When the subjects of grief and loss come up for discussion, we typically focus on the intense span of time following the death and funeral. We speak of our heartache and confusion, the roller coaster ride of emotions that pervade our days and nights, and how we might navigate the dark and lonely seas ahead. But what of those who have weathered the storms of early grief and sailed to a more peaceful shore?
In my experience with loss, grief never truly ends. Sometimes it rears its powerful head when we least expect it, even years after a death loss. But, thankfully, its frequency and duration soften over time as we do the difficult grief work that healing hearts require.
And then the day arrives to each of us in our own time, usually unannounced, when we realize that we have developed a new sense of ourselves — living without our loved one, perhaps tenderly at first … but living none-the-less.
So what comes next? When we “take off our robe of mourning and misery …” (Baruch 5:1) we open ourselves to discovering what “new robe of splendor” will soon fit us best.
It was three years after my husband Trent died in a car accident that I awoke to the trill of a bird song. Mind you those birds had not stopped their twittering along the way, but their life song fell on deaf ears as I sat wrapped in a heavy blanket of grief for a time.
That day marked my new awareness of self. I saw for the first time that I had settled into life as a single mom, adjusted to making life’s decisions without my spouse. My daily experiences had become less clouded by my pain and some joy, though different than before, was making a slow but steady reappearance in my life. It was then that I contemplated what good would come from the ashes of my grief.
I have learned that reaching out to others in the throes of grief with compassion and understanding can bring great comfort and healing for all involved. For me, working with the bereaved, one person or group at a time, is a gift wrapped in my own grief experience. I learn so much from each individual and the bond that grows out of the healing is strong and steadfast.
Just the other day, a friend, four years out from the death of her husband, relayed to me that she would be joining a newly established grief support group at her parish. She had participated earlier in a group I facilitated and after two years there had rejoined life in earnest. Now she says she feels called to be a witness to others who are in deep grief, offering not only her friendship, but her compassion and wisdom. I suspect she will be a treasured asset to the new group and find purpose and meaning for herself as well.
Finding meaning in life after the death of a loved one is an essential part of healing and can take so many forms — working with the bereaved is only one. I have seen those who mourn a lost loved one take up meaningful activities from the simple to the complex. One family established an annual 5K run to honor their deceased patriarch. The proceeds of the exciting annual community event are donated to their loved one’s favorite charity. Each year as the family members gather to organize the ever-expanding run, healing grace shines light on all the participants.
A widow I met had always had an interest in floral arranging but never found the time to pursue it in her youth. Following her husband’s death, after a few painful years of questioning her worth and purpose, she chose to volunteer at a local florist. The joy she now feels using her innate artistic talent and love of flowers brings new life to her days knowing that her bright bouquets bring pleasure and meaning to others. And she was eventually hired by the shop owner and has established delightful friendships with her co-workers who she calls family.
We must remember to be gentle with ourselves as we move closer to that peaceful shore, after fighting the raging seas of grief. Taking the time to investigate what will bring meaning to our lives is an important step in reaching a future filled with hope and joy.