Losses Come in Various Shapes and Sizes

When we hear the word “grief,” we usually think of the pain experienced after someone we care about dies. Yet we probably can name other losses and changes in our lives and relationships that have caused us to grieve. For example, since my brother’s divorce, I miss seeing his ex-wife at family gatherings. When my husband’s new job meant moving to another state, I grieved the changes in my friendships with neighbors. We no longer could share our hearts on morning walks or load all our kids into one of our minivans to take them on an outing.

We also can experience loss when we or our friends leave our workplace, organization, school, or religious community. Even if it was our decision, we may find ourselves grieving the relationships and the part of our identity left behind. While we might keep in touch through social media, texting and phone calls, we miss the intimacy of face-to-face interaction and the bond of a shared purpose.

Other sources of grief include infertility, physical ailments, disabilities, or financial challenges, which may dash our hopes and dreams. Unemployment, natural disasters, or betrayals can steal our sense of security. Even celebrated changes, such as graduations, promotions, and marriages, can include elements of loss, as the ushering in of a new season means the conclusion of a previous one.

Whatever the source or depth of our pain, our healing begins with acknowledging any losses and finding productive ways to express our feelings. Then we can begin to adjust and, down the road, even recognize and consider new opportunities resulting from the changes in our lives.

Today’s Dose of Comfort

List the various losses that you have experienced during your lifetime, including moves, betrayals, divorces, unemployment, physical ailments, and other changes that have caused some degree of grief. Underline, circle, or put a star by the ones that have been the most painful. Can you identify ways that you’ve healed from and grown through your previous losses? What helped you through the process? If your pain has not diminished, consider reading and applying the principles of Doses of Comfort to your previous losses, as well as to your more recent ones.

Excerpt from Doses of Comfort, available on Kindle and in print at Amazon.com

 

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Memories of the Past and for the Future

For some, Memorial Day weekend means camping, gathering together for barbeques, or catching up on spring yard work. For others, it is a time to reflect on the sacrifices of loved ones and others who have served our country. In our home and countless others, it is both.

Whether or not they died during a war, we can honor the memory of soldiers by visiting their graves or other memorials. You might find it meaningful to drive through a National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend, where flag after flag line the road, saluting those who have served.

Generally, on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day our family chooses to display the neatly folded United States flag presented to us at my father-in-law’s interment. Another Stars and Stripes waves proudly outside our house. Sometimes we look at photos from the war and recall stories of the bravery and selflessness of our fathers and grandfathers. We acknowledge the price they paid and the emotional scars they carried through their lives after the wars. Often on these days, we ask God to protect the men and women serving now and to give wisdom to those leading our military forces. We also pray for peace—in our world and in the hearts of all who grieve.

Honoring the memory of loved ones can help us heal and move forward. It also is vital that we make time for self-care, including relaxation and recreation. On Memorial Day weekend, consider reflecting on those who have served and taking time to relax and build new memories, which can bring you and others joy both now and in the future.

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort by Gwen Waller, available on Kindle and in print at Amazon.com.

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Missing Loved Ones on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

In May and June, it is difficult to avoid the store aisles of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards and street corner flower vendors. Then turn on your TV and, before you can mute it, you are likely to hear sentimental background music while a parent patiently bakes cookies with their child (and sells flour or other essential ingredients). Another commercial will bring you face to face with a grateful young adult teaching their parent to use the cell phone they just unwrapped. For those who have lost a child or parent, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can heighten awareness of their absence or reopen the wound. Depending on where you are on your grief journey, consider the following healing activities.

  • Write a card or letter, expressing your ongoing love and what you miss about him or her. You also may want to recall a memorable time together and thank them for what they have meant to you and how their influence continues. This letter can be kept private or shared with a family member or friend.
  • Plant a tree, shrub, or flower in memory of your loved one.
  • Evaluate your loved one’s impact on your life. Which qualities do you admire and hope to carry on? Which characteristics would you prefer to abandon? Also consider who else you would like to influence your life.
  • Encourage someone else to be all they are meant to be.
  • Ask a nearby nursing home if you can spend time with a resident who rarely has visitors.
  • Call or visit someone whose heart may be aching on these special days.
  • Donate to an organization that helps children in need around the world.

During Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other special occasions, take time to remember those who have died, and then focus time and energy on people who are in your life right now. Let them know how much they mean to you, and spend time enjoying them.

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort by Gwen Waller, available on Kindle and in print at Amazon.com.

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Traumatic Death

I once met a widow who lost one husband suddenly and another after a long illness. She readily admitted that both experiences were excruciatingly painful, yet also had some distinct differences. Others agree. When death is anticipated, we generally enter the grief process earlier and have time to reach out and try to repair any breaks in the relationship. We also may have a chance to say good-bye…. When death is sudden and traumatic, however, we have no time to prepare, so our shock and other reactions tend to be more intense.

Early in the journey, we may go back and forth from disbelief—this is a terrifying nightmare—to being hit hard with the reality of the death. Our grief may include flashbacks of what we saw, if we were at the scene of the death, or of what we imagine happened, if we were not. 

As the reality of our loss settles in, our emotional responses may intensify. If our loved one died by suicide, we might feel angry and even enraged that they ended their life. In our sorrow, we may have a deep longing for more time with them, as well as sadness for the despair that tormented them. Our stomach and neck may be tight with anxiety, as we wonder who else in our world is feeling hopeless and considering suicide. We also are apt to try ourselves in the courtroom of our mind. If so, we owe it to ourselves to make it a fair trial. Rather than just accusing ourselves with our regrets and perceived failures, we also need to cite the evidence of how we expressed love for the one who died. We ought to avoid judging ourselves and others harshly, realizing that, for reasons unknown to anyone else, at the moment the person ended their life they saw no other way out of their pain. It is not our fault.[i]

Yet, as is true for all grief journeys, after a traumatic death, it is vital to find healthy ways to express any of these and other normal responses. Talking to family members, friends, a pastor, a counselor, or in a grief support group can help us work through our pain and find healing. We may need to retell, over and over again, the story of how we first heard about the death. While a death might happen suddenly, our healing takes extended time, conscious effort, and patience with ourselves and others.

[i] For more information about suicide loss, see John Jordan and John McIntosh’s Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors (New York City: Routledge Imprint, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011).

This condensed excerpt is from Doses of Comfort, available in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com.

 

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Lasting Impact

His tragic death certainly did not quench the impact of his life.  After more than four decades, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words still echo as we pause to celebrate his life and legacy. Each January we commemorate the ways King actively loved God and people by peacefully working for justice and equality. And we remember that we, too, can make a difference in this world.

King lived only 39 years. Some of our own friends and family members may have died younger; others, much older.  How has each one impacted our lives?  Did they live lives we hope to emulate, or did they chose paths we hope to avoid? 

As we remember King this month, and our loved ones throughout the year, we can find healing and help rebuild our lives as we consider their lasting legacy and as we seek to fulfill our own purpose on this earth.

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Write Way to Heal and Rebuild

While there’s not a “right” way to mourn and rebuild, one effective method is to write down our thoughts and feelings. Journaling can be a safe avenue for expressing our anger, admitting our fears, and working through our pain. The act of putting words on paper or on our computer can help us identify and process the various grief responses that may be churning inside us. In black and white, they generally become more manageable and productive.

In addition to helping harness the power of thoughts and feelings, writing can be a means of contemplating our future. We can brainstorm options for rebuilding our life. Does our loss necessitate a job change or move? We can list the possibilities. If we’ve been caring for a loved one, which interests or relationships have we put on hold? Do we want to revisit any past hobbies or endeavors? Which new interests could we pursue? Perhaps we’d like to learn a new language, try oil painting, or run in a 5K.

Another healing strategy is writing a letter to the deceased. Even though we cannot send it to them, the act of conveying any regrets, anger, longing, and other responses to loss can bring healing in our own life.  If our relationship ended with unfinished business, we can apologize for our actions and express forgiveness for wrongs we suffered. In addition, we may find it freeing to share our plans for reinvesting in life, including our hesitations as well as our hopes. Of course, letters also can be a way to thank them for cherished memories and articulate the love that still fills our heart.

Whether we keep our written expressions private; disclose them to someone we trust; or read them to God, the act of writing down our thoughts, feelings, and options for the future can promote healing. Doing so can be a constructive step toward rebuilding our life without our loved one.

Today’s Dose of Comfort

If you have not already done so, consider buying an attractive journal in which to write your thoughts, feelings, and hopes for your future, or start a confidential computer file. Later you may want to share some or all of what you write but, for now, keep it private so you can write freely, without fear of being criticized or misunderstood. If anything you write alarms you, however, or if you feel overwhelmed with emotion or troubling thoughts, reach out to a friend, pastor, or professional counselor. 

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort, available in print and Kindle at Amazon.com

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When Waves of Grief Hit

Not only do we grieve various kinds of losses, but any of those losses may resurface our grief for a loved one who died in the past. For example, moving may trigger our grief for the one who shared that house with us for many years. If our dog dies, we may find ourselves grieving not only the pet, but also the family member who brought him home and cared for him. Even a seemingly unrelated loss may remind us of a loved one we have mourned.

We also can experience waves of grief around holidays and other special occasions. On Mother’s Day weekend, a surge may hit those without a mother and moms who have lost a child. As we anticipate or celebrate family weddings, graduations, and birthdays, we may find ourselves longing for those who are missing. If our relationship included certain activities, such as watching baseball, going fishing, eating out, or shopping together, then grief may strike as we cheer on a home run or visit the mall.

Sometimes waves crash upon us seemingly out of the blue. Several months after our infant son Darren died, I suddenly started to cry when I saw a helicopter. I hadn’t even witnessed the hospital staff airlift my hours-old son to a neonatal unit across town. Still, seeing the helicopter triggered that memory and my longing for him.

Surges of sorrow also may result from hearing another’s story or reading a book about grief, including this one. While conversations about loss may come at inconvenient times, we generally can plan when we will pick up a book. We can benefit from scheduling our reading when we can freely mourn.

Whenever grief hits, rather than trying to avoid or restrain the waves, we can choose to use them to help release our pain. We can allow the waves to help move us through our grief. If wave after wave is knocking us down and we fear drowning in our sorrow, however, it may be time to contact a qualified counselor or grief support group. Help is available.

Today’s Dose of Comfort

If you’re experiencing a wave of grief today, take a few moments to acknowledge your pain and embrace your memories. Then, just as swimmers are encouraged to use the buddy system, reach out to someone to assist you. Also take time to distract yourself from your loss.

Are you approaching a special day or activity? You might benefit from setting aside time to grieve (for further suggestions, see the Holidays and Other Special Days section at the end of this book). Also consider what you can do on that day to focus on loved ones who are still with you. If you suspect that a strong wave may hit you during a social event, prepare ahead of time by rehearsing what you’ll say to others or by writing a note explaining that you were not up for staying. Then, if you feel the need to leave early, hand the note to the hostess or an understanding friend or family member before you go.

Excerpt from Doses of Comfort, available in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com

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