Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

“Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?  How do you take into account the circumstances of a death, the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, trauma surrounding the event or any of a dozen other things that influence how long and how deeply one grieves a loss?

Obviously there are certain signs that someone needs professional help, medication or intervention.  If a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, acting out in ways that harm or threaten harm to themselves or others, or is experiencing depression or uncontrollable anxiety then please, please, PLEASE get them to a doctor who can diagnose and treat them.

But for the rest of us, “normal” grief covers a wide variety of behaviors, feelings, attitudes and timelines:

Posting photos or videos of our missing child is normal.  It’s the last visual link we have to someone we can no longer see.

Mentioning my son in conversation is normal.  I mention my other children and his life is still intertwined with ours.

Crying-even years or decades after the loss-is NORMAL  Grief waves can hit with tsunami force from out of nowhere and slam me to the ground. The only thing I can do then is let them wash over and around me until they pass.

Keeping space for my son in my home, at my table, in my heart and on holidays is normal.  Some parents do this with a special candle, photo or ritual. Some do it with a stuffed animal or other item that represents their child. Some do it with words or deeds of kindness done in honor of the missing one.  No one has sat in Dominic’s space at my table in these three years.  It’s my silent witness to his ongoing influence and irreplaceable presence in our family circle.

Keeping a room exactly as it was is normal.  Boxing everything up is also normal.  Every heart is different and every heart has to decide what helps it heal.

Sleeplessness is normal.  Some parents never return to pre-loss sleep patterns.  I wake every morning at about the time the deputy came to our door.  Every now and then, if I am extremely tired, I may fall back asleep for an hour or two.  Sleeping the day away is normal, too.  Sleep may be a welcome relief to a weary heart and some parents find that when they can, they sleep a lot.  (Note:  if this continues for days or weeks, please check with your doctor about the possibility of depression.)

Anxiety is, sadly, VERY normal.  The worst has actually happened and that makes the possibility that it could happen again oh, so real.  Anxiety may well spread to things that seem to have no relationship to loss.  It’s also normal to have a “devil may care” attitude. The worst has actually happened, so what could be worse?  Might as well live life to the full.

Withdrawal is normal.  So is over-scheduling and staying busy.  Both are ways someone may try to deal with heartbreak.

You don’t have to be “stuck” in grief to still feel the pain and have it continue to affect your life.

I am and have been highly functional since the morning the deputy arrived with the news of my son’s fatal motorcycle accident.

But I am a very different “me” than I was before that doorbell rang.

Some things I can’t do anymore. Some things I do differently and some things are brand new and I have only done them since he left us.

Labels are rarely helpful when applied to people.

Every person is unique, every relationship unique and every situation unique.

And every grief journey will be unique as well.

roller coaster 2 better image

 

 

 

Repost: Grief is NOT Sin

Grief is not sin.  

It wasn’t until another grieving mom asked the question that I realized there are some (many?) in the community of believers that think grief is sin.

Not at first, mind you-everyone is “allowed” a certain amount of time to get over the loss of a dream, the loss of a job, the loss of health or the loss of a loved one.

But carry that sadness and wounded heart too publicly for too long and you better be ready for someone to question your faith.

Read the rest here:  Grief is Not Sin

Repost: How to Respond When Someone Shares Their Pain

We’ve all been there-we ask a routine question and someone refuses to play the social game.  

We say, “How are you?” and they answer honestly instead of with the obligatory, “I’m fine.  You?”

Suddenly the encounter has taken an unexpected turn.

“Oh, no!  I don’t know what to say,” you think.

Read the rest here:  How To Respond When Someone Shares Their Pain

No Words

Some days there are just no words for this journey.

Sometimes I can only feel what I feel

and do what I do

and cry when I cry.

Today is like that.

I cannot wrap my mind around the FACT that my son is dead.

Am I somehow defective because I can’t?

Can any parent do that?

I know it’s true-I’m not in denial.

But knowing something is true and embracing it as true are two different things.  I am forced to walk in the world but not always forced to confront Dominic’s absence.

He could just be on a trip, or away at school, or out of cell phone range. It’s funny the tricks your mind will play to placate your heart.

But this morning when the light pushed back against the darkness my mind refused to continue the charade.

In a moment of clarity, the sword of truth penetrated my soul.

And here I am, naked and bleeding clinging to the fact that I am mother to a dead son.

Nowhere to hide.  No way to escape.

No words.

sound of my heart from the inside

 

Repost: Love Doesn’t End

I know that others want desperately me to be “better”.  They want me to be happy and carefree and back to the Melanie they knew before child loss.

And not just for their sake, for mine too.  

It’s hard to watch someone you care about in pain.

But my reality has been forever changed.

Read the rest here:  Love Doesn’t End

Learning Limits

An exchange with a Facebook friend got me thinking.

How much of my struggle in life is a result of ignoring my own limits?

How much pain do I inflict on myself because I won’t admit I need help?  Why do I insist on living to the edge of endurance and emotional capacity?

Why, why, why do I try so hard to keep up a front of invincibility?

Pride.

Pride goads me like a whip.

Pride makes me say, “yes” when I should say, “no”.  Pride whispers the lie to my heart that I can be everything to everyone because I am “all that”.   Pride makes me believe I am the focus of others’ attention and conversation when they probably haven’t even noticed.

Foolish woman!

When I try to do too much, I am unable to do anything well.  When I spread myself too thin, I guarantee that I’ll crack under the pressure of keeping up appearances.

Truth is, I’m not fooling anyone.  And I’m not serving myself or others well.

you are never strong enough that you dont need help

I’m learning some lessons in this Valley and one of them is to try to accept my limits.  I need to be honest about how much I can and cannot do, what I can and cannot carry alone.

Admitting I am human is hardly a unique confession-it’s the plight of all who walk the earth.  When I do, I invite others to walk alongside and assist me in carrying the load.

Asking for help isn’t weakness, it’s strength.

cannot judge yourself for needing help

 

 

 

Will It ALWAYS Feel Like This?

I belong to several bereaved parents online communities and this question comes up again and again-it was the first thing I asked a bereaved mom just after Dominic ran ahead to heaven:

“Will this suffocating pain remain sitting on my chest, smothering the breath and life right out of me?  Will I ever be able to stop crying? Will it ALWAYS feel like this? “

The short answer is, “No, it won’t.”

For those of us who follow Jesus, we know that eternity with Him will be filled with inexpressible joy and peace.  Whatever pain and sorrow we have carried down below will be swallowed up by redemption and restoration.  He has promised both to collect our tears in His bottle and to wipe them away.

tears-in-a-bottle-blue-bottle

The longer answer is, “It depends.”

If I cling tightly to my sorrow, focus my eyes and heart only on what I have lost, then I will continue to feel overwhelmed.

How can it be otherwise?

I have lost more than I can comprehend-both what WAS and WHAT WILL BE.  My son is gone, gone, gone.  And that is not going to change on this earth.

I can’t play mind games and trick myself into thinking it will.  My heart knows the truth and it won’t be fooled no matter how hard I try.

BUT-if I turn and face the pain, embrace it, feel it and work on healthy ways to carry it-then I can begin to breathe again.

There is no way through but through.  I have to let my heart feel all the feels.  Stuffing or ignoring them is not an option.  They will not be ignored forever.

There’s no way around grief and loss: you can dodge all you want, but sooner or later you just have to go into it, through it, and, hopefully, come out the other side. The world you find there will never be the same as the world you left.

Johnny Cash

I can choose to equip myself with tools for working through them.  Counseling, journaling, learning to lament, sharing with a trusted friend are all healthy ways to process pain.

And because I believe in Jesus, the most helpful thing I can do in this Valley is look to my Shepherd.  When I focus my gaze on Him, on His character and provision, my heart is strengthened.

Make no mistake-the missing and sorrow are still there-faith is not anesthesia! But there are other feelings that take up residence alongside my pain-hope and courage and grace.

faith is not an epidural

I have to choose.

Am I going to work through this pain or simply be crushed by it?  Will I allow my Savior to heal my heart or will I refuse His aid?

My heart is still beating either way.