WHAT GRIEF TAUGHT ME by Kayla Fioravanti from 360 Degrees of Grief
My first awkward experience with grief was in grade school as I tried to tame my quivering bottom lip at my neighbor’s funeral. Over the span of my lifetime grief has become more than an acquaintance. I’ve stood by loved ones in their valleys and they’ve stood by in mine. I’ve had the honor of being present at both the first and at the last breath of life.
I’ve been the strong one stroking the belly of a loved one filled with cancer so advanced I could feel it under his thin skin. I assured him it was okay to die that day. I sat beside him when his last breath escaped his body, relieved his pain was over and mine had begun.
I’ve been the weak one sitting in my husband’s office weeping openly when the news came that my mother needed life-threatening surgery. I’ve been the adult, who felt like the little child trying to be brave, as my mother was wheeled down the hallway to uncertain outcome. My shoulders heaved as my legs barely held me up in the hospital hallway. I’ve held my mother’s hand when all there was left to do was let her die at her appointed time.
I’ve been the weeping one while witnessing the pain of a mother who lost her son all too early and suddenly. He wasn’t mine, but I ached completely for her loss. I’ve prayed with a mother I barely knew, as she signed the papers to turn off life support for the daughter I did know. I’ve kissed the warm hand of a brain dead friend. I’ve said goodbye knowing her warmth came from the machines and that coldness would invade her body once the machines were disconnected.
I’ve experienced the joy of celebration and hope and then suddenly collapsed in despair. I’ve wept into the tiny holes of the phone to my mother when loss was so common and constant, even my kitten died. I’ve walked away from a future that would have destroyed me. I’ve said goodbye when my heart wanted to stay and I’ve run away when warning bells rang. I’ve regretted my absence when I learned of an old friend’s tragedy too late. I’ve been compelled to respond when news of another’s grief relentlessly chased me.
I’ve been guilty of causing heartbreak I can’t undo. And I’ve forgiven those who’ve never asked. I’ve looked back and surrendered my sins to Christ. I’ve walked forward knowing I’ve already been forgiven. I’ve lived through the complete spectrum of life—from ecstatic joy to the darkest grief—and have learned some lessons along the journey.
- The walk through grief is paved with precious milestones. You cannot sneak past grief in the night, run through it or sit still in one spot. Grief is a passage not a place to wallow in, skip past or tunnel under. If you don’t go through the grief, it will fester and consume you in another way or at a later time. You must walk, not run, through at grief’s own pace.
- It is good to read your way through grief. Read the experiences of others. There is benefit in knowing you aren’t alone in your thoughts and struggles. When numbness caused by shock vanishes you will need to know others survived the day after, the week after, the month after, the year after, the lifetime after their loved one died.
- It is good to cry. Even if you aren’t a crier, allow yourself to cry, weep and sob. Even though crying can leave you exhausted and spent, it still washes away a stronghold of hurt. Crying does not miraculously close a wound. It facilitates the cleansing of a festering sore.
- Love your way through grief. The instincts of hurt can cause us to withdraw within ourselves, but loving others is a salve of healing. Bottled up love causes the vacancy left in our lives to feel enormous. Actively loving others multiplies the joy in our lives. Even a glimpse of joy can be enough to carry you through the next hour.
- Forgive those who don’t know how to be there for you in your deepest hurt. People will say stupid things, they will pull away and some will tell you to come to them when you need them. None of it feels good, but give them grace. Your grief journey is new to them too. Listen to their intentions, not what the clouded perception of emotions makes you hear.
- Learn to live with a hole in your life without falling into it. You can’t join the dead while you are grieving. You have the right to grieve, but not at the expense of losing the very essence of life. It is okay to laugh again, live again and adopt new people into your life. Accept the fact life will never be the same, but you will find a new normal even with an ever-present hole in the middle of your life. Decorate it, rejoice in it, and glorify the very hole you would wish to fill.
- Have realistic hope about grief. You’ll never stop missing your loved one and the vacancy is forever deep, but it will get better. Even though the grief will never ever end, you must continuously move forward into your new life.
- Don’t starve, nor gorge your way through grief. You will need sufficient sustenance to walk grief’s exhausting and long journey. On the other hand gluttony will make the burden heavier and wear you out too. Don’t try to numb the pain of grief with anything–drugs, alcohol, busyness, and any other numbing technique. Feel it. Go through it so you can grieve in the here and now, not sometime in the far off future.
- Remember, to remember, to breathe–moment by moment. As sorrow engulfs you, it is easy to hold your breath, tighten your muscles and give into the tension caused by loss. Take life one breath at a time, one step at a time, and one jagged sob at a time.
- Grief is a price of love, but you must continue loving even at the risk of paying a price. Your loved one enriched you, made you who you are and you must honor their lives by living yours. Love others, love often, love openly, love fervently, love expectantly, and love completely into the lives of others.
- Write your way through grief. Even if you aren’t a writer and have no aspirations of becoming an author, write your way through grief. Use a journal to purposefully write when memories flood you and you feel you may drown. Writing it out is a healing life preserver.
- Lean into God as you walk through your grief. There is no rescue or instant remedy that will offer relief from grief–only daily walking, talking, reading, writing and crying our way through grief on the lap of our Father. Grieving in the arms of the Lord is the most intimate exposure you will ever experience with Him. God is near to the brokenhearted. He will walk beside you on the messy path of grief.
The writers of 360 Degrees of Grief have allowed the written words to assist them in their grief process. They’ve been blessed. Our prayer is that you will be encouraged by our reflections of grief in the aftermath of our crises as you walk through your own dark valleys. 360 Degrees of Grief is available in paperback and on Kindle.