Good Grief: How to do it well

by Rev Charles Bidwell

After I conducted another memorial service (celebration of remembrance) recently, I wondered how many of us have faced grief from the loss of a loved one and not known whether we were doing it right. The good news is that there is no single "right" way, just as there is no single "right" way to pray. When someone close to you dies, you stop what you are doing and for a moment it seems as though the whole world stops. The busy-ness of routine life goes on around you but you do not focus on it as you did; you focus on the deep loss you feel and nothing else seems as important as it did before. You are entering grief and mourning.

Grieving has many aspects. Some people experience widely different feelings. Some feel anger at being left behind or not having a chance to say goodbye. Some feel numb and can't cry with others. Some feel as though if they start to cry they may never stop. Please be gentle on yourself and grieve in whatever way comes naturally to you. Don't let anyone tell you how you should be grieving. I won't try here, but I will share what others have found helpful in the hope that it might be helpful to you.

If you didn't get a chance to tell the person how much they meant to you in your life before they died or became unconscious, tell them now anyway. Write them a note or talk to their spirit in the privacy of a special place for you (in your room, in the woods, beside flowing water, etc.). If you choose to write a note or letter, then do something special with it. Consider putting it in a significant place to be read again on the anniversary of their death (a diary or Bible). Bury it in a place that was significant to the two of you. Burn it and let the smoke rise to be with your loved one's spirit and let the ashes return to the earth where the remains of your loved one's body also are. Do this alone or with a close friend, whichever seems appropriate to you.

Even if you got to tell your loved one how much you loved them and valued their part in your life, you are free to honour their memory in any way that is significant for you. Jesus wept when he heard that Lazarus had died. Weeping is healthy and healing of the wound in our life when a loved one is torn out of it. Tears are salty water just like the saline solution that physicians and nurses use to bathe burns and promote healing. Tears are a tribute to the importance of the lost loved one in your life. Gather pictures and make an album of memories of times spent with your loved one. Put souvenirs in it and notes from friends and anything else that belongs, in your opinion, in this memorial collection. Use it to illustrate your stories of times with your loved one when people ask about them; use it on anniversaries to recall the good times you shared; use it any way that seems appropriate to you.

Don't rush the grieving; follow your own schedule. Nobody knows the pain you feel even if they have also lost a loved one. Nobody should try to hurry you along and "get over it". The good news is that grief is something that you will get through but you will get through it at your own pace. Grief involves telling the story of the loved one’s death until you don't feel the need to talk about it any more.

I make a distinction between grieving and mourning. I think mourning goes on a lot longer than grieving. For me, mourning is remembering your loved one and feeling the twinge of sadness at their not being with you as you experience something you would have liked to share with them. Mourning is honouring their memory on special occasions. It is a quieter period than grieving -- you don't cry out loud and you don't feel the need to talk about it. It is a more interior, private, personal experience and people around you may not even notice that you are somewhat quieter than you would normally be in any given situation while you are mourning.

Life and death, grief and comfort, order and chaos, agony and ecstasy are all aspects of this life God gives us. Without one we would not appreciate the other. God grieves with you and walks beside you as you mourn. If you believe that God is the source and destiny of our souls, then you can sense that God will embrace those who die with welcoming arms. With that belief, we can celebrate that for our loved one the pain is over and a new beginning has begun as a spirit unlimited by a physical body. I believe that in life, and in death, and in life beyond death, we are not alone - God is with us; God is a part of us. I pray that God's comforting spirit will surround you and give you peace in all your griefs.

Rev. Charles M. Bidwell, PhD lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada