When Your Family's Lost a Loved One
- Thursday, May 08, 2008
I remember being afraid that some people might think I was in complete denial—or worse, that I didn’t really care about Hope—if I laughed out loud during her difficult life or following her death. And I remember the strange look I got from someone at a dinner the night before Gabriel’s memorial service, when I asked a friend to tell a funny story and laughed heartily at it.
Sometimes we are afraid to laugh lest people think our pain has passed or that our sorrow has been a sham. But just as tears give vent to the deep sorrow we feel, laughter reveals that while grief may have a grip on us, it hasn’t choked the life out of us.
Laughter takes some of the sting out of hurt. It gives us perspective and relieves the pressure. In fact, laughter actually increases the flow of endorphins, our bodies’ naturally produced painkiller. It gives us a mini-vacation from our pain. And wouldn’t you sometimes like to take a day off from your sorrow?
We know we’ve found a real friend when he or she is comfortable not only with our sadness in grief, but our laughter. And we’re friends to ourselves when we allow ourselves to feel and express both.
It’s Okay to Hide
Many grieving people simply don’t want to deal with others. They don’t want to have awkward conversations and uncontrolled emotions. They want to be alone—to have time to think and reflect, and simply miss the person who is gone.
For some mysterious reason I’ve never been able to put my finger on, facing a crowd when you’re grieving can be hard. Walking into church and other situations where so many people express their compassion can be emotionally overwhelming.
I remember feeling that I simply couldn’t walk into the parent’s orientation night at Matt’s school a few months after Hope died. I feared my total identity was “that woman whose baby died,” and with every acquaintance would come an emotionally draining conversation about Hope’s death. Fewer people probably were thinking about me and my loss than I imagined, but the prospect of encountering so many I hadn’t seen since Hope died during the summer overwhelmed me, so I stayed home.
Hiding, if only for a season, is acceptable when we’re grieving. But hiding can become a habit, a way of life that robs us of healing relationships and a returning sense of normalcy.
It’s Okay to Engage
Some people have the opposite problem—especially those who’ve been nursing a loved one through a long illness. Suddenly freed from patient care, they feel a little embarrassed by their sense of relief. They’re ready to talk about their loved ones and their grief and experience. They’re comforted by the presence of others and sharing their memories.
We were blessed during Hope’s life with people to talk to—including those who brought us meals. They were often surprised when we’d invite them to bring enough food to have dinner with us.
We had incredibly precious visits during those days. Meaningless conversations were rare. Instead, we talked about life and death and prayer and faith and eternity. It was a rich time, and we enjoyed engaging with people who cared.
Going through grief gives us a unique opportunity to bond with those we may barely have known before, if they dare to draw close to us in our pain. Conversations that go below the surface can become the foundation for new and deeper friendships that give us strength in the midst of sorrow.
It’s Okay to Be Weak
The loss of someone we love reveals our very real vulnerability to sorrow and pain. At some point or another, most of us surrender to our weakness—and it can be very uncomfortable.
We may always have been in control, on top of things; now everything in our lives seems chaotic. The house is a mess, nobody has washed the clothes or paid the bills, and we can’t seem to concentrate or carry on a reasonable conversation.
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