I went to the doctor recently and on the way out, he said “Call me if you’re not better by Thursday.” I am blessed with a truly good and caring Doctor but even as good as he is, he cannot fix everything. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a cocktail shot you could take to make a broken heart better in a matter of days? While there is medicine you can take, books you can read, exercises you can do, none of these items are a cure for grief.
There is a huge misconception that time heals grief and after a short amount of time, someone is miraculously better. Each time that I’ve lost a loved one, I’ve had lots of people ask me how I’m doing. Unless you are in my inner circle of trustworthy friends, I give the “I’m doing ok” answer because those conversations can get awkward and no one likes the awkwardness surrounded by death. I’ve even heard someone ask if a mother who lost a baby was “better”. Let me tell you, she will never be better. She will always yearn for the baby waiting for her in heaven. Grief is not something that is a short-term illness that leaves you healed in a small amount of time. It’s a life changing experience and while it gets easier, it never gets better.
Grief is something that is almost impossible to understand from the outside looking in. Even though someone smiles on the outside, he/she may be still very much dealing with grief for a long time if not forever on the inside. When you lose a close family member, you have to adjust to the new normal of life without your loved one. This also holds true for a parent who has a stillborn baby or a miscarriage. Even though the baby never experienced life outside the womb, the parents are left wondering just who the baby would have turned out to be. There will always be a void in their hearts and lives.
There will always be triggers that make the grief front & center in someone’s mind. Think of how it feels when you skinned your knee as a child and the band-aid was ripped off too soon. It hurts all over again. This is the way grief is, sometimes you know it’s time to rip off the band-aid (i.e. holiday) but other times, you bump your knee and it hurts all over again (insert emotional trigger). Grief can be triggered by big things and small things alike. The biggest triggers are probably major holidays, birthdays, and the anniversary of our loved one’s death. Other triggers can include favorite places, hobbies, experiences, etc. that are part of fond memories with your loved one. These emotional triggers can be a bittersweet way to keep the memory of our loved one alive. When my sister, Becky, died, we moved some of our family holidays to new locations because it hurt too bad to keep our traditions as they had always been when we were missing a key person. Changing your traditions doesn’t mean you forget your loved one, but it can help ease the pain. This year, while I was setting the table for Christmas Eve dinner with my mom, I cried the whole time thinking about how my dad would no longer be at the table with us, and then I thought back to the last dinner my parents had with us in that very dining room. I ended up setting an extra place setting by mistake but decided to leave it where Dad would have sat. I know next Christmas may be sad but it will not be as hard as this one was.
Psalm 147:3 is the best verse I could find to describe grief, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” I guess in a sense our wounds scab over and don’t hurt as bad but the scars are always there. Instead of asking someone if they are better or if they had a good holiday right after losing a loved one, maybe just ask how they are doing or let them know you are still thinking about them and praying for them. If all else fails, just be honest and tell them you don’t know what to say but you are thinking of them. Time will help ease the pain but just because time eases someone’s pain on the outside, it doesn’t mean that grief is not alive and present in someone’s life.