July 31, 2018

Strength in Loss: Embracing Grief and Lamenting Well

Anxiety & Depression

During my graduate training to become a therapist, my professor’s parents passed away. It may sound strange, but I will always remember how he carried himself in his grief. Not only was his specialty in trauma and loss with a specific focus on bereavement, but he lived out his specialty grieving in front of us. I remember him being gone for the rest of that week. We did not see him again until the week after. A few of us students brought him a card and a candle to express our sentiments. It was this moment that will stick with me forever. His grief was not hidden, but embodied in swollen eyes, somber toned sentences, and a heaviness on his shoulders. It was clear that he was mourning and deeply saddened by this loss. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency to believe sadness gives way for weakness. The opposite in fact happened; in that moment I came to respect him all the more. Grief embodied and the ability to grieve well is admirable, brave, and displays so much strength.

The Perception of Loss

With joy and life, there is also suffering and death. A number of deaths happened around me during that time,  making it all the more real and slightly terrifying. Another internal shift took place when a friend of mine described death as a celebration. When I first heard that I thought, “What?! No way…” The comment stuck in my mind seeking resolution. But I believe she was right. Death is incredibly difficult and showcases the fragile nature of life and yet, it also is a time to celebrate knowing a person and create meaning around their life. My personal worldview pushes me back to God, remembering in death we are reunited fully with him. Death is hard, but if we sit within our grief long enough, we can also celebrate a life lived and find the resolution of meaning.

Embracing Grief?

So how do we embrace the inevitable grief we feel from the losses in our lives? It may start by perhaps actually giving yourself permission to grieve. It acknowledges the importance of someone in your life. They impacted you and made a significant imprint on your life. To feel sad is to proclaim to yourself and others that the person lost mattered dearly. Honor their life by feeling grief deeply.

Grieving is Unique for Everyone

Also, know that everyone grieves in their own way. For my professor, it was taking a break from work, crying, and expressing what he deeply felt to those around him. Your grief may look similar, or vastly different. It may be short, take more time than you imagined, or come in waves. Your grief may have you shaking your fist at the sky asking “why?!” or curled up in your bed at night with your tears. You are unique, and your grief will match only you.

Your Loss isn’t Too Much to Share

Lastly, remember grieving is collective as well as an individual task. Yes, take the alone time you need. But connect with people as well. Remember memories together. Laugh and cry. Find at least one person you can express anger within one moment, and sadness in another. Isolation and loneliness have to be fought against in life, including in the grief process. One practical and individual way to do this is to connect with the Lament Psalms of the Bible. These were written for the collective congregation to come before God in grief. Whether you read these individually, together, or other material that puts language to grief, it will add to the collective process of grieving.

Help is Available

The question remains, “How do we lament well?” First, we must give ourselves permission to grieve. Then let our unique an individual grief be whatever it needs to be. Celebrate. Cry. Be angry! Pause. Feel the feelings of each and every moment of lament.  And lastly, don’t grieve alone. As a therapist, I walk alongside people during the transitions of loss. I view it as a great honor to carry the weightiness together. If you’re needing someone to be in your grief with you, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Written by therapist Tina Choi

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