Grieving Is About Letting Go and Forgiving

One of the first things most people do when a loss happens is they go through the stage of “why.” 

“Why did this happen to me?”

“Why did this happen to someone so young?”

“Why did they have to die?”

And then people go through the “if only stage”

“If only I would have seen the signs.”

“If only I would have not lost my temper the day they died.”

“If only they would have told the doctors sooner.”

All of these stages should not be suppressed and all of these stages are actually needed to get though grief. Why? Because asking these questions are part of the process of working through grief. The things that we think and the things that we feel in grief doesn’t always make sense but that is not the point. The point is to let things come to the surface. The “why’s” and the “if only’s” really have to do with our hearts being hurt and  being in pain.

Too many times I see believers skip through acknowledging the pain and go straight to praising the Lord that their loved ones are not suffering and they will see them one day in heaven.

It is great to know that we will see our loved ones again but it is not truly comforting to our hearts when we miss our loved ones. We miss having their presence in our lives and we miss the ways they were a part of it. And grieving this part matters! These stages need to be processed and they need to be grieved. Acknowledging these things are needed to work through the chaos. We have to start somewhere and sometimes that means being really raw for a period of time

But eventually grief takes on a different stage. There is a part of letting go. I had to come to grips with how much I was not in control of. Yes, I can get to make my own choices but I have no control of the outcomes or the other people around me.

For me, I felt angry I didn’t see the signs of how sick my late husband really was. When I think back on our dating and even early marriage there were little warning signs that seemed more like personality traits than major health problems. I thought it was just a personality trait of his when he would sleep so much during the day. I thought it was because he was such a chill guy that liked to relax. I thought all his stomach pain was because he stuffed himself too much at meals.

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My late husband’s nickname was BBQ Ben because he loved to BBQ meat so much
My late husband chose to not find out why he slept so much throughout the day. He chose to ignore his stomach problems. He chose to ignore problems with his bowel movements. He chose to ignore and suppress his emotions that caused harm to his body. He chose to ignore a lot of other things I probably was not even aware of leading up to his stage 4 colon cancer. The doctor said with Ben’s condition he probably had the cancer for about 10-15 years. All of these things and countless other things that led to his death were his responsibility NOT mine.

Grieving is not only about letting go it’s also about forgiving.

Forgiveness is about bestowing grace upon another person and to stop feeling angry or resentful for a flaw or a mistake they made. Forgiving another person is to give grace to the things you couldn’t control and wish the other people who you felt wronged you well and give grace to that debt.  If your loved one had an addiction they died of you eventually have to let go of your own anger toward them so you can be free of resentment and accept that they chose into it not you . If a doctor messed up with a surgery that may have saved your loved one’s life you eventually have to wish them well and bestow grace and peace upon their future. If after your loved one died there were friends that stopped inviting you to things you have to forgive the fact that you couldn’t control their choice they made and wish them well. You can still acknowledge how people hurt you and still forgive them and then wish them well.

But sometimes the hardest part of forgiveness is about forgiving yourself and giving grace to yourself for the choices you made or the things you were unaware of but not responsible for in your loved one’s death.

And for me, I am the hardest person to forgive. I realize now that most of the things I’m angry about  Ben’s death are things that were never my responsibility to keep or to hold onto.

I had to sort out what my husband was responsible for and what I was responsible for. I let go of things that were out of my control and responsibility and gave it to the Lord. The things I was responsible for, the Lord and I worked on together. And we continue to work on as they come up to the surface. The Lord calls me to be diligent with what he puts before me and accept what I can and cannot control. And to me, that has been so freeing and so comforting in my grieving process. It takes the burdens that were not mine to bear off of me and the ones that are mine can be  joined and worked on with the Lord.

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Our responsibility is to find out what hinders or blocks us from the Lord, have space to process it, and eventually be freed from it. Because of the Lord I can be free from the guilt I felt of maybe not doing enough when Ben was alive. I can be free from hiding how I really feel from the Lord. I can be free of carrying burdens on my own. I can be free to face all that life throws at me with the Lord. We have faced one of the hardest things life can throw at us and we have gotten through it together. It has given me hope on my hardest days of being a young widow and raising a son on my own. It has given me strength when I feel like I have none. And to me, that has made all the difference.

 

 

Someday But Right Now

Sometimes I feel like when I share my story about Ben’s cancer and death it makes people feel that what they deal with in their own lives is nothing compared to what I went through or continue to live. And then people feel they can’t complain or can’t be sad about what they are going through.

However, the reality is, that whatever struggles you are  going through, big or small, doesn’t make it any less of value or importance to God compared to mine. How we feel and  what we go through ALL matters to God!

God gave us emotions NOT to ignore but to bring to him. When we ignore how we are really feeling we are really ignoring how God wants to help, heal, and come alongside of us. God wants us to overcome whatever we are facing but MOST IMPORTANTLY he wants to be in the midst of our mess with us because we are all so precious to Him. The safest place we can process our feelings is with God. He can handle our curse words, our depression, our anger, our frustrations, and so on. It doesn’t phase him. It doesn’t make him shake his head at us or say to us that we should know better or do better. When he looks at us, it is through a lens of grace and love NOT of disfavor and condemnation.

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Just as my son is hiding in his little hiding spot, God wants us to hide all parts of ourselves and feelings in Him because he longs to heal, mend, and replace our wounds and hurts with His truth and His love

I thought I would express some of these thoughts in a poem about not minimizing or ignoring my emotions as I continue to have ups and downs in my grieving. I have already seen inner healing in myself and received new dreams and new hopes but I wanted to express that it is a constant roller coaster of: grieving and receiving comfort then receiving new dreams, getting hit with new grief and receiving comfort then receiving new dreams, and so on:

There are nights and days when the tears don’t end.

There are and nights and days I miss my best friend.

Beneath the surface, my true emotions lie-

Beneath the skin and muscle

my fragile heart begins to cry:

Like a waterfall of tears

it recalls all the years

the joys and the fears

the happy and the sad

the things that made you mad

the things that made you you

the things you use to do

the things that made you mine

the things that made me yours

the things that were entwined.

Now forever-

torn apart.

And my heart?

Will it start?

To beat-

again?

Or will it forever hold its breath?

Crying and grieving your untimely death.

 

My heart longs for hope and my heart longs to see,

the silver lining that will one day be in front of me.

But in this moment?

It just needs

To be:

Sad.

And needs to be mad.

And needs to be broken.

And needs to feel everything unspoken.

Everything not expressed.

Everything not at its best.

Everything as it is.

Everything not addressed.

Everything that use to be-

his.

 

One day, I know deep down, good will come out of this.

But right now my heart is plunged into this deep dark abyss.

And there in the depths of my soul and the depths of my sorrow,

is the One embracing my heart AND my tomorrow.

He joins me as I re-live the past and present feelings,

until I’m ready for new hopes and future healings-

that will outlast

and surpass

all that I can grasp

in the years to come.

Someday.

But right now?

I am undone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Care For People Who are Grieving

This is my second attempt at this post. I didn’t realize there were a lot of gaps I left out until after I posted this the first time. So, thank you to people that have responded to the first post on here and on fb because it challenges me to be more clearer in my writing.

I think the most important place to start when caring for widows or people who are grieving is to pray as you access their particular situation. I am giving suggestions and what I have learned but each situation will be different and it is so important to let God lead in how to deal with caring for someone who is grieving. God knows what we need and what they need.

All of us who grieve, grieve differently and are in different stages of grieving. Grief hits and lights up past wounds, hurts, and insecurities in a myriad of ways. And keep in mind grieving is not linear. It is more like an ocean of waves. One minute you can feel fine the next minute you can feel horrible and as Anne Shirley would say, “in the depths of despair.” Different situations, people, songs can trigger and hit the grief when you least expect it. And even when you do expect it the grief is real and it hurts.

When Someone Feels Completely Overwhelmed and Isolated

There are times of feeling isolated and completely alone. Think of it like this image of complete darkness. This is the initial feeling I felt when Ben died and continue to feel and go back to at different times when different triggers or situations push me to face that Ben is dead. All this person sees is complete and utter darkness and when people say, “You need to get over it” that is probably the least helpful thing you can say. As painful as this stage is it is an actually a healthy thing. It is healthy to acknowledge what you are feeling and how things make you feel. Of course we don’t want to stay in this stage but being able to feel and embrace your current situation needs to happen.

Saying things like,”I’m sorry you feel this way” or ” I’ve been there” and “Thank you for telling me. I am here with you” are more helpful.  Joining them in their darkness is the first step because it is validating how they are and where they are at. And it is in those moments of joining that people begin to see they are not alone.

Look at how Jesus handled people who feel completely overwhelmed. In John 11 it talks about Lazarus dying, Mary and Martha grieving, and this community around them grieving with them. What did Jesus do? He ultimately did heal Lazarus physically and that is what people usually focus on. But if you look back on the text you see this beautiful juxtaposition of ultimate healing of the heart as well. He didn’t rush the grieving or say, “Stop crying I’m going to raise your brother from the dead right now.” Instead he is “deeply moved in his spirit and distressed” (NIV). The New Living translation says, “a deep anger welled up within him and he was greatly troubled.” I love how Jesus joins in their grief and meets people where they are at. He cares so deeply for our hearts and our inner healing and grief. He sits with them and he takes on what they are feeling. Jesus cares about the physical, emotionally, mental, spiritual parts of us and our hearts and is never in a rush.

Please keep in mind that in the overwhelmed state pushing people away or not being able to be around people at times doesn’t mean they don’t want you to be there.

For me, there were just times when I couldn’t be around certain people. Not because they were mean or didn’t get grieving it’s just that I could only handle a small amount of specific people at times. So, do not get your feelings hurt if grieving people seem to push you away it may be that they need space but that doesn’t mean they want you to stay away forever. Sometimes the best you can do is just say,”I understand  you need your space but know that I will be here if you ever need me.” That is helpful in two ways. It lets people know their grieving matters and let’s them know you want to help when they are ready.

A grieving person needs space AND help but on their terms and what they can handle each step of the way.

When Someone Wants To Know How To Face The World Again

There comes a point where a grieving person wants to start anew and is not feeling completely overwhelmed  and realizes that life can still go on. I think what I found most helpful in my situation was to do things that were life giving that I felt would bring joy and happiness and worked for me. I love the arts, being outdoors, and being with people. So, I found ways to do those things and be with people that I knew were not going to rush me to just “get over it.” Realize entering into the world again comes in stages. Picture a huge lake with trails, mountains to hike, birds to see, ect. A grieving person may only be able to handle just opening a door and smelling outside. Then the next stage might be stepping outside the door for 10 minutes. Then they are ready to walk down to the lake and so on. Grief cannot not be rushed but people can help  be guide and gently help the grieving person back to living life in stages. Letting God speak and give discernment in how to lead a grieving person in that process is so important as well.

The trick is this delicate balance of not rushing but also realize that facing life stage by stage is a good thing. The “FIRST” Christmas, birthday, Valentines, Father’s Day- the first EVERYTHING is so hard and so painful but the only way to heal and live life again is to eventually face it.

For example, Ben loved Disneyland. And we loved going there together and it was something we enjoyed together. I wasn’t sure if I could ever go to Disneyland again because there were so many memories we shared there together. The first time I went I was only able to handle just going on one thing. My family and I went on the Disneyland Railroad train. We got on in the front of the park, rode it all the way around, and then we all got off and left. I remember feeling so sad and I think I cried a little. But each time we went back it got easier and it was important to see that even though my husband is dead life could still be enjoyed. It certainly was a lot different but different is ok.

Day to Day Ways To Care For Widows and People Who are Grieving

thought I would break down things that I have found helpful in my day to day. Everyone is different and what is most meaningful to them will probably depend on their love language and particular needs. The FIRST thing you can do is to get to know THEIR love language and just ASK them. Here is my list of the most helpful things for me:

  1. CLEAN: It can be: dishes, vacuum the different rooms in the house, putting away dishes, laundry, help organizing the garage (I still need to finish), sweep the backyard, ect.  I realize I am the worst at saying no to these kinds of things but deep down I think and know this is probably one of the most helpful things. I think the reason I say no is because I like to be independent and I feel a little embarrassed when my house is a mess or dishes are piled up.  I need to take people up on this offer more and I think the more people ask the more likely I will eventually say yes. Having a clean house, car, kitchen helps me feel more relaxed and less stressed.
  2. COOK: Meals are always helpful! I love when the meals are already cooked or prepped to just heat up. There are times when families have invited me over to eat with them and I really enjoyed that.  I also love cooking with other people. Cooking with family has taken the burden off of feeling alone or isolated. One of the hardest things since Ben died is cooking. So many good and bad memories are tied to cooking. It reminds me of something he loved to do when he wasn’t sick and something we learned to enjoy together. It reminds me of how my family and I worked hard at trying to cook something healthy when he got sick. Sharing meals or sharing the burden of cooking is so helpful.
  3. GIFT CARDS TO MY FAVORITE PLACES: It can be restaurants, shopping places, movie tickets, massage places, and so on. I think just being a mom in general you forget to take care of yourself because you are so busy taking care of kids or others around you. But I love when people remember that I am important too! And being widow you have even less attention at times because there isn’t a husband to give you a break, or rub your feet, or give you a big hug at the end of the day. Gift cards are nice because it is one less decision I have to make in the myriad of decisions to be made for my son and I.
  4. HELP AT EVENTS: Going to school, church, or group events are hard with kids. So much planning and co-ordinating goes into being around people. And adding having to go to those events without a husband is even harder. Things that are helpful: offering to get food or drinks for me or my son, playing games at the table or nearby so the I can talk to friends, help with carrying bags or purse. I think I don’t even think I need help or think people want to help until they ask. I may not always say yes but just being asked means the world to me because it helps me realize that someone noticed and someone cared enough to ask me.
  5. INVITATIONS TO COFFEE OR DIFFERENT PLACES I am not much of a coffee person but I love to hangout with people and just talk. It makes me feel a little more normal and it just feels good to get out of the house and to be invited somewhere. I also love to go places and go to fun events (like karaoke) especially if it’s adventurous or something with the outdoors.
  6. OFFER WAYS YOU LIKE TO HELPThere are many times people ask me how they can help and I really can’t think of stuff on the top of my head. I find it helpful when people are specific with how they want to help. Some people have offered: that they would love to babysit Zeke and the general times they can do it, shopping for groceries or things I need, organizing rooms or different places in the house, available if I just need to vent on the phone or process stuff. I can’t tell you how many times just being able to cry or talk about things over the phone with a friend helps me feel so much better. I actually take to heart and remember what different people say and will actually take them up on their word if the situation calls for the help they offered.
  7. PRAYER OR WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT: I will never turn down prayer especially if it’s in person. Prayer when I’m having a good or bad day is always helpful. Also, when people are specific in something they appreciated about me as a mom or something they admired means a lot to me. And this one means the most to me because my number one love language is words of affirmation.
  8. CHECKING IN WITH ME: It means a lot when people just send quick Facebook messages, texts, snail mail. It doesn’t have to be long even notes. People just saying that they are praying for me, if I need help with anything, or asking how my week went means a lot to me.

I hope that is helpful! If you are a widow or single mom leave a comment of what is helpful or meaningful to you. Please keep giving me feedback if this helps or if you want me to elaborate or expand on different areas of grieving. I feel grieving and death is so complicated and so hard to tackle at times and hard to confine to a blog post. I hope that people who are grieving remember they are never alone and there are people like me who get it or who want to learn how to get it.

Below is a picture of my son’s room. There is something about how even having one clean room brightens my day. IMG_0952