Grieving gracefully into a future full of hope
Five years ago I was grieving a great loss in my life. I looked to Scripture for some word through which I could allow God to give me comfort, strength, and courage. Jeremiah 29:11-14 spoke to my broken heart. “I know well the plans I have in mind for you … Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me … I will listen to you. When you seek me with all your heart you shall find me with you.”
This passage has become my mantra in learning to grieve graciously. I use it both for myself and in helping others through my ministry today as a grief specialist. I feel a passion to use my experiences to minister as a wounded healer. Through my work, I help “comfort the afflicted,” as one translation of this spiritual work of mercy says.
For me comforting the sorrowful means helping lift the spirit of a grieving person. It also means helping the person maintain emotional balance.
Research has determined that by the time a person is 15 years old, he or she has received 23,000 messages that “sadness is bad.” Researchers at the Grief Recovery Institute have determined the hidden cost of workplace grief, in the form of reduced productivity and increased errors and accidents, is more than $75 billion annually.
It is not surprising that most of us instinctively choose to avoid dealing with sadness or grief. How many times have you heard a grieving person say, “I am having a bad day,” but when asked further he or she reveals that a person, place or event has triggered their unresolved sadness or grief and brought tears.
So how did I befriend my own grief so as to become a wounded healer capable of comforting others?
Write it out
First I asked God to give me the grace to write out my own sadness/grief history. I took stock of what I had learned and believed about sadness. I was honest about how I had dealt with sadness and grief. Then, since I really believed that if I poured out my heart to my God, God would give me a future full of hope spoken of in Jeremiah 29:11-14, I spent many hours journaling and writing letters to God. I shared thoughts and feelings related to the sadness in my life.
Next, I asked God to help me choose what I needed to keep and what I needed to let go of in how I viewed sadness. It became clear to me that I needed more education in the area of sadness and grief if I was to use my own experiences to walk with others on their grief journeys. As I began to formally educate myself, I had to admit that it was my unrealistic expectations regarding sadness that led to my frustrations. My belief system creates my thoughts which create my feelings. And those lead me to action or inaction.
These are some of beliefs that have helped me find comfort and grieve gracefully into a future full of hope:
- Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.
- Sadness is a heavy-heartedness that is also a natural part of life, usually associated with certain experiences of pain or loss.
- The road to recovery from grief or loss is unique for every person because every relationship is unique.
- Time does not heal all wounds. It takes action to heal wounds.
- The worst thing to say to a grieving person is “I know how you feel.”
Unexpressed emotional content is the source of unresolved grief. One way of dealing with unexpressed emotion can be to create a relationship graph for a person, place or event. Include both positive and negative experiences, apologies, things forgiven and other significant statements such as “I love you”, “thank you” and “good-bye.” From this, prepare a no-send letter. This can help complete a relationship that has ended or changed.
Changed not ended
Through our losses life is changed, not ended. Saying “good-bye” enables a person to be open to a new relationship with a deceased person (spirit to spirit). Journal writing and letter writing can be a very effective tool to release unexpressed, stuck emotions. Maintaining emotional balance in one’s daily life requires a commitment to expressing emotions in healthy ways.
Saint Mother Theodore once said, “Treat yourself as you treat others, with kindness and indulgence.” I firmly believe that, above all, to comfort oneself or another involves being gentle with oneself or another. It means allowing grief to be a teacher who reminds us that we are wired for resilience. We are meant to find meaning and purpose in life. And we are called to preserve an enduring bond with our loved ones who have died.
May we each have the grace we need to comfort one another and grieve gracefully together into a future full of hope which God has planned for us.
Sister Connie offers “Grieving gracefully into a future full of hope retreats.” Visit Providence Spirituality and Conference Center’s website to find the dates for an upcoming retreat.
Find Sister Connie’s “Prayer for the Faces of our Grief” prayer here.
(Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)