Grief is not a one-time event like a memorial service. Grief is more like a journey. It may be a rocky road full of unexpected detours, but it is a trek we all must take as we encounter various losses in our lives. When we know what to pack for this necessary trip we avoid getting stuck in a ditch. We are better prepared so that eventually we’ll get to the other side and experience healing. By healing I don’t mean that our grief will be “cured.” Grief is not an illness to be cured. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. We never “get over” our losses; we get through them and learn to live with them. We may get some scratches or a sunburn on our grief journey, but if we have the courage to travel this road, we will emerge healed from our wounds, left with scars that remain with us but don’t define us.
Here’s a list of six essentials for the grief journey:
I’m sure we would like to bypass the grief journey and just get to the healing destination, but we can’t take any shortcuts on this ride! Grief takes a long time. We need a lot of patience as we experience delays, setbacks, and a timeline that is unique to us. Pay no attention to those who say you should be “over it” by now. Be patient with yourself and go about the grief journey at your own speed.
A humble person realizes they cannot “go it alone.” It is not a sign of weakness to reach out to others in our grief. Even though it is ultimately our own responsibility to navigate the winding grief road, we can turn to others to help carry our luggage. In our humility we realize it’s okay to be scared in this unknown grief territory. A courageous person continues the journey, despite their fears.
3. Food, Tea, and a Blanket
Being on the grief road is tiring. We may be more susceptible to colds and other physical ailments. We need a healthy diet to fortify ourselves for the long road ahead. We also need to know when to rest. There may be days when we need to wrap ourselves in a warm blanket, have a cup of tea, and lose ourselves in a good book. Taking a break from grief will help us gain the strength to continue on the journey.
4. A Doodle Pad
Take notes on your grief journey. Jot down your feelings without judging them. Too often we think, “I shouldn’t be angry” or “I have no right to be sad.” We can’t control our feelings, but we can control what we do with them. Find constructive rather than destructive ways to express your emotions. A creative outlet such as journaling, drawing, painting, or dancing can help externalize feelings and lead to a more compassionate response to our grief.
For our grief journey, we need to let go of anything that weighs heavily in our luggage. It will slow us down and delay our healing. Bitterness is one of those things. Forgiveness allows us to walk freely, unencumbered by the chains of bitterness and resentment. Take a cue from Elsa in the movie Frozen and “Let It Go.” That’s really what forgiveness is all about.
It’s okay to laugh when we are grieving. Look for opportunities to chuckle at the silly moments on the journey. There’s a story of a young boy who was talking to his teacher about the death of his beloved grandfather. The boy said how much he will miss grandpa, and concluded by saying “he is still with us.” The teacher was moved by the boy’s mature approach to death and said, “Yes, your grandfather will always be in your heart.” Then the boy said, “Grandpa will always be with us because we keep his ashes on our fireplace mantel.”
I hope you make copies of this packing list because the longer we live, the more losses we grieve. I wish you a safe grief journey and hope you reach the final destination of healing . . . and that you are better prepared when the next loss comes around and the journey begins all over again.
What essential item has been most helpful for your own grief journey?
Grieve Well . . . Live Well!