There is no shortage of grief and loss in our world. Hundreds of people in California have lost everything, many have lost their lives and there are still hundreds missing, many of whom are presumed dead. There have been over 300 mass shootings in the US this year, each victim leaving behind shattered families and friends. As the “holiday season” looms larger all the losses come into clearer, sharper focus. For some, the loss of what never was and never will be is the greatest sadness of the season.
The language most often heard on the heels of loss is about “moving on.” And it is usually said way too soon and is way too shallow to mean anything. The language of moving on neglects the reality that grief is a process that takes time. There is no magic formula for getting through grief, no handbook and no one way to find one’s way. It’s why the language of moving is so hollow.
Grief is a multi-faceted and complicated process that is as unique as each person’s loss. It never ceases to amaze me how some people assume they know more about your life than you do. People “should” all over you:
There is no end to the stupid things people say in an attempt to be “helpful.” Mostly people mean well, but they are often overwhelmed at the enormity of your pain and don’t know how to just be with you in it. This will take a lot of energy out of you, so marshal your time with people who “don’t get it.” The people who can show up to your pain are not always the people you expect and sometimes the people you assume will be there aren’t able to be, for reasons that are not clear. It’s one of the things that can complicate grief.
When it comes to the holidays, do what feels right for you. There is no right or wrong answer regarding how to survive the first, the second or the fifteenth holiday season. There is your way, and that way may change from year to year and that’s okay. Realize that no one is an expert on your life but you.
People also blab out all kinds of pious platitudes that fail to honor loss:
Death does not come as punishment or reward for how one lived or failed to live. Death comes because we are created human. We all have expiration dates. Don’t let anyone sell you some theological garbage about God’s will when it comes to dealing with loss. Find people who can help you think through what you believe and don’t believe, what works for you and what no longer works. Sometimes long held beliefs fade when life falls apart, and you are left to rework your faith in light of your experience. There is no one way to look at the Divine on the other side of loss. Find people who can be with you in the questions and back away from people who have answers. You need to find your own answers.
Ultimately the meaning you make out of loss is up to you. It isn’t work someone can do for you, and the only way out is through. If the truth is told, in some ways grief lasts forever. It is the price you pay for deeply loving someone. The good news is that grief changes in acuity as time goes on. It isn’t always like a jelly fish stuck to your face. There will be times when you ache with loss and it feels like yesterday even if it has been years. There are other times when you glimpse a different life and it is okay.
Mostly, I hope you will be gentle with yourself in this season of (often artificial) cheer.