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Grief Can Be Good. Really.

Grief Can Be Good. Really.

“Good grief!”
The first time I remember hearing this phrase was from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special on TV when I was a child. Another unforeseen trial had befallen Peanuts’ character Charlie Brown. Things hadn’t turned out like he’d expected. He’d been misunderstood again.
“Good grief.”
As a child, I remember thinking, “This grief thing, whatever it is, sure doesn’t look or sound good.”
No, it sure doesn’t.
Loss is huge part of life. It’s not a question of whether we’re going to lose someone or something, but who, what, and when.
When we think of grief, our minds typically go to the death of a loved one. To say this can be hard is a gross understatement. The death of someone close to you can be painful, traumatic, or even paralyzing. The grief that assaults us certainly doesn’t feel “good.”
And death isn’t the only loss we encounter. We can experience grief as a result of many things: friends and family moving away, relationship estrangements, divorce, abuse, neglect, limiting or debilitating health issues, job termination, shattered dreams, and unmet expectations. The list goes on and on.
These losses impact us greatly. They hurt. Most of us try to go around them and ignore the pain, hoping it will go away. We say things like, “That’s life,” “I’m fine,” and “Life goes on.”
Yes, life does go on, but our lives have been changed forever by that loss. Sometimes it feels like part of our heart has been torn away. Perhaps we feel lost and don’t know what to do. Some losses are so devastating we can’t seem to wrap our minds and our emotions around our new reality.
Our first instinct may be to run or to hide. Perhaps we want to withdraw and isolate, like an animal when it’s severely wounded. Maybe we’re frightened by the intensity of our feelings. We try to stay busy. We attempt to not think about it, or the person, too much. We valiantly say we need to be strong for such-and such reason of for so-and-so’s sake.
The nature of grief is that, if we try to avoid it, it will follow us. If we attempt to stuff our pain, it will only leak out anyway, usually in ways that are less than healthy. Unprocessed grief can lead to anxiety, depression, addictions, and a myriad of physical and mental health issues. Our fear of facing the pain can keep us from healing and growing.
Loss is real, and the grief that comes with it is natural. Our losses matter. We’re meant to feel them. Life can be a tough battle at times, and learning to grieve well can be a powerful weapon in our arsenal to handle the things that come at us. Grief is designed to be a friend that helps us overcome obstacles.
In other words, grief can be good.
My father died suddenly when I was 15. It was just the two of us, and he was my world. It was devastating. The pain was immense. I didn’t have the tools or resources to deal with it, so I buried it. I immersed myself in activity: school, athletics, friends, and a new foster family. I stayed insanely busy. I missed my dad terribly, but didn’t let myself go there. As a result, the anxiety level in my life began to rise. Over time, it became an issue, and ten years later I found myself on medication for anxiety attacks. Over the next ten years, the attacks grew worse and more frequent. I visited a counselor, who quickly centered on my dad’s death, now over 20 years distant.
Over the next several months, I worked hard at expressing my grief. I cried a lot. I wrote my dad letters. I set up an empty chair in remembrance of him. I imagined myself with him again right before he died, and this time I said everything I wanted to say. The grief began to pour out of me, and I started to feel the pain of his death.
It hurt. Badly.
And then one day, I noticed my heart was more settled. The anxiety attacks stopped and my overall anxiety level plummeted. I felt peace on a deeper level than I ever had before. The color came back into my life.
Grief helped me heal, once I let it. And I’ve found this to be true in each and every loss since – and there have been numerous, heavy-duty ones too.
I don’t know what your losses are or have been, but I believe this is true for you too: Grief isn’t your enemy. If you learn to use and express it well, it can end up being very good. You can make grief work for you rather than against you.
How?
1. You can make the healthy, courageous choice to feel the pain of the loss. It hurts. Whether the loss is a loved one, your health, a sense of control, your independence, divorce, or a long-held dream that’s no longer possible, the pain is natural, and real – very real.
2. You can let the pain out by expressing it appropriately. Write it down. Be honest. As much as possible, express what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it. Try speaking your thoughts and emotions out loud. Most people do this with no one else around, but expressing yourself in front of someone you trust can bring a lot of healing.
3. You can assemble a personal grief healing team. Grief recovery is a team effort. None of us grow or heal alone. Your team might be a combination of any of the following: a good friend, a family member, a support group, a pastor, and a counselor. Your team needs to be composed of safe people who accept you (and your emotions) and have no agenda other than walking with you through this valley of grief. Books and other resources, such as Hospice Brazos Valley’s resource library which provides DVD and audio recordings, professional periodicals and resource materials for children, teens and adults are very helpful too. I have a free online Good Grief mini-course designed to walk you through various aspects of the grief process. You can check it out at
http://www.garyroe.com/good-grief

“Good grief.” Turns out Charlie Brown was right. Grief can be good. Let’s use it well.

Gary Roe is an author, speaker, and chaplain at Hospice Brazos Valley. Visit him at www.garyroe.com or contact him at groe@hospicebrazosvalley.org.