Grief is a path we’ve all traveled. And like a lot of roads, it’s not necessarily a smooth ride or a straight line.
What’s that old saying? “Not all who wander are lost.” Hopefully that applies to most of us as we negotiate our way down the road of grief, where Google maps and GPS offer no help.
Recently, I’ve become a volunteer at an agency that provides grief facilitation. I’m not a counselor or a therapist, of course, but the 30 hours of intensive training I experienced have enabled me, hopefully, to be open to another’s story of loss, and allow another to speak of their grief in a safe, confidential setting.
Nevertheless, I was terrified and felt very inadequate when I arrived for my first of eight sessions with a group of lower elementary kids. The agency works with everyone from preschoolers to adults, and often whole families come. The evening begins with a shared potluck meal, then we break into groups according to age. An expansive curriculum and a storeroom full of art supplies support our efforts.
All manner of grieving situations come to this agency. Suicides, murder, divorce, accidental death, infant death, natural deaths following long illness — they’ve heard it all. The services are free and well supported by grants and donations.
What am I learning? I’m learning that there’s really no such a thing as “closure.” Sure, as the years roll by the pain lessens, at least that part of it that makes you catch your breath when a memory rips through your solar plexus. But you never totally “close” a door on loss.
As Catholics, we know Jesus heals, and often he heals in community. One important conduit for healing is being able to share your pain with someone in a trusted environment. That’s the basic lesson of our agency — no one should bear the loneliness of sorrow by themselves.
I’m learning that talking about feelings isn’t easy. I remind myself — and the children we are working with — that feelings are neither good nor bad. It’s what we do with feelings that counts, and we talk about ways to handle angry feelings. Talking about feelings is good. Crying is okay. So is kicking a ball around a soccer field or going for a run.
We spent a whole night making colorful frames for pictures of our loved ones, decorating them with things that reminded us of them and chatting about it. That night taught me something else — creativity and art make the road of grief easier.
I am a person who struggles with memory — I have a tendency to remember the bad and forget the good. I am beginning to realize that part of this is a decision. So we talk about intentionally recalling good memories and celebrating them.
Sometimes, it amazes me how much pain there is in the world and yet how resilient people are. Sometimes, however, that resilience is a mask for a great deal of pain.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicides in the U.S. are up across all lines of age, gender, race and ethnicity. My brother committed suicide in 1991, and the pain it caused my family, especially my mother, was extreme, and mocks “closure.”
But no loss or no pain should be compared to another. If you are fighting grief alone, find help. Reconciliation is not a counseling session, but it might be a place to start. Find a good spiritual director, a counselor, or just a very trusted friend. We’re all in this together.
The writer, formerly from Anchorage, now lives in Omaha, Neb.