A season, not a lifestyle
This is the third post on the Grieving takes time subject. The first post included the analogy of the vegetable garden, and covered the Five Stages of Grief—characteristics of this journey—and what our destination is: Peace. The second post included the house-building analogy, and covered the resources and the relationship that will impact the length of time that it takes us to do the work of grieving.
Another title for this post could be: “Debunking the Pop-Culture Myth.”
Please join me, Peaceful Readers, while we take this brief but essential stroll.
The destructive myth
In the first post in this series, I mentioned a popular myth today—the myth that you’ll never leave The State of Grief. This myth is a destructive lie. But the reality is this: If you want to spend the rest of your life grieving, you can. Will this choice help you? Will it be healthy? Will it enrich your relationships and what you accomplish for God? No—to all of the above.
Many speakers, writers and so-called experts will tell you that once you experience a significant loss, you’ll grieve for the rest of your life. This is untrue. Either they misunderstand the word grieve or they believe grieving is a badge that people should wear perpetually with pride. This, too, is a lie. “If you really loved that person, you’ll never move on with your life. You’ll never get over the loss. You’ll never be happy again.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Grieve vs. miss
First and foremost, the word grieve should not be used lightly.
Grieving reflects a season of intense anguish and pain,
with a gradual adaptation and healing
from an extremely painful experience.
Yes, you will miss your loved one after he or she is gone and after you’ve successfully completed the work of grieving. Yes, you will occasionally shed a tear or two (or three…) even after you’ve successfully completed the work of grieving.
To miss someone or something means to wish
that he or she was still here and/or
to wish that things had been different.
This missing may include the wish that you’d said or done something that you didn’t. Missing someone or something doesn’t mean that you’re still grieving the loss. Again, the word grieve should not be used lightly. Grieving is an intense season—characterized by unresolved loss or trauma.
Losses we grieve
Remember from part 1 of this six-part post:
We know that grieving doesn’t only apply to the loss of a loved one through death, divorce or abandonment. We grieve many things in this life, including abuse and neglect, the loss of health or other physical abilities, the loss of mental abilities, the loss of jobs, losses due to crime or war, infertility, singleness, abortion, moves, and the list goes on.
A different person
After you successfully complete The Season of Grieving, you’ll notice that you’re a different person. If you’ve done your work of grieving well, you’ll find that you’re a better person—more compassionate, more understanding, more patient…. Just because you’re different now doesn’t mean that you’re still grieving. It means that you grieved well.
Some people mistake this “I’m a different person now” reality to mean that they’re still grieving. Not true. You’ve grown into a fuller person because of your good work during The Season of Grieving. Remember the profound difference between the word grieve and the word miss.
My husband Brandon shared a wonderful memory with me this week. When he was around 10 years old, he went for a long walk on their big farm. He came into a wooded area and was shocked to see four or five trees absolutely covered by monarch butterflies. He remembers the sound of them all taking flight and how remarkable it was to see them in such a massive grouping. This morning as I was walking back inside our house, a monarch butterfly flew right in front of me and landed on one of the flowering plants I planted this spring. It reminded me of Brandon’s story. To me, butterflies epitomize the beauty of transformation.
After you complete The Season of Grieving this time, I hope you’ll look thankfully on the transformation that’s taken place in you.
Getting it wrong
Sadly, some resources and support groups can and do encourage people to remain perpetually in The State of Grief. This is not a community service. It’s like a government-funded drug clinic. “You’re a drug addict? Here’s your weekly fix.”
Celebrating at the cemetery
I know that such support groups exist because I sat in one for two sessions and was horrified by what I was hearing. For example, one woman in the group had lost her newborn twins eight years ago. She talked with pride about how she takes her children to the twins’ graves for Mother’s Day every year. I’m talking about blankets, a picnic—the whole shebang. That’s where their Mother’s Day celebration takes place—at the cemetery.
What’s wrong with this picture? She’s celebrating the children who died, not the ones who lived. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account what would be healthy for her children—much less, for herself. Her children’s memories of Mother’s Day will be in a cemetery, with their mother crying and focusing on their dead siblings. So her children will grow up believing that Mother’s Day is a day of sorrow and a day to focus on people who are dead. It sounds like something my sister-in-law Shelly would’ve done—lock, stock and barrel. Sick stuff.
The mother I just described clearly embraced the myth—a myth that keeps her in The State of Grief, and subjects the rest of her family to the lifelong fall-out. This is tragic for all of them, and will have a major impact on her children’s lives, their marriages and their families.
Getting it right
The purpose of a quality, responsible resource for people who are grieving should be to guide, facilitate and encourage them (1) to do the work of grieving effectively and actively, so they (2) successfully complete the work of grieving and (3) experience peace, joy and love—both during The Season of Grieving and for a lifetime.
This is similar to quality parenting. Good parents know that it is their job to work themselves out of their job of parenting, so their children grow up into mature, healthy adults who manage their own lives responsibly and respectfully. Parents who raise children to be permanently dependent on their parents are doing everyone involved a terrible disservice. I could write a dissertation on that subject, but that’s a topic for another series.
How to choose
How will you know whether a grief support group, book, blog, speaker or other resource is healthy or unhealthy? Ask yourself this one question.
Does the resource encourage people to heal
or does it encourage them to stay in The State of Grief?
It doesn’t take long to figure this out.
In the case of a support group, as the saying goes—“The proof is in the pudding.” In other words, are people who attend this support group making progress? Are people healing or are they staying the same? Does the same group of people keep coming year after year? If so, that isn’t a Grief Recovery Group. It’s a Grief Sustaining Group. Do people come and recount the same woes week after week and month after month, without the facilitator or the group challenging them to move forward? Do people appear to attend the support group to get their weekly fix of attention and/or pity, or as an excuse to hang out with their friends? If so, the group is unhealthy. It either has no goals, has unhealthy goals or is being led by someone who lacks the skills for their position. Make a bee-line out of there.
Structured vs. open-ended support groups
There are structured groups that follow a prescribed program and have clear goals, and there are open-ended groups. I’ve attended both types. The structured groups that I’ve attended were either reasonably or incredibly effective. The open-ended group that I attended was a disaster.
That is not to say that all “come whenever you want” groups are unhealthy or ineffective. It all depends on the wisdom and assertiveness of the facilitator/group leader in giving constructive, sometimes-pointed feedback to all group members—especially to those who are failing to make any progress and who make consistently unhealthy decisions. (Such participants should be referred to a high-quality counselor to address the underlying issues that are impacting their failure to make progress in the group.)
If a good nickname for a support group would be The Weekly Whine-fest, it’s not a constructive group. Get out of there.
If, on the other hand, you’re making good progress toward healing, you respect the group leader, boundaries in the group are healthy, and there isn’t anything wacky going on, your group gets a thumbs up. (But don’t keep attending it after The Season of Grieving is done, unless you’re serving as a facilitator.)
A recommended support group if you’re grieving the death of a loved one
After her husband died, my friend Summer attended GriefShare®—a 13-week support group that met at a local church. Each session of GriefShare® features a video and a time of discussion led by trained group leaders. Participants have homework to do on their own between sessions. The book that I recommended in part 3 of this post—Through a Season of Grief—is a GriefShare® book.
Summer experienced such a positive impact from participating in this group that she served as a GriefShare® co-leader for three 13-week cycles after she completed her time as a participant.
To find a GriefShare® group near you, visit their website.
A recommended support group if you’re grieving a separation or divorce
If you’re grieving a separation or divorce, go to the DivorceCare® website to find a group near you or to learn more.
This 13-week support group was designed by the same people who created GriefShare®. For an overview of what the 13 sessions will cover, click here.
A recommended, structured retreat if you’re grieving from an abortion
If you’re grieving or struggling in any way following your abortion—whether it took place last month or 50 years ago—go to the Rachel’s Vineyard website to locate the contact person and a retreat near you. I attended one of these retreats last year and it was a healing, life-changing experience.
Addendum: If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area or can travel here for a post-abortive weekend retreat, I highly recommend Someone Cares.
I’ll be sharing more about grieving and healing from abortion in future posts.
Truth from the word
What does the Bible have to say on this subject—a season, not a lifestyle?
Drink in this famous passage:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, World English Bible
Choosing truth, not the myth
Well, Peaceful Readers, I’ll end this post with this all-important reminder. If you want to spend the rest of your life grieving, you can.
But I know you’re too smart for that.
Invest yourself in The Season of Grieving with your eyes on the destination: Peace.
Coming next: How are a flat tire, clutter and Facebook related? You’ll find out next time on Choosing Peace, when we dive into the third and final time-related element of grieving.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: Psalm 30:2
Song for Healing: I’ve been a Brandon Heath fan for many years, and this new song gets a big thumbs up from me. I hope you enjoy it too.
“Whole Heart” by Brandon Heath