He misses her terribly, of course. Grief has taken its hold on him, and will not let him go. This man, once so energetic and active, is struggling to find his reason to do anything. “I just do not know,” he sighed. “What is really the purpose?”
Grief experts estimate that the average person will experience five to six major losses in his/her lifetime. These losses could be not only the loss of a loved one, but also loss of a career (retirement), loss of dreams, and/or loss of health. Bob is experiencing all four of these losses. Grief paralyzes us at times because grief hurts! The pain is so overwhelming that our energy and enthusiasm for life wanes.
James and Friedman in The Grief Recovery Handbook states that one definition of grief is the “conflicting feelings caused by the end of or a change in a familiar pattern of behavior” (p.3). When our emotions are in conflict with one another, energy is sapped from us, and as we hear often, “Our get up and go has got up and went.”
Bob’s conflicting emotions are evident
– he is both happy and sad his wife died. Sad of course because he loves her. There is this gigantic hole in his heart, and he certainly does not feel whole. She was his companion for over half a century! They had shared everything for so long. He is experiencing dramatic change in a familiar pattern of behavior; he is grieving.
Yet Bob is somewhat relieved his wife has died. She had suffered from dementia for years. She was ‘ready’ to die, she had told him. Yet he feels guilty about these feelings. If he really loved her, he should never feel good about her death, he reasons. And living a rich and fulfilling life again almost appears to be heartless. Sad…yet relieved. Hopeless, yet desiring to be hopeful. Conflicting feelings. Grief.
So what do we do when faced with grief? How do we live again, and regain the zest for and meaning of life we once had? Here are a few suggestions:
- First, as H. Norman Wright suggests in his writings on grief, ‘normalize’ the grief experience. Normalizing is quite different than minimizing. Grievers do not have broken brains; they have broken hearts. Give yourself permission to feel terrible, sad, depressed, etc. Earl Grollman wrote:
Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.
Doug Manning gives similar counsel:
You give yourself permission to grieve by recognizing the need for grieving. Grieving is not weakness nor absence of faith. Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt or sleeping when you are tired. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.
Amazing renewal and energy can come our way when we stop fighting against feeling bad. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? In the midst of pain we can begin to feel alive again? Well, yes we can. But this does not mean it happens overnight. We cannot just ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’. No, this is indeed a process that has ‘living forward’ as a welcome outcome.
- A second suggestion is similar to the first. Give yourself permission to live again, to be happy, to ‘live forward.’
Some grievers assume that any kind of joyful life after a loved one dies somehow dishonors their loved one. They have no right to be happy again. Though rarely verbalized, this belief is often expressed in other ways: “The more I grieve, the more I prove my deep love for . . . “ The truth is really just the opposite. Listen to Hellen Keller’s wise words.
What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.
Bob’s wife loved her Lord and loved to serve people. She was kind, compassionate, and giving. She visited hospitals and nursing homes regularly. She came to church early every Sunday, intentionally looking for guests so she could welcome them and encourage them. She had a zest for life and for people.
Remember, what we loved deeply becomes a part of us. Once Bob began to see this, a spring returned to his step. Energy for giving to others returned. After all, he told me, this is what his wife did. His return to life honored the bride of his youth. And though he still misses her greatly, and though there are still days he weeps more than he laughs, he is slowly getting more ‘OK’ with that. He is ‘living forward.’
At our Spark of Life Retreats – there have been 35 retreats with over 500 people attending – we see many ‘Bob’ stories.
We believe it is possible to truly ‘live forward.’