I spoke in an earlier post (Making Time for Grief) about the loss of my firstborn son, River Creedance, 14 years ago. Since then, I’ve had time to look back at my own journey and talk to many others about their experiences of grief and loss. Aside from the need to set aside time to grieve, which is a gargantuan task, not only due to our general fear of pain, and avoidance of it at all cost, but also because there is immense pressure to ‘get back to normal.’ But let’s say you are able to take some time to process and allow your feelings to come, what else is involved in grief work?
Knowing what you’ve lost is an important grief task.
For some, this might seem ridiculous; they know what they’ve lost. But for many people this is complicated. If it is a person, the relationship is rarely straight forward. If it is something else, like a job, or the chance to have children, well… it’s also complicated. What I mean by this is that you need to take a look at what you’ve actually lost. A woman spoke about losing her mother: “She was the person who always had advice for me to improve my life. It drove me crazy, but I knew she cared.” Another spoke about losing a relationship he had hoped to have: “My father never told me he loved me. Now I’ve lost the chance to hear that from him.”
When you can identify what is lost, you can grieve it. Some people write down what has been lost on a paper, making a list. Others find an item that represents that loss. I encourage people to hang on to these lists/ items and pull them out during the time they take to grieve and allow their feelings to come out. At some point, people may find that they are ready to say goodbye to this item. This doesn’t mean that the sadness is completely gone, but that they recognize that they cannot hang on to it. Some people will cut up their list and burn the items one by one as they are ready. Others might take an item that represents the loss and bury it or send it out onto a river.
Knowing what you have gained is another task of grief.
This may be impossible to answer early in the grief process, but sometimes it becomes clearer as we look at what we’ve lost. With the loss of her mother, a woman notes that she has taken on her mother’s role of being available to give feedback to her siblings, when asked, and discovered a closer relationship with them as a result. The man who lost his father discovered that he had learned a better way of parenting his own son, through the re-evaluation of the relationship with his father.
Finding ways to honour what has been lost is another task of grief. This sometimes happens symbolically, through the acknowledgement of certain meaningful dates and rituals associated with them. For us, it is our son’s birthdate when we look at his baby book and watch the video my husband made about him. See The Life of River Creedance.
Honouring what has been gained
When you have assessed what you have gained you may want to honour that as well. My partner and I wanted to share our experience of grief, and how we were supported throughout it, by hosting a memorial service for parents who had lost children. We did this for several years, between mothers’ day and fathers’ day. Another example is a man who spoke about baking some of the dishes his grandmother used to bake, as a way of honouring her and passing on the enjoyment of these foods to his children.
There is no order that any of this grief work has to happen. Often we circle back to various tasks through the years.
There is no right or wrong way to feel about a loss. Honour your own grief, give it space, and allow it to express itself in it’s own way.
If you are feeling stuck in grief. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
I mentioned the book *The Mourner’s Dance, in my previous post on grief. But I also recommend a beautiful graphic novel called *Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier designed for pre-teens, which centres on the Day of the Dead celebration and a teen’s experience of loss. I love the way the author explores the afterlife as just another aspect of life.
*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.