“How do I grieve?” someone asked me after we talked for an hour about her tragic loss. I think one of the most difficult things to know how to do is dealing with loss. Because losses are an inevitable part of life – loss of dreams, aspirations, capabilities, freedoms, friendships, loved ones and family members, knowing how to grieve is significantly important. I don’t think there’s a hard-fast rule on the right way of grieving, but there are unhealthy and healthy ways of grieving. The healthy ways allow our souls to be nurtured, to grow and to heal from the tragedies. Unhealthy ways tend to do damage to us that’s not realized until later down the road. Pain is a given in life – how we sort through it is the question. So what are some healthy ways of grieving?
The old medicinal advice of time can sound cliche but is undeniably valid. Giving oneself the time and space to grieve is perhaps the first crucial step. Often, we may tend to do the opposite of giving ourselves space by adding clutter. Keeping ourselves busy, as we say, feels good initially because we crowd so much into our lives that we don’t have to think about what we lost. But busyness can be a tool for denial. Denial of any form will always be harmful to ourselves and others around us in the end, because denial is an avoidance of reality or truth. Initially, we may need to be busy because we can’t grieve at the immediate moment, and that could be okay. But schedule in that time at some near season in our lives to allow for that space of grieving. Once we have that space, what do we do with it? Many will say you just need a good cry. That can be true and cathartic. However, if the crying is without end, that is also damaging. Sulking and wallowing in endless misery is as unhealthy as denial. Your spirit can only take so much punishment. The human spirit is meant to move on and not be trapped in repetitive misery that eats away at the soul. There is one suggestion I have for grieving, among the many out there. It’s a creative way.
Creativity allows our souls to express the deep thoughts and emotions that we have difficulty forming into explanatory phrases. When we are able to fully express ourselves we find some wholeness from our loss. This is important especially when the loss we’re dealing with is a significant person or a loved one. Our worlds are made up of people in our lives and so losing a significant person feels like our world has somewhat fallen apart, like a branch that was broken off of a tree. Our souls don’t always seek answers for the loss but they do seek wholeness. How can we be whole again and go on with tomorrow without this person in our world is the big question we’re left with. Creative grieving can mean creating a story, a poem, a song, a play, a painting, a drawing, a dance, a quilt, or a movie to express our thoughts about this person. But perhaps you say you’re not a storyteller, songwriter, poet or artist. You don’t have to be in order to be creative. But if there is no artform that you can comfortably express yourself in then there are still other creative means of expression. Creativity is an ability God has equipped every person with. You can put together a photo album, a scrapbook or a slideshow of the person. Why do this? Because people who are created in the image of God will have two essential qualities about them — their stories and their dignity. Both of these are inherent to every person. Everyone, no matter what background or lifestyle, has an inherent God-given dignity to them that is bound up in the image of God that was impressed upon them. And every person, no matter how old or young, has a story to them. Our creative expressions are attempts to capture their stories and display their dignity as the unique human beings they were on this earth. In telling their stories and showing their dignity, we not only remember and honor them but display the wholeness of their lives, and thus discover a sense of wholeness we need in ourselves from losing them. The making of these creative expressions may be accompanied with tears, and the process may at first be excruciating. But that’s part of the path of grieving. Through this painful process what keeps us going on to finish this expression is our desire to find wholeness by putting together their stories and portraying their dignity. What is surprising is when we discover that our creative expressions will help someone else who also loved that person to find a way to grieve as well.
It’s easy for me to write about this but the reality is there is never an easy way to grieve the loss of loved ones – only healthy ways. But it’s the uneasiness of the grieving process that honors them. It’s our pain that validates how genuinely special the persons were to us. And it’s the difficulty of richly portraying them and their stories that affirms the depth of how wonderful they were. And it’s our efforts in attempting to portray them, imperfect as it may be, that echoes our sincere love for them – a love that continues on even passed their lives on this earth.