by Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
Grief affects us body, mind, and spirit. Grief has been described as a roller coaster of emotions, a wave the engulfs you, an ever-changing sea of experiences, and a place with no ceiling, floor, walls or protection. We experience physical reactions, psychological reactions, social reactions, emotional reactions, spiritual reactions to grief. Grief affects the whole of the person. We may not always recognize all the ways grief affects us, yet most of us are aware of the emotions that come with it. With all that going on as we grieve, how would we know when things are getting better?
The bereaved often ask, “How do I know I’m getting better?” Initially, our emotions are heightened, and sorrow fills our hearts, so it may not be difficult to acknowledge moments when instead of tears, you can actually smile again, and maybe even laugh a little. When my grandmother died, I found myself crying first thing in the morning. Perhaps it was that the tears could be washed away in the privacy of my home, cleansing the soul from the depth of grief. I remember the first time when I awoke, where the tears did not come instantly, nor did my thoughts go there, and I thought, “it’s getting better.”
My mom died about 3 years ago. At her visitation we played a dvd of photos set to music, and my sister who made it, gave a copy to each of us children. When I first received my copy, I stuffed it away. I couldn’t watch it, as it was too painful a reminder of all that was gone. I recently watched the dvd, and though I cried, it was tears of treasured memories. Certainly it reminded me of who and what was lost, yet there was also gratitude for the life mom had and all our memories together. The sadness decreased while the gratitude and joy of treasured memories filled it’s place.
Helen Fitzgerald, CT, who has written and taught extensively on grief and bereavement, suggests that there are clues that we see, and I would add, even feel, that help us to acknowledge healing. Here are a few of many cues she identified, to help you know you are getting better:
- You can enjoy time alone and feel comfortable. You no longer need to have someone with you all the time or look for activities to keep you distracted.
- Your eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns return to what they were beforehand.
- You no longer feel tired all the time.
- You have developed a routine or a new schedule in your daily life that does not include your loved one.
There are signs, feelings, thoughts that come as gifts as you begin healing from the pain of the death of your loved one. Accept the gift of healing. Free yourself from the guilt you may experience because you are living and they are not. Honor your loved one, and keep living, blending your life story together, and revising it, as you continue to create your future life story.
Someone once wrote:
What I have decided to do with my knowledge of living one year now without you,
is to live life the best way I can;
because someday, I will join you.
So, if I do good things with my life;
if I laugh, if I forgive and if I have compassion,
don’t ever think that I have forgotten or that I have stopped missing you.
If I walk through life without you, in a good way, then I do it to honor you.