Take Grief’s Hand
Someone you have given love to and received love from has died. You are grieving. You are “bereaved” which literally means you have been “torn apart” and have “special needs.” You are beginning, or are in the midst of, a journey that is painful, often lonely and naturally frightening.
Among your most special needs right now is to have the courage to grieve and mourn in a culture that doesn’t always invite you to feel safe to do so. That said, I have written this article to help you draw forth your courage—the courage that already exists within you—to accept grief and mourning as they come.
There is a difference between grieving and mourning. Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone we love dies. Mourning is when you take the grief you have on the inside and express it outside yourself. In other words, mourning is grief in action.
I encourage you to take grief’s hand and let it lead you through the darkness and toward the light. You may not see the light at first, but forge ahead with courage, and with the faith that the light of hope and happiness does exist. Feel your pain, sorrow, sadness, disbelief, agony, heartbreak, fear, anxiety, and loneliness as much as you can.
This may seem odd, as these emotions could well be the ones you most want to avoid. You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denyinng these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to “keep your chin up” and stay busy and wait to “get over” your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in, and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again. Unresolved grief can leave you feeling “stuck” or empty. Your ability to engage in life could be inhibited and you might feel like you’ve shut down.
Instead, choose grief. And as you walk with your grief, actively mourn. Cry when you need to, call a friend when you feel overwhelmed, join a grief support group, express yourself through writing, music, dance, or sports. By taking action, you will eventually integrate the death of your loved one into your life. In exchange, you will find the hope, courage, and desire to once again live a full and rewarding life.
While walking with grief, remember two important things: 1) Grief and mourning have no timeline. Your grief journey is unique and will take as little or as much time as needed, depending on the unique circumstances of your loss. 2) Taking breaks along the way is needed and necessary. I like to use the word “dosing” when referring to grieving and mourning. Grief is not something you can do all at once. Feeling so many feelings often leads to overwhelm. Instead, take in “doses” of grief and mourn in bits and pieces. Retreat and welcome respite as needed.
Grief may never leave your side, but it will allow you to let go and venture forth on your own more and more as days, weeks, months, and years pass. Tap into your innate courage and accept the hand held out by grief.
What is courage? When you think of courage, images of bravery might come to mind—knights on horseback charging the line, firefighters risking their lives to rescue a family from a burning building, or hikers summiting Mount Everest. This is bravery, not courage. Bravery is loud and boisterous. Courage is soft and quiet. Without the steady, quiet resolve and unfailing commitment of courage, bravery would never happen. Courage is what fuels bravery. It is the bridge between fear and action. It is a still, quiet voice encouraging you to go on.
Bravery is daring and doing, courage is friendly and welcoming. Find ways to make friends with courage. To “befriend” literally means making an effort to “become friends.” Imagine what it would be like to have courage as a friend who walks beside you at all times; a friend who never nags, never pushes, but simply places a gentle hand on your back and whispers words of encouragement, helping you take the next step, and the next. With courage by your side, you are able to go on, to walk through your days and do the next right thing.
Cultivate a relationship with courage every day. Each morning, welcome courage. Before you rise, say your favorite quote on courage out loud. Maybe it is the Serenity Prayer, borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous, and one of my favorites: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Or maybe there’s another that you especially like. If you want, write down your favorite quotes on courage and put them on your fridge, dashboard, mirror or computer at work. This will help you keep courage close, all day long.
Look for simple ways to give voice to courage throughout the day. Maybe it is simply having the gumption to get out of bed. But maybe it’s the courage to share how you feel about your loss with a coworker or friend, or to walk through the doors of a grief support group. It could simply be making a phone call you’ve been putting off, writing a thank you to someone who helped after the funeral, going to church alone, or finding the backbone to be honest with yourself about something you fear. Healing after a death is hard. It takes courage in all shapes and sizes to mourn fully while living day to day. Congratulate yourself on welcoming courage, regardless of its size or reach.
About the Author
Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate, bestselling books designed to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including Understanding Your Grief, The Mourner’s Book of Hope, and The Mourner’s Book of Courage, from which this article was excerpted. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.