Learning four axioms about grief helps us take control of it. They help in developing the stamina and patience it takes to endure the burden, stress and duration of grief. In August we offered the first axiom: The way out of grief is through it. In September the axiom was: The very worst kind of grief is yours.
Here is number three:
3. Grief is hard work.
Grief is not something bad that happens to you. I often see people viewing their grief as though it were a mop bucket filled with dirty water that was dumped on them. Such a view is a serious barrier to grief recovery.
The loss is the thing that happened. Grief is the work you do to recover from the loss and put life back together again. Make no mistake, grieving is work. It is the most difficult work any of us will ever do. However, seeing your grief as work to be done, takes away helpless feelings. If grief is work that you do, the one who is in charge of your grief is you.
That perception helps you avoid trying to wait it out. It also helps you refrain from looking to others to be responsible for making you feel whole again. No one else can do the work of acknowledging the death of your loved one for you. No one else can take over the incredibly difficult task of saying good-bye and releasing that person.
The best image for understanding grief work is this: Suppose you have had a group of friends over for a spaghetti dinner. It’s been a good evening, but now your guests have gone home. You walk into your kitchen, and there sit the dishes. Those tomato sauce-turned-to glue dishes are truly one of the ugly sights in the world! You are tired and in the mood for anything except washing dishes. You have two choices: You can wash the dishes now, regardless of how you feel. Or, you can leave the mess until morning. Leaving them seems like a good choice—until you get up in the morning. Now, the task is more difficult. The longer you leave them, the more difficult it becomes.
Grief work is much like that image. You have work to do at a time when you feel like doing nothing at all. The temptation is to close the window shades, get into bed, pull up the covers and wait for the pain to go away. It never does. It just waits for you to do the work that only you can do. One woman tried to do an “end run” around her grief for 12 years. It didn’t work. When she came to the grief support group, she had the same 3 years of work to do as she did at the beginning.
My next article will cover Axiom #4: “Effective grief work is not done alone.”
Bob Deits, M.Th.