This week I passed the 19-year mark of losing my father. I was only seven and even now I'm still baffled that I can weep for a man I knew for such a short period of time.
I guess it's in part because I was so young, I didn't really know what grief was. I hadn't seen anyone else go through it to get acclimated. I didn't have a model or process of how to comprehend it or understand how to work through it. Grief was thrown at me and as a child I was forced to handle very 'adult' emotions.
So over the past 19 years I've been on a journey to understand it more. To not fear grief, but to learn how to handle it. That's when I identified my own grief cycle--to move away from the traditional stages of grief to more personal ones.
This is probably the most prevalent emotion we associate with grief. Mainly because it can feel the most intense and intensely concentrated just like physical pain. It's typically localized to the first few months or years after we lose someone, but can resurface at anytime throughout the grieving process. Since we all know the pain grief can cause, I won't focus much on this stage.
"No one knows what I'm growing through." Although millions have lost their parents you're still absolutely right to think this. No one had the exact same relationship you had with your parent (not even your siblings). In recognizing this you can work through the feelings of being misunderstood, private shame of knowing people will see you as "grieving for too long" and other misdirected frustrations.
Coming to terms with your greiving process is probably the most improtant part of the cycle. Realizing you're not crazy, weak or an unbeliever if you're hurt by losing someone you loved deeply. It's also reconciling with grief now forever being a thread in your life.
Also with reconciliation comes the responsibility being proactive about establishing coping mechanisms. This may very well be including people in your grieving process even when you feel like isolating yourself.
For me, I have a friend who lost her father in college. We live in the same city now, so one Father's Day we decided to have dinner together. We didn't talk much about our dads, but it was understood that we needed good company that day. Having these support systems in place are key in coping with grief.
This one's a recent personal struggle. Only within the past two years have I moved through reconciliation to the reality that I needed to forgive.
I had to forgive myself for letting pain and frustration grip me for so long and not thinking forward. I also had to forgive myself for at one point not trusting God and doubting His intentions. Then the biggest step for me-- I had to forgive my dad for passing away. I know he had no choice, but there was still a grudge in my heart against why he couldn't fight harder or hold on longer for us.
There is peace in the grieving process. Many make the mistake of thinking peace is the absence of grief when, in fact, they coexist. It's peace that keeps us grounded. That shapes (or re-shapes) our lives. I had to "grow up" a lot sooner than I thought I should have, but it's grief that also changed my perspective on life.
It's something about knowing death existed that connected me more quickly to an inner peace about being able to handle the most challenging situations. After all, if I could live through something that tragic that young, I could handle the other big curveballs life had planned.
You'll too come to understand that while cycling through your grief stages, peace will be there. Disguised or overshadowed at times, but a constant energy source that gets you through each day.
We think we know them, but sometimes they're extremely subtle. This could be (and for me most recently has been) relatives or close friends losing a parent, special events and holidays and major family milestones. It also can be something as simple as a phrase, scent or activity that resurfaces memories.
I've learned to identify my triggers that keep me deep in one stage or push me through to the next. Not necessarily to avoid them (even though some you should), but to work through them.
Mapping your grief cycle
All these stages take time to cycle through and should never be timed or rushed. And to avoid the same pitfalls of the traditional stages of grief, these are nonlinear and are personal to me so don't hold it against yourself if your's varies or you cycle back to pain from reconciliation or any other stage.
[Bonus: One major stage that's intentionally left off is joy. Joy can exist through sadness, pain, frustration and all other emotions. That because it's the only emotion that is not contingent on or influence by any other. It is a direct reflection of and lifeline to Christ.]
I encourage you to create your own grief cycle. Make a list of emotional triggers and, again, think about how to work through them (not avoid them). Here's my example below:
I'd love to hear your thoughts and helpful guidance about navigating grief. Share your comments!