This will be the first of three posts in a series specifically about grief. Grief complicates everything by interrupting our daily lives and relationships, and it has the potential to last for years. I hope we can learn how to grieve effectively and how to simply live through the suffering.
Several years ago I began a running blog entitled Making it Hurt. Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://makingithurt.blogspot.com/
I chose the title because in order to better yourself as an athlete, you have to intentionally put yourself in painful situations. In fact, you often have to create the pain yourself. If you’re not enduring pain, you’re not getting stronger, faster, better. I thought of life in the same way. Taking risks, choosing to love someone, following your passion—these can all lead to pain; sometimes they are painful in themselves. I stand by this belief today.
But until recently, I hadn’t really considered the kind of pain that comes against your will, or my will—the kind of pain that doesn’t come with obvious results, at least not as quickly or as conspicuously as weight-lifting or cardio. Handling this kind of pain is different too; you don’t get to choose when to stop or when you can’t take anymore. You have no control over the healing process, and any silver lining you can find is dulled with bitterness.
This is the pain often referred to as grief. I’m no grief expert or counselor, but I’ve learned the best thing I can do for myself in times of grief is to simply let it hurt. Here’s how:
There are ways to temporarily avoid pain, but I do NOT recommend them. First of all, again, pain will eventually turn to strength. Don’t deprive yourself of the privilege to become a greater you. Secondly, pain is meant to be felt. Think about it—if not for pain, then there’s no significance in joy (I’m drawing from a conclusion I read in Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey). Yes, some things may numb the pain for a time, but it WILL return; distraction just puts off the inevitable; and pretending to be okay is exhausting.
I HATE crying. Unfortunately the tears come anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, if tears are threatening to betray you during a painful time, just let them. Crying is as natural as breathing. If you’re not a cryer, don’t sweat it; nothing’s wrong with you. But if you’re like me, go someplace private and just accept your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong.
Most of my friends and family will agree that I’m not a big talker. It should come as no surprise, then, that I’m very private during painful circumstances. However, even I have experienced the remarkable relief after confessing tremendous pain. Be as selective as you want, but don’t keep it all to yourself. To hear others acknowledge your pain can bring such comfort. Allow yourself that much.
Privacy is greatly valued in many cultures and sometimes separates generations. The problem with privacy is that it has the potential to create too much distance and cause unnecessary loneliness. When grieving, it’s okay to ask for space, but try to allow your loved ones the opportunity to show their affection and care. Relationships are important for many reasons, but one is to lessen the load each of us has to carry. Let others help you carry your burden; you’ll be able to help carry theirs one day, too.
This is by far the most crucial piece of advice I can give, in my opinion. I alluded to guilt in a previous post, but thinking logically, pain is not death. Therefore, it’s not only permissible, but it’s expected that you will continue to live your life. Pain will dampen some of the pleasant moments, but you will encounter laughter with an appreciation you’ve never known. Don’t let guilt due to grief keep you from experiencing the good in life.
I write this portion with bitterness. I don’t know how I’ve endured such pain for so long, and some people have endured much more and much longer than I have. I do know that the grieving process cannot be rushed, just as nature cannot be controlled. Whatever you may be grieving, however long you have been “recovering,” embrace the fact that what has happened has happened, and though time may not completely heal your wounds, they will become easier to bear.
The loss of a loved one; disease; disaster; car accidents; cancer; divorce and break-ups; lay-offs—all of these and more are reasons to grieve. So many people grow up not knowing pain, until one day it hits. Emotions criss-cross, leading to confusion and frustration. Unfortunately, avoidance via abused medications, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, over-exercising, work-aholism, eating disorders, self-harm, and other tactics have replaced the simplest reaction (and often solution): just feel. Feel, cry, talk, accept condolences, live, and wait for redemption.
Drew Barrymore said “Life is very interesting…in the end, some of your greatest pains become your greatest strengths.” If you’re cursing me for that quote, I get it. I’m there with you. But if this is true, and I think it is, then accept that pain. Feel it for whatever it’s worth one day.