Everyone suffers loss.
Whether it's a relationship gone wrong, moving far away, the death of a loved one, or children leaving the nest, there is no meter that measures how much more one person suffers than another. When left unchecked, grief can waylay you when you least expect it. A major loss, like that of a family member, creates anniversaries that loom over you like a dark cloud. But it's the little things that crop up unexpectedly that can leave you juggling emotions while trying to navigate your day. A certain smell, a song on the radio, or any one of a hundred things can sucker punch you into having to deal with the loss like it was yesterday. How we handle these sudden emotions can cause us guilt and shame if we don’t learn how to deal with them in a healthy way.
After keeping some emotions at bay for too long after my son passed away, I found myself disproportionately angry at the automated message on the Verizon help line. My sweet husband made the mistake of saying something horrifying like "calm down" or some other insane request, in an attempt to get me to stop yelling at a computer. I lost my mind and decided I needed to do some damage. I stomped over to the bathroom and tried to slam the door, but it wouldn't close fast enough to slam. After ridiculous attempts to make a satisfying slam, I screamed at it, and attempted to throw my mini clock on the bathroom counter at the mirror to break it. It bounced back and hit me in the chest, without so much as cracking the mirror. After a few minutes of rage shenanigans, I began to feel sheepish and looked at my beleaguered husband, who has his own grief to contend with. I was making it so much worse for him. I apologized profusely, and we held each other awhile, and he was his usual amazing self. Until the doorbell rang, and the police perp walked him out the front door after our concerned neighbors assumed he was beating me. So, there was that. The patience was a little thinner after that, and my shame immeasurable.
We can feel guilty about our grieving for so many reasons; not necessarily for making the cops ring your doorbell. As I navigate the waters of grief, I've found a few ways to deal with the dreaded anniversaries and unwanted reminders.
Be prepared. When certain dates or situations are coming up, it's not business as usual, and having your normal routine with blinders on is not the healthiest choice. Take off from work, miss your kid's soccer practice, do whatever you need to do to leave room for emotional response. Those emotions will come to the surface, and they will not be denied.
Plan a distraction. Those times that you know are going to be hard, like being around certain family members, or holidays, anniversaries, etc., need to be arranged in advance for your protection. Have something planned for others to do if you need to be alone. If you need company, plan a simple outing or something else to look forward to. Those around you may not always be your best support system, so ask a friend if they will provide back up for you on those days.
Celebrate the good. There is always something beautiful you can glean from a memory, or something in your new surroundings. Find the hope in something small, and it will bring a little light into the shadows.
Reclaim it. There is always something ruined by loss. For me, it is a love of all things fall related, including Halloween. I wanted to buy a pumpkin spice latte so I could throw it at the first happy person I saw. Instead, I forced myself to sit down and appreciate something that used to bring me joy, so that grief could not have it. Sharing it with a friend, talking about the future, and not focusing on sadness, made it okay to smell fallish things without crying. Well, sometimes.
Make a tradition. Start trying things that will become your new traditions, like honoring a loved one with a planting or donation, or serving a charity when you are newly single or empty-nesting. Focusing on things outside yourself will become something you can look forward to every year. For us, we turned Thanksgiving Day into a Grace Party, where we ask friends and family to share moments of grace to be read aloud at dinner.
Ask God for help. No one has more experience with pain and grief than the one who endured the cross for us. He is the foremost authority on suffering, and the author of redemption. He literally wrote the book on it. His grace is the key to realizing hope, walking into healing, and freeing yourself from shame. There is no right way to grieve, but there is a wrong way; alone. No one can understand you like the One who made you, so open your heart and let the healer knit your soul back together the way only He can.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)