by Sonia C. Solomonson—
Several years ago I facilitated a five-session class on grief and loss in my congregation. The turnout was lower than the pastors had hoped.
Why? Several members told the pastors that they didn’t want to talk about that depressing subject. Others said no one close to them had died, so they had no grief—a reminder to me that we carry some limiting beliefs about grief and loss. First, grief is a depressing topic. Second, grief is only about death.
Loss takes many forms, however—and isn’t just about death. You may have experienced a goodbye in your life (friends moving away, an empty nest, the loss of a beloved pet, a change of congregations). Maybe you’ve experienced the aging process with its physical and mental changes and loss of abilities. Maybe you’ve experienced a natural disaster, unmet expectations, infertility, lost dreams or changes brought on by
retirement; the list goes on.
Grief, too, comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s a brief period of sadness before life resumes its usual pace. At other times, it brings us to our knees and is marked by sighs too deep for words, hovering for a prolonged period of time.
I have lost three of my dear friends during the past year. Another close friend is facing breast cancer and a confusing array of treatment options. Two other friends have husbands who were diagnosed with Parkinson’ —more loss. Another friend recently moved her husband from their independent living apartment into the memory care section of their continuing care community—all while her daughter contends with a virulent form of cancer. Yet another friend has been brought to her knees in fear and grief in a futile job search and wonders how she can pay her bills. As I try to support these friends, I grieve too.
And then there’s my brother. For the past two years, my sister and I have been dealing with his dementia. I’m his healthcare power of attorney, and she’s handling his financial affairs. It gives new meaning to being our brother’s keeper. We grieve all the losses he’s faced in these past months, having moved from his own home into an assisted living apartment and now into the memory care unit.
We see his life constricting, and we grieve—for him and for us.
WHAT HAVE YOU LOST?
What about you? What losses do you face? How are you grieving?
Are you finding the aging process difficult? We want to take aging and bodily changes in stride, yet we can’t ignore feelings of loss. If you keenly feel the loss, grieve it, whatever that may look like for you. A ritual? Talking it over with trusted friends? Drawing or journaling about it? What will help you move on to embrace what you can do?
Add to these situations something I hear voiced by so many people these days: “I am exhausted, frightened, sad and angry about the divisiveness in our country,” and “I feel a sense of loss and grief over how our government functions (or doesn’t function) right now.” I hear that refrain repeatedly as voices scream at each other across an ever-widening chasm.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Given so many potential sources of grief, how can we cope? How will we keep hope alive?
It’s vitally important that we do several things when we face loss:
NAME IT. This makes loss real.
CLAIM IT. Own up to the fact that you feel the loss. Don’t be embarrassed.
FACE IT. Don’t ignore or stuff it down. If not openly addressed, pain will find some way out, most likely in inappropriate ways. Facing our pain and our mortality head-on frees us up to enjoy life more and live it to the fullest!
SHARE IT. Don’t be afraid to let others help you. It’s easy to isolate ourselves and pull away from others when we face loss. I did that as I went through my divorce. Thankfully, I had some dear friends and a sister who kept reaching out to me and wouldn’t let me pull the cover over that deep hole I’d dug, the hole into which I kept trying to escape. If you’re the one reaching out to someone who’s grieving, don’t give up. Be gentle, but keep trying.
This article is excerpted from the October 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.