In my last post (“Get Over It…???”), I mentioned it might be unrealistic to expect ourselves and our friends to “get over” our losses. So, if it isn’t possible to neatly box up our grief and never open it again, what should we do instead?
AN ALTERNATIVE TO "GETTING OVER IT"
Rather than encouraging ourselves and our friends to “get over it,” let’s consider another alternative toward healing. Merriam-Webster defines reconciliation as “the process of finding a way to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time.”
In terms of loss, this occurs when we become able to reconcile that two very contrasting, maybe even opposite ideas, CAN be true at the same time. We acknowledge that a significant loss has occurred, and our lives have been forever changed. Yet, we also allow ourselves to pursue and experience hope, joy, and love.
Two opposite ideas: grief and hope. And, both can exist in our lives at the same time.
THE PROCESS OF RECONCILIATION
Did you notice a keyword in the definition above? Loss is an event, but reconciliation is a “process,”…...and it isn’t exactly a fast one. A bereaved friend of mine says that grief “softens” over time. Isn’t that a beautiful description?
It reminds me of how abrasive and harsh grief feels in the beginning. It cuts us to the core.
Yet, over time, if we do the hard work of mourning (which we will discuss in a future post)- allowing ourselves to feel the difficult emotions of loss- our grief can eventually soften, lessening the pain.
As our pain is mitigated, our hearts begin to slowly heal. And, a heart in healing will invite moments of joy, love, laughter, and hope to seep into the places where pain and sorrow once burrowed deep. This begins the work of reconciliation.
Just as the grief process is unique for every person, so is the process of reconciliation. It may look different for each one of us and is greatly impacted by the special circumstances of our loss.
Let me be clear…..reconciliation does NOT mean we ignore or forget our losses and never speak of them again. In fact, it suggests the opposite!
Reconciliation invites us to integrate our losses into our lives, allowing them to become a part of the tapestry that is our life story- woven together with threads of past and present. Reconciliation enables us to live, love, and mourn with whole hearts.
Will we still experience sadness and grief at times?
Can we also experience love and joy in the midst of our grief?
Two different ideas- existing at the same time. This is reconciliation.
RECONCILIATION IN A PANDEMIC
Can we take a few seconds to talk about how this applies to the COVID-19 pandemic and our collective loss of normalcy?
I’ve heard many among us say it feels as if our lives have completely (and forever) changed, and it seems like we will never get back to “normal” again.
Even when the pandemic ends, will our lives and perspectives ever be exactly the same? Probably not. So, how do we reconcile our new mid-pandemic reality?
If we choose to acknowledge our present losses and process the resulting grief we are experiencing, we CAN still have joy and hope amid the pandemic. It may not look the same as before (because life is NOT the same), but it can still produce richness in spirit, body, and mind.
My dear readers, we don’t have to wait for the pandemic to be over to pursue meaning in our lives. Reconciliation is a process that reflects our journey, not an event signaling the end. So, we can begin it now.
HELPING OUR GRIEVING FRIENDS: THE POSTURE OF OUR HEARTS
To support our friends in grief, we must do the hard work of “be”-ing with another person in their sorrow, without feeling like it is our job to take all their pain away.
But....this is so much easier said than done.
“Be”-ing demands courage because it is vulnerable. If we expect someone to share their personal sorrow, we must first open our own hearts to hold space for their pain. “Be”-ing invites us to sit in silence, honoring the presence of pain without filling every moment with words. It entails bearing witness to the deep emotions of grief including sadness, guilt, fear, and anger without ignoring, silencing, or judging.
Unless you're a trained social worker or counselor (and sometimes even then), "be"-ing feels VERY awkward at first. So, take the pressure off yourself to say or do the right things, and instead focus on the posture of your heart. There is much more power in our “be”-ing.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”- Maya Angelou
AN OFFERING OF PEACE...
Alright, here’s the deal. I realize that while I’m saying our words aren’t as important as our actions, they clearly matter, or I wouldn’t have written two blog posts on the subject. I also know some of you are looking for a few alternative phrases to replace those (including “get over it”) that I stole in my previous post. So, here's my small peace offering to you…...
When you are searching for words of comfort, it is sometimes helpful to invite people to feel or experience their emotions of grief (rather than ignore or suppress them). Examples might include:
"I can’t take your pain away, but I would like to sit with you for a bit. Is that okay?"
“This must be so difficult. Can you tell me more...?”
"There aren't any words that can make this better, but I am here with you and will walk alongside you through this.”
These phrases are certainly not all-encompassing, and they might not even be helpful in every situation or to all mourners. Still, they are a starting point for considering new ways of supporting our friends in grief.
May our renewed actions and words of compassion (of "be"-ing) point our friends in the direction of their grief- toward reconciliation- instead of away from it.
After all, reconciliation is just one of many places along the path of life- we only need to point our compass in its direction.