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The Gifts of Grief


The Gift of Grief

Welcome back to our Sunday Service. I hope you all enjoyed your Mother’s Day celebrations, whether they were with family or whether they were in our hearts, we all have ways to love those who have mothered us through our years.

With that in mind, and with the last year plus of pandemic, maybe it’s time to acknowledge the grief we all may be experiencing. It could be from missing a Mother, a Father, or other relative or someone who was dear to us and helped us become the person we are today.

But it also is most likely associated with the pandemic and all that we have had to adjust to, to survive as individuals, as a community, as a nation and as a world.

What has it been like for you this past year plus? The pandemic has separated us in different ways. Have you been lonely? Have you been ill? Did you lose a loved one to this illness? Did you have to change the way you interacted with your work, your school, your day-to-day activities?

Is there ANYONE who hasn’t changed something about their daily routine? AT the very least, hopefully, you are wearing a mask as you leave your home. I pray, most of you have opted to be vaccinated. I acknowledge it is a personal choice, but it does and will affect the others in your community, so I have chosen to be vaccinated.

And I acknowledge that I have experienced some depression and loneliness during this past year. It comes and goes. The lack of interaction with others is important to me, as I would guess so for many of you. I pray you have come together with ideas to get some of that interaction with others back into your lives.

The Board and Prayer Chaplains and I, myself have been reaching out to you via text messages, emails, phone calls, and letters. We hope these actions have aided you through this time apart. We have enjoyed the times when we were able to chat with you or when we received a response from you. Thank you for thinking of us by responding. We need that touch from our community also.

Now, let’s get into our discussion about grief and the gifts and lessons we can experience as we travel through that emotion. 

What is it?

According to the dictionary, grief is a deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death. As far as I am aware, one family has been affected directly by a death due to COVID in our Unity community. We prayed then for that family and we pray for ALL families, no matter where they are or their make-up, we pray for their strength and love.

Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss but is often misunderstood. Most of what we were taught isn’t useful, and mistaken myths about grieving only set up unrealistic expectations.

Molly Steel, a former hospice worker who is a certified specialist in The Grief Recovery Method, gives us several myths about grief:

Myth #1: Be Strong for Others

She relates: Upon learning my mother had terminal cancer, I began to cry. I quickly wiped away my tears to comfort my dad, believing I had to be strong for him. In truth I was sad and scared, yet relieved to know what was wrong with my mother.

Honestly expressing feelings not only helps you heal—it gives others permission to express their feelings. This is especially important when children are grieving. If the adults bury their feelings, the children learn to bury theirs. These feelings can show up in unhealthy ways later.

Myth #2: Replace the Loss

She continues: In the aftermath of my mother’s death, my dad quickly remarried. After the initial joy of beginning a new relationship, he was once again sad and talked of missing my mother. Lightbulbs are replaceable; relationships are not. Having another baby, finding another partner, adopting another dog, or taking another job doesn’t replace what was lost.

Myth #3: Just Give It Time

Rose Kennedy, who lost a husband and four adult children, said, “It has been said ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain.” Time can no more heal grief than time can fix a flat tire.

A widow once shared that she had burst into tears upon hearing a store clerk’s voice because he sounded just like her husband, who had died 15 years earlier. Hearing the voice brought back all the pain she had felt while caring for him during a long illness and death, even though many years had passed.

Myth #4: Grieve Privately

Grievers often isolate. It seems some of us have taken to heart that old saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.” Friends and family may unwittingly encourage the isolation, thinking they should give the griever some space.

Myth #5: Don’t Talk About It

Nothing could be further from the truth. Grievers often want and need to talk about what happened. It’s part of the healing process. You can help by asking what happened; saying the name of the lost person or pet; and listening without judging, criticizing, or advising unless asked. Grievers usually want and need to be heard, not fixed.

Myth #6: Keep Busy

Sometimes grievers want to distract themselves from the mixed feelings around lossA griever is reported to have said, “Filling your time so you don’t dwell on the loss doesn’t change how you feel.

“It temporarily makes you forget about the pain of the loss in a flurry of activity. It makes one more day go by. Yet at the end of the day, I’m exhausted and there’s still a hole in my heart.”

Myth #7: I Don’t Want to Forget

How many times have I heard someone say that moving on with life would mean forgetting the person who died? Healing is not about forgetting; it’s about enjoying warm memories without the pain.

Grief takes as long as it takes, and there is no right or wrong way to express it. Nor does it really end; instead, we gradually take new shape around it.

I read somewhere that the grief we feel is the love we had for that person or pet. That helps me as I journey through the grief I feel, knowing it’s the love that I have for the person or pet that I am missing.

Most of us recognize the stages of grief as presented by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, ‘On Death and Dying’, those stages are:

  • Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defense mechanism.
  • Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger. You might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.
  • Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
  • DepressionSadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.

In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.

I would suggest that most of us have experienced some form of these steps…maybe not even recognizing it.

What we don’t readily accept or even recognize is that there are gifts to our grief.

We have learned, I would think by now, to look for the gifts in any and all circumstances. Well, we need to look for them in our grief also. I tried to do so after my Mother transitioned two years ago. The very first gift was that she no longer experienced pain, sorrow, loneliness, and any other feeling that goes through an elderly persons’ heart.

But here are some other suggestions for the gifts of grief:

Perspective…Perspective is how we see our lives playing out. It’s how we see ourselves showing up for it. It is the meaning we give to each painful and glad experience.

One of the greatest opportunities to figure out who you really are comes in the wake of your greatest loss. That severity of pain shakes you awake, forcing you to take a good look around the room. It’s a world at least partly shaped by how you see it and you might decide that it’s time for a little rearranging.

Stepping into grief is one of life’s precious “second” chances.

It’s a time to reflect and reevaluate what’s important to you. It’s a time to reconsider how you’ve been living your life (do you want to keep going that way?) and how you want to be remembered by others.

It’s also a chance to find value within your own self. (That love is irreplaceable.)

Death is a lesson for the living.

Approaching that deep, ugly pain is going to teach you way more than giving it away would.

Feeling your grief is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but living that experience fully means that even if everything else in your life is “taken” from you, you still feel you have something which is untouched, kept, something more essential and deep.

That something is your perspective. Your attitude. Your memories. The heart of who you are.

Humanity…Even though you come out of loss hurt, you can grow, and you can learn, and you can give.

You love a little differently each time, yet each “new” love is a testament to how flexible you’re willing to be. Each time you choose to love again — to grow better instead of bitter — you’ve turned an otherwise negative experience into one marked by compassion and courage. It takes such strength to be bettered by loss.

If you let your wounds make you wiser, that is a gift of grief.

If you take your pain and turn it into love of some kind, that is your gift for someone else.

If you practice forgiveness, you learn how to be more courageous and generous with your love, not only in the realm of your past but in every single moment.

“True forgiveness is not an action after the fact, it is an attitude with which you enter each moment.” (David Ridge)

We each have our own regrets, fears, weak points, and hopes… but in so many ways, we’re the same. Heartbreak shows us that in full force. Whether we let the experience harden us or break us out of our own shells is a choice we have to make for our own selves.

If we let grief shake us into kinder human beings, we wake up to our own shared humanity.

We wake up to what binds us together as people. We see the light in each other even when we can’t agree with each other. We find community. We find sources of love everywhere. We learn that giving isn’t a loss to us, but another gift.

This is how, through grief, you develop a strength so deep nothing in the world can rob you of it.

Endless love…“The ties of friendship and love do not unravel with death.”

This is something I’ve found to be apparently true,

My relationships with those who’ve passed are still alive and well.

To this day, I have conversations with them and somehow, somehow, in my heart of hearts, I know I am heard. I know their love is a witness to my own.

This has been one of the greatest gifts of grief I can attest to: When someone you love dies, the love you shared doesn’t end. It sustains you.

Vulnerability… when we let ourselves vulnerable, we let the light in. Think about the Kintsugi ( “golden joinery”), also known as kintsukuroi ( “golden repair”) the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered goldsilver, or platinum, As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

Link that to ourselves, our vulnerability. Looking at it that way, when we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable, we are adding value, not taking it away…just like the pottery.

Robert Brumet, Unity minister and author, tells us “We can truly experience a new beginning only when we have fully dealt with the ending that preceded it; otherwise, we simply carry the unfinished business of the past into the future.”

Judith Orloff, M.D. tells us the purpose of these emotions is to enlarge our heart. “If you’re dealing with fear, the point is to teach courage,” she explained. “If you’re angry, the point is to find compassion. And if you’re dealing with grief, the point is to let grief work through you to find a level of acceptance and keep moving on to experience more and more love.” 

We can ask ourselves, what can I learn from this? What is this trying to teach me? And not least of all, How can I help? How can I serve?

Here is another gift…our loss is a new beginning. What is not lost is the possibility of a new beginning. What is not lost permanently is our ability to live and to love and to enjoy life. In truth, as we accept endings as part of a greater life process, we ultimately increase our ability to live and love and enjoy life.

We overstate the importance of an ending when we perceive that this emptiness and meaninglessness is a permanent condition rather than the passage to a new life. We overstate the importance of an ending when we believe that the lost person, possession, or circumstance was that which gave our lives meaning and that without this outer condition our happiness is lost forever.

Brunet says, “I often counsel my students to honor endings but not to worship them. To worship an ending is to give it more power than it deserves, to make it bigger than you are. To honor an ending is to acknowledge the impact that it has on our life; it is to honor the people and experiences that were important in our life; it is to honor the divine wisdom and order that govern every aspect of our life if we but have eyes to see it.”

It is especially important that we turn to the God of our understanding during these times of passage. Ironically, this is often a time when our faith in everything, including God, is shaken. Yet, if we can but realize it, the possibility for an entirely new understanding of God—and a new relationship with God—is emerging. Each transition allows us the opportunity for a “bigger God” than the one we once believed in. We can realize that God is not only guiding us through the transition but is the very force that is bringing about the transition—and the resultant transformation.

in some ways, grief won’t go away entirely. After all, we’ve lost someone or something we can’t get back. But healing from grief is possible, and you can still have a full, happy life that includes grief and loss. A big part of coming to terms with grief is understanding how grief changes and recognizing when those changes come.

One joy scatters a hundred griefs. —Chinese Proverb



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