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Doug McCleary: Celebrant, Officiant, Musician


The Slowness of Grief

Posted by Doug McCleary on September 1, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Recently, while working with a family to plan their loved one's funeral service, the comment was made "well, now that we're getting through the grieving, we can have the service and then get on with our lives."  Upon hearing that, I commented "you've barely even begun grieving...once the service is over, that's when the real work of grieving will begin...and it can take a long time."

Grieving is not an overnight affair.  As we face death and loss (and, actually, as we face many changes and transitions in life) we grieve what "was."  Grief is work...on one hand, it is something that happens TO us...but on the other hand, it is a process we work at.  And it can take a long time.

Loss (and even change) is a shock to our emotional and spiritual equilibrium.  Losing a loved one initially puts us in a state of shock...and we often get through those first days by staying busy.  There is all the planning of the funeral, getting documents, starting to go through our loved one's belongings to find important items (and to begin figuring out what we do with everything).  All that busy-ness keeps us, in a way, slightly insulated from the real inner emptiness of loss, and that is probably a good thing.  Then, when things begin to slow down, we really start getting in touch with how we really feel, and how the loss is going to affect us.

Then we begin the "work" of grief.  And it is something we can work at.  We take time to remember...we go through photos and videos and clothes and other items and recognize that each thing brings with it a particular memory...or some reminiscence.  And we allow ourselves to truly feel the sense of emptiness that comes with the loss of a loved one.  We (in a sense) "pick up" that emptiness and examine it...looking for all the places in our life that will be changed now that our loved one is gone from us.  We take stock of our our failings--sometimes wrestling with regrets or unresolved anger.  We move from "idolizing" the one we've lost to recognizing their humanity and their own shortcomings.  And we begin to heal...the pain slowly subsides, acceptance of our new state in life comes...and we find we can breathe and live again.  That doesn't mean we ever forget...or that grieving has "ended" but we learn and we grow and we move forward in our lives.

Does this all happen in the span of a couple of days?  Hardly!  I can give an example from my own life.  I lost my father in 1998 (13 years ago as of this writing).  The first couple of years after his death were very hard.  I had a deep sense of loss and missed him terribly.  And yes, I said "the first couple of years"...  It took me nearly two years to get through the hardest work of grief.  Now, 13 years later, I still think of him.  I see him (and talk with him) occasionally in dreams.  I still want to pick up the phone when I run across a problem that I know he would be able to solve.  So, am I still grieving?  Probably.  Thirteen years later and it's not entirely finished.  However, I am able to live my life again.  The grief no longer hobbles me and keeps me from experiencing all that life has to give.

So...for your sake, recognize that grief takes time.  Grieving is a long process.  It won't happen in the span of a couple days...  It may happen in the span of several years.  And that's OK.  That is "healthy" grief--the kind that lets us heal and live fully.  So take your time.  Feel all that there is to feel...don't hold back.  Remember and honor and examine and reconcile.  And discover that, while life is full of moving on, it is also full of love and laughter and endless possibilities.

Categories: Thoughts and Musings

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