I recently read an informative quote on a website designed to bring God’s healing grace to the bereaved through grief education. It read, “Saying good-bye is not a one-time action. It is a process with many different steps, difficult steps. It’s okay if you don’t feel ready for this now. Understand that saying good-bye occurs gradually over time.” This profound statement delivers key elements that can help guide us all on our journey through grief.
The notion that saying good-bye is a difficult multi-step process that occurs over time can help those mourning the loss of a loved one face and understand the emotional turmoil that can arise as they learn to integrate the loss into their lives. We don’t simply say good-bye at the bedside of a dying loved one or later at the funeral. There are many good-byes that occur gradually over time.
I recall with clarity the sequence of events following my husband Trent’s death 24 years ago. Saying good-bye to his body at the end of his funeral was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Following his burial, it was presumed that I would simply resume life and get on with things. And as it was I was determined to keep everything including what belonged to him exactly as it was the day he left for work and never came home again. The thought of any more change at that time brought a fear of the future that was near paralyzing to me.
But as my life progressed, as it tends to do, and I engaged in the difficult work of mourning my loss and developing a new normal for my little family, I found that my perception of things changed with time. In the early days I would never have considered giving Trent’s clothes, books or trinkets to anyone other than my immediate family. With them I knew his things would be cherished and safe.
But I found in the subsequent months and years, when I was ready, that it brought me joy, albeit bittersweet, to say good-bye to many of his things, knowing that they would be enjoyed by others. That was a very difficult but monumental step for me to take, but a necessary one on my personal grief journey. Letting go of those linking objects allowed me the room to create new life and I came to believe he would have appreciated that. Saying good-bye to that tangible evidence of Trent’s life was an important part of my healing.
Those in mourning must not only say good-bye to those tangible things that are held so dear but also to the future that they had planned and the very self-identity that was enjoyed within the specific relationship with a loved one.
Saying good-bye to what might have been at the next anniversary, birthday or holiday event can be devastating at first. But as time progresses and we take the next step on our healing journey, there will be a time when peace will trickle in and replace much of the heartache. Then the future will open to new possibilities in which the memory of our loved one will hold a special place.
Following Trent’s death I was no longer considered a wife, but a widow. My identity had been wrapped in that delightful post and as time moved forward following his death I was forced to say good-bye over and over to the part of my social life that consisted of couples’ events and wifely privilege. As difficult as that was, I have found, in my own time, joy again in my life as single mom.
With that said I have learned through my own experience and that of those I’ve walked with in their grief, that timing is everything in saying good-bye. There may be those in our lives who will encourage a quickening of grief and an urgency to say good-bye. My own sainted mother encouraged me the very day we buried my beloved to clean his closet out and erase all evidence of Trent’s life in my home. Though my burdened heart was bruised and broken, I knew that it was not time yet for me to say good-bye. I knew eventually when the time was right.
We as grief-stricken individuals must take the time to be in our grief and move at our own pace. We must follow our hearts as we learn to say the many good-byes that are part of the path through grief, one difficult step at a time. Only then will we truly begin to heal.