When you’re grieving, you may not initially understand that there’s a component of forgiveness that has to happen. Your heart may be pained, but without understanding what grief and forgiveness have in common, you may not be able to heal fully and deal with the feelings that grief brings, not just during holidays or special days but any day of the year.
What Do Grief and Forgiveness Have In Common?
It may seem strange, but grief and forgiveness really do walk hand in hand. They’re both about love. We don’t grieve what we don’t love, and losing love makes us sad and angry.
They are both about letting go, whether it’s of a dream or a tangible item or person from your life. Most importantly and most difficult to understand, they’re both about embracing change.
When we understand this, we’re able to deal with grief when it is the most painful, but also any other days when grief is triggered. We’re able to know what to say to someone who is grieving and to advocate for what needs to be said to us as we grieve.
What Counts As Grief?
Grief involves loss, and we typically deal with grief on a daily basis. There always seems to be something we are missing or mourning. Maybe it’s the loss of who we believed we were. As we grow and age, we change–in looks, how our bodies move, and how we cope with minor and major illnesses. There’s a saying, ‘ Aging isn’t for the weak,’ because we lose a lot as we age. For instance, we often lose our mental acuity. Things like stress and menopause can make our brains feel like sieves. Mental illness, dementia, and addictions also take their toll on our cognitive function, and as we recognize we’re not what we once were, that loss feels palpable.
We can also grieve the loss of relationships. Of course, death is a given that definitely colors how we see things in life. It can also be a romantic relationship, a familial relationship, a friendship, or even a coworker who is a friend leaving without saying anything–that’s loss.
Grief also includes the loss of jobs, businesses, and financial standing. When we mourn what was, even if it was our own choosing or doing, it can hurt.
The bottom line is this–and I want you to hear my voice as you read it–GRIEF SUCKS. There’s no sugarcoating that; it just does. It’s also something we must go through because if we don’t, those feelings tend to come back and bite us in the rear…and often at the most unfortunate times.
I took a grief educator course last year with David Kessler. He worked with fellow grief expert Elizabeth Kubler Ross around the stages of grief. He’s written quite a few books, and I knew this course would help me help my clients who grieved and needed to figure out how to keep going. Working with him would allow me to grow in helping others find and give forgiveness so authentic grieving could be productive. Mostly I took this course for me.
You see, it’s taken me a while to share this because I’ve been going through some feelings. With my husband’s permission, I believe it’s time to share. When we share our own experiences, we can help others.
When Life Turned Upside Down
The summer of 2020 was a different one for everyone. But, by that time, some things were finally opening up, and life seemed to start to roll again after the first few harrowing months of the pandemic. I was in my kitchen cooking dinner, and like he usually did, my husband was waiting anxiously because he has the metabolism of a hummingbird and was usually pretty hungry.
We were talking, and he started to gaze off. I thought it might have been his blood sugar, as that often happened because he didn’t eat the snacks the nutritionist advised him to (because of his super fast metabolism). He wasn’t responding much, but when he did, it was weird; it was slow, and he spoke of strange things. This was not super unfamiliar, as sometimes weird stuff happened when his blood sugar dropped. Since dinner still had a while, I grabbed a protein bar for him to eat. Then, as the water was boiling and oven timers were going off, he said something that stopped me in my tracks. I needed to clarify what he said, and he popped right back to ‘normal’.
It wasn’t normal, though. My gut screamed we needed to go to the doctor, so we did. That’s when the often nightmarish chain of events many of you are familiar with started–the doctor thought nothing of it. As did the next doctor. And the next. If there is one thing I’ve learned to trust, it’s my gut. I knew something was going on, and we were going to figure it out.
I’ll leave many details for the sake of time, but we finally got to a specialist who checked him out for Parkinson’s. He presented many symptoms. I was beyond grateful for our care and attention from the Booth Gardner Parkinson’s Care Center in Kirkland, WA. The testing left them needing clarification. They ordered an MRI for clarification.
The MRI showed a stroke.
Actually, several strokes.
More testing led to AFIB–Atrial Fibrillation. It’s an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm (arrhythmia), and it can lead to blood clots in the heart and in the brain. This isn’t always the case, but for my husband, it was.
MRI comparison showed damage, and we didn’t go through with the AFIB procedure. We did take medicine to help with the AFIB and hopefully prevent more strokes. Now we are living in the shadow of the loss.
What’s Gone Is Gone
Since he was diagnosed to the time I’m writing this, he’s changed. Physically, he isn’t able to do many of the things he used to. It guts me, as he was such an active and vibrant person, and watching him come to grips with what he can no longer do hurts me. Additionally, we’re also noticing short-term memory deficits, and we realize we may be just at the beginning.
Grief makes people uncomfortable. We as a society don’t like to feel awkward or uncomfortable, and we’re a culture of grief illiterates. My grief over this was a mixed bag of emotions–anger, depression, fear, loss of control, and hopelessness, just to name a few.
Some days have been better than others. Fortunately, I’ve learned in forgiveness training how to handle anger, and I used my tennis racket and a pillow–great exercise, by the way.
After his diagnosis, I felt like I was on a roller coaster. And then, my friend Susan reminded me about anticipatory and ambiguous grief.
- Anticipatory is the grief you have before the loss–before death, addiction, or mental illness takes them more permanently.
- Ambiguous grief is when there isn’t clear closure or understanding of the loss of something. Again, this can center around those with addiction or mental illness.
I found Kessler’s website as I looked for ways to deal with this. It has lots of resources for you to connect with if you need them.
One of the things his site shares is one of the best things I’ve seen about grief. It is the ten best (and worst) things to say to someone in grief, and I’d like to share it because there seems to be so much loss in the world, and I believe it can help all of us (myself included) be more supportive vs. cause of more grief.
The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief from Grief.com
- I am so sorry for your loss.
- I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
- I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.
- You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
- My favorite memory of your loved one is…
- I am always just a phone call away
- Give a hug instead of saying something
- We all need help at times like this; I am here for you
- I am usually up early or late; if you need anything
- Say nothing, just be with the person – and that is what is needed most
The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief from Grief.com
- At least they lived a long life; many people die young – we can miss people regardless of how long they were in our lives.
- He/she/they are in a better place – This may not even fit with someone’s faith system, and even if it does, at that moment, they likely want their loved one with them.
- She/he/they brought this on herself – While this is often said of those who deal with mental illness or addiction, the bottom line is it simply isn’t helpful. If something isn’t helpful, don’t say it!
- There is a reason for everything – even if this is their belief system, it’s not the time. Unless you can supply the 100% accurate reason for whatever happened, don’t tell anyone that…at least as their hearts are raw.
- Aren’t you over them yet? They have been dead for a while now. There is NO timeline for grief. Triggers will continue throughout life. Don’t force someone on your timeframe for your comfort or allow someone to do that to you for theirs.
- You can still have another child – This is THE WORST. No other child replaces one someone loses. NONE. If someone says that, feel free to ask them which of THEIR children they might choose to be okay without.
- They were such a good person God wanted them to be with him or her. – This is similar to saying they’re in a better place. Even if this is someone’s belief system, their heart wishes they were WITH THEM. Don’t talk for God, and don’t try to speak about something you can’t be sure of.
- I know how you feel – Oh, people are just trying to relate, sure. BUT they don’t. We get to have our own feelings about our own losses, and no one needs to compare or try to act as if they too, know what you’re feeling. They may be able to understand some, but not fully.
- They did what they came here to do, and it was their time to go Again, don’t speak of things you cannot prove.
- Be strong – This one gets me. No one needs to ‘be strong’ when their heart is broken. That’s our grief-illiterate society trying to get people to buck up, and it’s just not okay.
Listen, we’ve all likely been guilty of saying something we wish we didn’t. It’s okay to apologize. That’ll work much better than carrying guilt.
This is where forgiveness comes in. We have all likely had someone say these things to us. Our anger can hold us back, so forgiving people, even if they don’t ‘deserve’ it, is freeing for us and allows us to grieve more authentically and healthfully.
While the holidays are often hard on grievers, the truth is that any time of the year can be tough. If you’re grieving, here are some tips to guide you through.
- Don’t believe what you see on social media or TV–it’s not really real. Picture-perfect pictures aren’t perfect, nor are families, and we all have secrets. And allow yourself to be real too. Like I learned in AA–progress, not perfection.
- If the holiday (or event or day) is too hard, you have permission to cancel it. The one thing you can count on with holidays or milestones is that they come over and over and over. Don’t want to decorate or celebrate? Don’t. Permit yourself to do as little or much as you want.
- Consider an alternate day to celebrate/remember/honor. Our family already does that anyway–we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas before the actual days. Do that too. Or birthdays or Mother’s Day or whatever day is special. Then you can have the day to yourself and grieve it how you want.
- Ask for what you need. Sometimes we expect people to remember things that are only special or memorable to us. REMIND people a day or season will be hard. Be direct. Set boundaries and ask others to help you instill them. It’s okay to protect your heart.
- You have permission to say “NO” without guilt. If something is too difficult, don’t do it. Don’t feel guilty about it. It’s not healthy for you. If you DO want to go through it, maybe talk with the host about it and let them know what’s on your mind.
The thing I’ve learned about grief is I can’t fix it. I can’t cure it. I can’t control it. I’ve also learned that it’s LOVE. We don’t grieve what we don’t love, and while painful, it’s directly proportional to how much we love them.
Most importantly, I’ve learned it is NOT about ‘getting better with time.’ That’s such a misnomer. It’s more about the fact that NO feeling is final, and they WILL change in time (as will you).
The pain may feel like it’ll last forever, but it does change. We don’t lose memories–we can take the sting out of them with forgiveness work…and being honest in telling someone, “I need help.” Reach out. A grief group, a friend…a coach, or a therapist. Anyone you can count on. Reach out and let them know where you are.
If you feel you need mental-health-related crisis support or suicide support (or have a loved one who needs that), PLEASE know you’re not alone and can text 988 for a trained counselor. You can also go here for more on finding someone to talk with.
You’re not alone. I promise.
You can always connect with me directly on my website.