By BARBARA MARTIN, LPC, LMFT
QUESTION: There seems to be an ongoing sense of grief I have been dealing with lately. How do I deal with this?
Dealing with grief is so understandable. The world, as we have known it, has changed dramatically. Mitchell and Anderson (1983) define for us six major types of loss and, for many of us, these are things we are currently experiencing.
• Material loss: The loss of a physical object or familiar surroundings to which there is an important attachment. Think about it — we can’t do many of the things we have been able to do in the past, so what was familiar isn’t available now.
• Relationship loss: Opportunities to hug, touch, and be in the physical presence of important people in our lives has been limited.
• Identity loss: The experience of losing an emotional but important image of oneself; losing the possibility of what might have been; abandonment of plans for a particular future; the dying of a dream.
• Functional loss: The loss of bodily functioning. With COVID-19, many have experienced this.
• Role loss: The loss of a social role one was accustomed to, or the loss of one’s accustomed place in one’s social network. Jobs have shifted, church is just now beginning to open up, and even roles at church have changed.
• Systemic loss: We are relational beings who long to be in some kind of interconnected system. The absence of this can significantly alter both individuals and the system itself.
Grief is no respecter of persons; it hits everyone. Honestly, we just need to give ourselves permission to be sad, to be broken, to struggle, to cry, to not have it all together and, at times, to be a dysfunctional mess.
I read an article a few years ago that had some lines I liked:
“The other day I received a ‘permission slip’ from a friend who has walked a torn-up road and refuses to let me walk mine alone, and I will always love her for it. She texted me, ‘You have full permission to use this pass whenever you need!’ with a picture of a woman lying in bed with the caption, ‘I’ll be okay, just not today.’”
Why do we need this? There are those times when we need others to give us permission to grieve, then sprinkle compassion over our heart. Compassion is when someone enters another’s suffering and resides there with them. Sometimes we just need a warm body walking with us on our road and saying to our heart, “You are not alone, and I am not going anywhere.” There is not a to-do list, an expectation list, a “how to get better in 5 steps” list. No lists, no rules, no deadlines.
Tim Keller says, “The strongest souls are the ones that have emerged out of suffering, and the most massive characters are the ones that have been seared by scars.” Psalm 147:3 tells us, “He (the Lord) heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” We are not immune to grief, and scripture underscores this over and over again, especially in the psalms of lament.
• Allow yourself and others a time to weep and vent without analyzing or judging. Trying to fix people only deepens their grief. Often, unsolicited advice feels like criticism. It hurts to be told others are doing well under the same circumstance, or to be told how to do grief differently.
• Remind yourself and them that God’s grace is sufficient and His Word revives the soul; but do not hit them with mini-sermons or pepper them with platitudes. God’s ways are mysterious, and we really do not fully understand why calamity comes.
• Remind them and yourself that our Savior will never fail or forsake us. Jesus walks with us and weeps with us. Jesus knows every detail of our struggle.
Hard as it is to believe, grief teaches new things about life that you otherwise would not learn. In grief, your understanding about life will just keep going deeper.