortable. A fixed mindset of ‘how it’s supposed to be’ will lack patience when things are not as they always, or at least usually, were.
    Having said all of that, I will freely admit to making judgements about others’ grief. I have two customers who lost their husbands. One in her late sixties, early seventies, was absolutely debilitated to the point of near paralysis. About 4 years later she is not too much further along. Her family was telling her to pick up the pieces and get life moving again. I strongly sympathized with her and told her to let things happen as they would. Organically so to speak. I’m not sure her family would have appreciated that advice as they felt she needed to buck up a bit. The other woman was mid fifties, assertive and strong minded. Her husband died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was a long battle. When he was alive she would call me to repair baseboards and walls he had dinged up with his wheelchair. She was clearly irritated by this and I wanted to come to his defense because of the circumstances but thought better. After he died she got into some big renovation and seemed quite freed of the burden of full time care. I can appreciate that for sure. She did mention how lonely it could be and that now she was a third wheel with married couples. I have to confess that it took the open mindedness that I spoke of earlier to get through my judgementalness. She seemed relatively unphased. My parents and siblings are all alive. I’ve never dealt with the death of someone so close so I decided that I needed to put my judgements away and mind my damn business. Even if I were inclined, I’m not qualified. I definitely need the help of an open mind.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Ah, the tension of living in grace and with an open mind.

      I had to laugh the other day when talking with someone about non-judgmental-ism. I mean, even telling someone they should be less judgmental comes with judgment!!!

      • Great point Mr. Rick!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Judgment in the mainstream definition (a binding decision) or the Christianese definition (someone else gets it in the neck from God — SMITE! SMITE!)?

      • Christiane says:

        Hey good Christians! It’s OKAY to scream out in anger about the Trumpian brutality towards the suffering of the border children!
        It’s OKAY for Christian people to stand up FOR those who are unable to defend themselves from the horror of what these babies are being put through.

        Christians?
        Are you there?

        The silence is deafening.

        (crickets)

        ?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Not silence:

          “I give Donald Trump Praise and Adoration.”
          “Thank You Donald Trump.”

          “Trump Tweeted It,
          I Believe It,
          THAT SETTLES IT!”

          “Every Knee Shall Bow,
          Every Tongue Confess,
          Donald Trump Is LOOOORD!”

          Two of these are actual quotes (minus the barrage of chapter-and-verse zip codes).
          Two are fictional, but illustrate the attitude.
          Can you tell which is which?

    • Christiane says:

      The husband may have been in the wheelchair but his wife was really the one who was crippled. Death must have been a real release for that poor man. Maybe sometime before her death, God will challenge her in a way that teaches her patience and empathy; but usually these lessons aren’t so easy to learn in later life. God is merciful, though. It may yet happen.