I made an unexpected discovery when in trauma recovery about how to grieve well. I knew I felt anger, pain, disbelief, loss, separation from my husband, and much more. But when my counselor told me I hadn’t grieved, I sat back stunned.
I thought you only grieved when someone died.
As she gently walked me through past and present trauma, she explained to me that grief related to loss. And loss could be any number of things.
- Move to a new community
- Changing churches
- Broken relationships
- Causing pain to someone you love
- New job
- Chronic illness
- Giving away a pet or the death of a pet
- Death of a loved one
- Canceling an anticipated vacation
- Not meeting a life goal
- Unmet expectations
- And more
When I thought about how excited I was to move to our new home, I neglected to process the loss I felt leaving my community. That new job? Wonderful. Yet, I felt anxiety and separation from former coworkers and colleagues.
I thought about the friends I’d lost contact with, some of them severed relationships. The hurt still lingered because I hadn’t processed the loss. I hadn’t grieved at all, let alone well. Taking it one step further, I recognized that grief is a normal outcome when we experience loss. I’d never thought about it that way before.
I realized another thing about grief in this healing journey. You don’t stop grieving certain things. You simply learn to live life differently. I no longer grieve the loss of several pets, but I do grieve family members who are no longer with us.
My counselor helped me overcome my fear of grief.
I never learned how to grieve. Therefore, I believed that if I allowed myself to feel that pain of separation and loss to any degree, I’d never recover. Isn’t it funny what we think and convince ourselves is true?
I also believed that, as a Christian, if I believed God was in control, then it wasn’t healthy to feel or express the pain I felt.
Can you relate?
Through the work with my counselor and then coaches through the years, I discovered that grieving well has benefits.
1. Empathy for yourself and others.
No one grieves the same way. Ever. But once you’ve experienced grief and learned to work through the process well, you extend grace to yourself and others in the process. You understand you don’t “just get over it and move on.”
Jerry Sitser, in his book A Grace Disguised, says that if we allow it, grief can lead us to the grace that transforms our life. It’s this transforming grace that provides empathy for others. I remember reading this book slowly. My counselor and I discussed the sections I completed. I’d been guilty of expecting myself and others to cry, feel upset for a bit, but then move on with life. After all, no one wants to be around someone with a sad face. Now I understand that grief changes you permanently. You never go back to what was because it’s not there anymore. Your life path takes a jog one way or the other.
Learning to give yourself space to grieve means finding that grace Sitser mentions. This newfound personal empathy softens your heart and mind, lowers your expectations about how life must be to be happy and successful, and opens your heart to walk with others in their pain.
2. Freedom to live each moment.
Grief slows life down. It must. You experience brain fog, difficulty concentrating, lack of appetite, and even sleep disorders. Meanwhile, some days you feel lethargic, like all you can do is stare into space. On other days you might have the energy and desire to do something. Yet, that energy could dissipate quickly. All these are normal. Understanding the grief process allows you to stay present because you don’t have the energy for anything else.
My mom once told me she spent many months after a great loss doing the same activity. In the mundaneness of this repetitive activity, she processed her grief. In the last few years, I’ve had several occasions to remember this conversation and observe my current behavior. Like Mom, I found myself repeating actions without thinking. This slowed-down, mindless activity helped me process many periods of grief and sense of loss. When dealing with grief, we reduce our activities to that which matters most. Therein lies the freedom. We spend our energy only where necessary and experience new joy in each moment. It’s a curious dichotomy.
3. Deeper faith.
If you choose. There are people you and I know who’ve experienced deep grief and become bitter. Being around them feels heavy and life-sucking. Somehow, they’ve become stuck in one aspect of grief. Who knows why? It’s sad to observe and draining to be around. My heart aches for each one in this situation.
Grief can bring you closer to God if you allow it. As I read through A Grace Disguised, I observed the real struggle of grief alongside that of believing God was good. CS Lewis also struggled with the question of “Where is God?” in the aftermath of his grief. His book A Grief Observed honestly tackles the issues of grief, loss, faith, and God. We see Lewis wrestle with his belief system, something I struggled with as well. Like Lewis, I discovered God could handle my grief and questions. God holds us fast when we grieve.
Working through the darkness of my grief over Dave’s porn addiction and my suicidal depression took me through a faith crisis. Empty platitudes angered me. I needed to wrestle with God as Jacob did. I had to know that God was real. Otherwise, life meant nothing nor did I have a reason to go on. You can read more about that struggle in Choosing A Way Out. Learning to express my grief rather than stuff it allowed me to heal and experience joy once again.
What do you believe about grief and grieving well?
Discovering the betrayal of your spouse through porn addiction causes deep grief. It can feel like a death, and, in some ways, it is. The relationship you thought you had is now dead. You’re left with shattered dreams, loss of identity, broken trust, and so much more. Perhaps you cried a few tears, picked yourself up, and kept moving. You believed that’s all you needed to do to process your grief. While that might work for a short time, the grief does come back around and forces you to deal with it in some fashion. But this time, it’s grown worse.
Please give yourself the empathy to find grace in the grief, the freedom to be present today, and the courage to deepen your faith. If you aren’t sure where to start, please reach out to me or a biblically-based counselor. If you don’t know any counselors like this, please let me know. May I encourage you to discover what it means to grieve well?