Six years doesn’t seem like a lot, but to me if feels like a thousand lifetimes. And it also feels like a thousand lifetimes worth of lessons that I cannot begin to even touch the surface of writing about. But I thought I would write a few main lessons I’ve learned over the years that are actually applicable to quartine and grieving in general:
- Find the next best thing or next best alternative when things are hard. There is no getting around how everything just sucks right now in our world with COVID-19. Parties, weddings, graduations, and socializing has changed and is less than ideal for everyone. The thing that I’ve learned when this happens, especially as a parent, is to try and find a way to make it stink less. An example of this is my son’s birthday in July of this year. The night before his birthday he was crying because the playgrounds he is use to playing at are not open and he was missing seeing all his friends and having big get togethers. What I said to him was, “Honey I know that this is not what you pictured your 8th birthday being like but is there maybe one friend you want to invite and we can go somewhere and hang out and play?” He decided he did want to invite a friend to a park to play and hang out with on the day of his birthday. We ate donuts, I got some snacks, and we had a simple play date in a park. And during that day other people dropped off gifts and visited our place while social distancing. It wasn’t ideal but it was better than doing nothing and having a birthday like that did make it stink less. And it helped my son learn that sometimes we can’t change how things are or escape it but we can do the next best thing or alternative.
- Find life giving things: Grief and loss ( and living during COVID-19) drains you emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually. That’s why it is so important to find and seek out life giving things because it replenishes the soul and the mind. After Ben died I bought myself a ukulele as a birthday present to myself and taught myself how to play. It has not only been life giving to me but has touched and given life back to others around me. Playing my uke has been a way to help me unwind and de-stress after long emotion filled days and a way to lift my spirits and my mind.
- Find support and encouragement from safe people: The last thing we need when we are feeling down are people that minimize our feelings, call us names and tear us down, and who point out all the things they feel we are doing wrong or not doing enough of. I have experienced this first hand in the past and it makes healing a lot harder. I realized the people I needed to allow into my close inner circle were people who were going to help lead me move towards healing not away. Tearing me down and being called names only led me away from healing and weighed me down even more so I let go of those relationships that didn’t help me in my healing. Uplifting words and prayers, a listening ear, and safe people willing to hang out or be with me on hard days has helped me so much over the years and has helped me get out from under the overwhelming days.
- Identify and name the things that are different and how it makes you feel. And example of this is when I go to weddings and parties and see all the parents and spouses together. It reminds me of the love I use to have and it makes me feel alone, weighed down, and saddened because I do not have that anymore. It can be very hard to be happy for others when my heart is constantly breaking and feeling pain. I do my best to smile and be emotionally and physically present to others but inside my heart can often feel both sad and happy all at the same time. I have found that its good to name what is hard and what I am feeling either in a journal, to a friend, to my counselor, and process it. Naming the pain and the emotions attached to it helps process the pain better because it no longer stays stuck in my brain and sharing it with someone else keeps me from shouldering the pain alone. The more I can process out loud with people or the Lord or in my journal the more I can move through my grief and get to the other side of how I am feeling.
- Some days grief really does kill my spirit and I let it win. But not letting it win or get to me everyday is the key to moving forward Overall, I feel like I am a pretty optimistic person and I am the kind of person that sees the glass half full but there are some days where I just don’t see the glass half full. There are days where all I see is darkness and I see no hope or light at the end of the tunnel. And I’ve learned its ok to have bad and dark days like that. But it’s also important to not let that remain the long term norm. When I start feeling like grief is winning I need to keep pressing into the Lord. And when I don’t have to strength or the will power to lean into the Lord I need to reach out to others to help me not give up in asking the Lord into my pain. I need both the Lord and a strong community around me to not let the grief kill my spirit in the long run.
- Lean towards the pain not away from it: It’s so easy when we are faced with pain, especially if it is a lot, to run the opposite direction. It is also easy to feel so overcome by it that we stuff it instead. But in the end, that does more bad than good. It’s better to deal with it as it comes rather than stuff it for many years. Not dealing or facing the pain is like ignoring garbage within our hearts. If not dealt with or discarded it begins to cause havoc within our hearts and only accumulates over time and begins to leak out in our relationships and how we treat other people. It hasn’t been easy to lean into the pain all these years, because to lean away from it is the easier option, but choosing to face it has only helped me. It has helped me grow in depths as a person and has helped me gain a deeper perspective of myself and and how to be there for others around me who go through hard or painful things.
- Ask,” What” and “How” not “Why” Questions: Asking why questions like, “Why do I have to go through this?” only perpetuates the pain and keep us from focusing on the situation at hand. Instead the better questions to ask are: “What I am going to do about it?”and “Who will help me get to the other side of this?” These kinds of questions are the ones that drive us to solutions and drive us forward to help us get to the other side. They are also the questions that build our character and our resilience and provide us with tools in how to deal with future problems. I would like to share a visual image of this point. It is a drama I was a part of in 2015 of Jesus calming the storm. Here is the link to the: Boat Drama In this drama the disciples began to be afraid and even angered at the storm and that Jesus was in the boat sleeping. This situation caused them to ask, “What am I going to do about it?” and “Who is in my boat?” May this be a reminder that who we invite into our boat of journeying life with and what we are going to do about it makes all the difference in getting to the other side of grief.
- If possible process your grief with a professional: I began processing and working through things with a counselor a little before Ben’s cancer diagnosis (about 7 years now). If it wasn’t for her counseling and spiritual direction over the years before, during, and after Ben’s death I would be an even bigger mess than I am today. Side note: Many people don’t realize grieving is not only mental, emotional, and physical, but there is also a spiritual side to grieving many people tend to forget to process. I feel like I have had the best of both worlds in having a licensed counselor but also one that helps me attack and address all the spiritual sides to grieving. She has helped me face wounds and insecurities, given me tools in how to face and process my grief well, and she has helped me see how the Lord is involved in the process of grief and healing. Doing this has helped me have a more balanced frame of mind mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And it’s also helped me to see the Lord when my emotions tended to cloud my ability or even the will to see beyond my pain and grief over the years.
- Being put in hard situations can be good for us: Over the years Ben’s death has helped me me learn things about myself I would never have known or pursued if I was not put there in the first place.
After Ben died I bought a uke for myself and taught myself how to play, I installed a bidet in our upstairs bathroom on my own, I installed and put together a plastic storage container in our backyard. And now, being in quarantine has led me to creating my own YouTube channel. I didn’t create it to gain a huge following but I did it to more express my creative self and to find another way to stay connected to my kids in my class when we couldn’t be together. I have enjoyed posting fun things like how to make homemade play dough, how to make homemade slime, singing songs I sing with the kids in my class, and other things I find interesting and fun to do.
- Slow down as much as possible during trigger days. Trigger days are days of birthdays, anniversaries, and big milestones. I think over the years I’ve tried to fill those hard days with as many things as possible or busy myself and my son so we aren’t just sitting at home all sad. And for the first few years that is totally normal. But in the long run, there comes a time where slowing down and doing less is needed. Years of processing grief and milestones begins to build and accumulate over time and it takes its toll over the years even if they are filled with good memories. And during this 6th year I have found the value of slowing down and reflecting on what I’ve learned, what the Lord has been teaching me, and appreciating all the new and rich friendships I have made over the years. I took this whole week off of work because not only does my son start school online on the same day that Ben died, August 13, but this year I was not able to go on a the annual trip I usually go on to grieve on my own and get a break from my son before he starts school. I’ve had to take my own advice of finding the next best alternative and the next best alternative of finding rest for myself for this trigger day was to not work the week my son started school. It’s not ideal but it’s the next best thing I could do during this time.
Those are the main things I have learned over the years. I would rather have not had to experience and learn all these things and feel so much pain but I’ve learned that sometimes we cannot control the cards we are dealt with in life but must do the best we can with what we are given. Most days I feel like I can embrace it for the better but some days it can be so difficult. Grieving for 6 years has taught me that if I can get through Ben’s cancer and death, the hardest times in my life, I can get through anything now, even this current life during COVID-19.
I look forward to the day when life feels less like a crazy sci-fi movie: with masks, and visors, and constant cleaning and social distancing; and more normal: with hugs, and whole faces, and breathing fresh air when I go grocery shopping. Until then, finding the next best options during this time and taking one day at a time are the only things any of us can do until things get better.
Stay safe everyone and remember this too shall pass one day.