Grief is a powerful teacher. Yet, most of us spend an enoromous amount of time avoiding the lessons it came to provide. We view grief as some sort of boogey man, hiding under our beds, waiting to grab our ankels and hold us down as we try to emerge from the rubble of loss. We will wrestle with it, fight it, and avoid it at all costs. Let's face it, as humans ... we will do just about anything to avoid pain.
As a grief writer, and grief specialist, I have witnessed so many people (including myself) perform all sorts of rituals to try and find some sort of comfort during the grief journey. We join support groups, read everything that social media tells us about grief/grieving, and I have seen guru's on grief suggest that burning sage, essential oils, and coaching sessions will heal your grief. I am guilty of offering some of these as options, but have come to see that grief is personal, intimate, and the journey is different for each of us, as well as each loss life offers.
Let me explain. I was asked to speak for a wellness program last week. Trust me when I tell you, I am usually well 'rehearsed' when asked to speak to a group of people. There were about 150 people on the call. I could NOT get my well prepared PowerPoint Presentation to upload. I tried sending it to the presenter, but it just would NOT attach to the email. I was getting more frustrated and embarrassed by the minute. I finally surrendered and said, "Look, I cannot seem to upload the presentation. Can I just speak from my heart and share with those who are attending?" The reply of, "Yes." felt like a thousand pound boulder lifted off my shoulders. You see, I literally hate scripts, and reading someone else's words. It feels fraudulent, and the person I am trying to communicate can tell instantly that it is not coming from my heart anyway, so why bother?
The talk began, and the words flowed like a calming river, as I began to share what I could in the forty-five minutes I was given. At the end, I was given 15 minutes to do a Q&A from those who were listening. One of the questions really blew me away. "How do you know when you are done grieving?" I will be brutally honest and say I did not know how to answer that at first. I knew I had that deer in the headlights look, and I took a deep breath and replied: "That is a very good question, and I am not sure how to give an answer to that to be honest." I suddenly remembered the death of my sister. I was twenty-five when she died, my husband had left me when I told him I was pregnant, and I was living with my mother at the time with my oldest daughter. We left our home, scared and felt so isolated. We were all grieving ... that just seemed to be the norm if you know my story. The House that Grief Built.
I could only share what grief came to teach me at this point in order to provide an answer. It came from my heart and it went something like this: "Grief normally just shows up at our doorsteps. We are not prepared, nor do we expect grief to step into our lives and disrupt the comfort we once embraced. We have choices to make when grief enters are sancutary of life. Grief comes in the front door and has what I call companions. There are three of them - Fear, Loss and Change." I paused for a moment to allow the words to settle with the listeners.
I resumed the answer and stated, "You see, when I was in the midst of my darkest grief, I would hear these voices sounding off at first. The first voice would seem to hiss and whisper to me, 'You're never going to get through this.' Then I heard another voice that seemed to shout above the first one and say, 'Don't listen to him. That is the voice of Fear speaking. I am the reason he is here. I am Loss." I paused again at this point, to allow the listeners to begin to get their own images/pictures of what these entities were saying, and also what they looked like - You know, the boogey man.
I then took a deep breath and began to paint yet another picture for the listeners. "Loss. It is truly the causes of grief. Yet it holds hands with other entities. I didn't recognize the third entity yet, because the voice of Fear kept screaming at me constantly. I realized that in order to silence the voice of Fear, I had to grab a hold of it, face it head on, and silence it. Fear was trying to paralyze me. Fear even whispered I should just end my own life, and tried to convince me that nobody cared. Fear even screamed, 'Where is your God now?' That is when I knew this voice was from the pit of hell itself." I could tell by the faces of those on the video meeting, they were in awe at this point and relating, as they were shaking their heads in a 'yes' motion.
I went on to share, "Once the voice of Fear was silenced, Loss introduced me to the third entity. His name was, Change. He was silent at first, as he knew I had to face Fear, and put that voice to rest. Fear's image was still in the shadows, but he lost his power over me. It was almost as if Loss and Change were celebrating his silence. Slowly, but surely, the two entities of Loss and Change began to show and hand me the pieces of what was left of my life. Like we were working a giagantic puzzle of some sort. The beauty of it was when we completed the process. They taught me so much then, and as they taught me how to rebuild, the heaviness of grief seemed lighter, even though it would always be a part of me now. It was in the midst of battling the voice of Fear, as I cried out, 'What are you trying to teach me vs. WHY is this happening to me?" The voice of Fear was a voice of torment. It had a purpose, a lesson I needed to learn - I could choose to listen, give it more power and become a victim, OR I could choose to face it, wrestle it to the ground until it became silent. I chose to fight. It was a powerful teacher.
The beautiful pieces that Loss and Change taught me was to remove the regrets, the guilt, and the shame out of my heart space. Fear had deposited a lot unforgiveness and rage. My heart was hard, but somehow, Loss and Change were able to assist me in cleansing it out, and the art of surrender. I mocked the voice of Fear and shouted in his face, "You asked me where is my God now? Well, just take a look around. It was my God who saw the lies you fed me, and replaced it with His Truth. It was God who gave me a new heart, and has a plan and purpose for me. It was God who guided me through the Loss and Change."
It was as if Fear evaportated in that moment. I went on to explain, "It's so wild that just as I had gotten comfortable with Fear, Loss and Change, I realized my time with these teachers had come to an end. I had gotten so used to sitting at the table with them, waking up to them, driving to work/home with them. It was my God who showed me our time was done. Yet the goodbye was greeted my three other visitors as they left that day. I embraced them with everything I had. Their names were Faith, Hope & Love."
The call was now coming to a close. The panel thanked me for a most eye opening approach to grief. We talked about caring for elder parents while trying to raise a family, loving an addict, changing careers, moving, death, divorce, finacial loss, and any of the 40+ types of loss including loss of trust, loss of respect, loss of dream/goals, etc. It was an open book discussion and I was truly honored to be asked to speak.
Within a few minutes after the call, I was checking my email and saw that several of the listeners, had sent me messages of their own grief, what they had been through, and how the talk helped them have a better understanding. Grief teaches us about so many things - How we respond vs react. It teaches us about our own spiritualality. It teaches us about the voices in our head, and who put them there. Grief teaches us to discern the voices, and whose shame/guilt are we carrying. Grief is a powerful teacher. We just need to stop fearing it, avoiding it, and running from it. Sit down with it. Identify truth from lies. Death leaves a deep sting - Fear decides how deep the wounds will go. Sit down with Fear, rebuke it. Fear will have no choice but to flee from you.
So, I will end by asking you, "What is your grief teaching you?"
As always ... From my heart, to Yours.