The other week I was asked to give someone some advice about grief. I’m certainly not an expert in grief but I have felt it so I wrote her a letter and thought I’d share it with you….
Unfortunately, I don’t really have any advice on how to ‘grieve well’. I’ve not heard of any tips on ‘good’ ways to grieve or how to grieve more efficiently or cry without snot running from your nose. Grief is messy, it hurts, it’s isolating and unfortunately it lasts a lot longer than you think it will. Grief can surprise you, it doesn’t submit to rules – crashing over you like a wave then slowly retreating before rising once again. Grief is never welcome, a harsh reality forcing itself into your world, reminding you of the life you will never have because of what has been lost. Grief hurts, but it also has the power to heal.
One thing I do know about grief is that you can’t run away from it or hide it away in a box until you feel stronger. Grief will never fade with neglect, it will remain there, angry, confused, sad, lonely, hopeless, guilty, waiting for you to acknowledge it. You see, grief has to be felt. I know it’s scary, I know it’s exhausting, I know people are probably avoiding you because they’re worried you might get upset and they won’t know what to say, but you have to feel it. You may believe that if you were stronger you would be able to handle this better, that you would have more control over your emotions, well let me tell you right now. You are strong. For it is the strong who grieve, who cry out, who get angry at injustice, who have red eyes and snot dripping down their noses. They are the strong ones.
Grief may feel like fear but it is not your enemy, it is an essential part of the human story.
A good life, well-lived cannot be merely illustrated by snapshots of happy moments, that just sounds like a holiday advert and we all know no one looks that good on their holiday, especially after a week of sangrias, poorly applied sun cream and a lot of fried food. No, a good life well-lived knows joy and pain, struggle and peace, tears and laughter. Just because you’re struggling right now does not mean you’re a failure, it means you’re human and that you’re living a human story, a beautiful human story that has the potential to inspire and change lives. Now this isn’t the bit where I tell you how you should be thankful for your pain, or how God only gives us what we can handle or everything happens for a reason – I hate those phrases and I don’t believe any of them are true. Grief in itself is meaningless, it contributes nothing to the world. But you have the power to give meaning to your grief in the way you respond to it.
I hate grief but I am grateful for what it has taught me. I know what it is to love because I have lost what I loved. I know what it is to hope, because I have lost hope. I know what it is to be loved, because I received true love when I was most distressed. Yes, grief can be your teacher, whispering to you the names of those who are true friends, screaming out lists of things you used to worry about that now, in the face of death are simply worthless. Grief can teach you what’s important.
Grief can also give you a bigger heart. There are so many of us here, waiting for you on the other side. Having walked through the darkness we are now waiting for you to join us. We have known grief, we have felt it and it has changed our hearts, creating in us a compassion that cries out to let you know that you are not alone. One day, you will come through this, you will stand tall and look back from the green pastures of the other side to see how far you’ve come and your heart will beat with the same compassion for those beginning their descent down into the pit. You will walk with them, you will cry with them, you will be their guide not because of what you know, but because of what you felt.
Right now you may believe you will never know joy again, you may wonder if the tears will ever end, you may have stopped wearing make-up because there’s no point. But I can promise you this, grief is a precondition to joy. Mourning is the only door to joy, for those who have not cared enough to grieve will never know true joy. You may not believe me, but this truth of death before life, mourning before joy, darkness before light is written throughout the story of this world, each moment becoming even more beautiful and even more welcome because of the darkness that came before them. So take my hand, let’s go into the pit. We have to continue this journey towards joy, but the only way to get there is by walking into the darkness first.
Thank you so much for this Lizzie – it will really help me.
I’m so glad it’s helpful xxx
Very true, compelling, all too real. Lost my 23 yo son almost 2 yrs ago, and my mom this past Nov 2015. My 2 best loves. Everyday I feel grief, but I KNOW I must go through it, not around it. My greatest loves.
Thank you so much for sharing Carolyn. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, it must be so difficult to loose your two great loves so close to one another. You’re right, grief doesn’t leave us. Praying you have those around you to walk with you as you go through this. Sending lots of love to you, please know you’re not alone. xxxxx
Lizzie, as always, brilliant and true and grounded in God and in life in all its pain and joy. thank you!
Hi Bridget, thanks so much for your encouragement and support. Sending you lots of love xxxxx
My husband suffered an very severe stroke. Although he survived, and is at home, we too grieve every day, not over death, but the loss of our life…all of our hopes and dreams were snatched away in that single moment. The man I married is gone, but he’s not. This is a type of grief that rarely subsides, as it is with us every single minute of the day. Death is not the only thing people grieve over. But regardless, it is all so very difficult
Susan, thank you so much for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband, it must be an incredibly difficult journey for you to have him with you but not the same man that you married. Thank you, also for highlighting that grief does not just come with death, I think in our culture we can be really bad at identifying when we are grieving, whether it’s the loss of the person we knew so well, a loss of hope, a life that looks nothing like we hoped it would and as you said, it’s equally as hard as the loss of someone through death. I hope you have people who are walking with you each day who you can share your grief with and who can help when everything feels like too much. Thank you for sharing your story. Much love xxx
Well spoken…thank you for an honest account of grief…one of the BEST!!
Hi Sharon, thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad you liked it and that my ramblings made sense! Lots of love xxx
Such powerful insights and beautiful revelations. Grief at times is consuming, leaving one feeling gutted and lost, without hope and with never ending pain. But as you have so beautifully written from it is borne the light and the joy. I have lost many I have truly loved long before their time, my sons, my brother, my boyfriend…..no well meaning platitudes help, in fact they are often said I think because people struggle with what to say. During my seven year old son’s wake I heard them and tried not to be enraged. Don’t you understand? I don’t want him to be with God! I want him with me so I can hold him and hear him and see him and watch him grow up! But in time eventually there is light again. For so long I never thought I would want to live again, laugh again or hope again but I did and I do. You are never the same again but hopefully more compassionate and empathetic toward others who are grieving because you too have known their darkness. Thank you Lizzie for putting words so eloquently to what we who have been there unfortunately know. There will be those who help you find your way, like Andrew.
Susan, thank you so much for your comment and for sharing some of your story. I am so sorry to hear of your losses, you describe the emotions of grief so well, of it’s all consuming nature and the lost feeling you have in the wake of death. I think you’re right, that people just want to help and want to make it better and reach for platitudes because they don’t know what to say. I think the best things people have said to me is just to acknowledge my pain and the injustice of the situation. Thank you for your encouragement, I am sure there are many people you will meet who you’ll be able to encourage because of your story and what you have been through. With much love xxxx
Thank you for your kind words Lizzie. They mean a lot to me. Something happened when my son was dying that might help someone who is struggling. We brought Ryan home to spend his last days which were few. He awoke one morning and told me that Jesus had come to him during the night. Unfortunately raising 11 children alone, I was quite remiss in regard to their religious upbringing so I was quite surprised. I asked what he said. He answered, he said he loves me. for the next three nights he came to him each time coming closer to him and saying the same thing. On the day he died, he was more alert than usual and more energetic. His whole
demeanor had changed. He suddenly asked, mom do you see everybody? I said no. He went on, there are angels all over and lots of people and Uncle Billy and my brother. I asked is JESUS there? “Oh yes”, he excitedly answered. “All the people are telling me hurry up and come”. And what is Jesus saying? He said to take my time and to come when I’m ready. Wondering I asked if Jesus had a light around him. Ryan looked at me as if I should know, “mommy he is the light”. As I held him in my arms and he took his last breath, he smiled, “bye mom”.
Wow, Susan, what an amazing story and so beautifully retold. Thank you so much for sharing this, it’s an incredible testimony that brings great hope. Although I imagine life without him has been very difficult, this must be a very precious moment for you to remember. I’m sure it will be a great encouragement to many, thank you so much for sharing. Lots of love xx
I have found grief to be such a tricky thing. I denied my grief for a long time. Then I just dabbled in it. I would enter into it just enough to think I was really dealing with it…but I wasn’t really. Last year I really leaned into my grief and allowed myself to fully encounter it. I think I’m still in that season, but at least I know there is work being done instead of just avoiding and denying it! Great post and advice! 🙂
Hi Becky, thanks so much for your comment. I can totally connect with denying that you’re grieving. It took me a few years and some counselling sessions before I learnt how to grieve. I was so scared to feel, but then I wasn’t able to move forward until I did let myself feel sad. It sounds like you’ve been really brave to try to face how you’re feeling, I hope you have people who are walking with you in this season and I pray that your broken heart will know peace and rest and joy again. Thanks so much for sharing, with much love xxxx
Hope pours in the heart without fear…………removing your fear leaving the foundation for a new direction……………:)
Thanks so much for your comment Mark, so beautifully put 🙂
With Trust in God
Thanks Mark, very true.
How pertinent and totally real. Thankyou for this, I am gradually piecing my life back together after some devestating losses two years ago and your putting things into context within a few paragraphs has really helped me. Thank you and I hope you continue to heal xxx
Hi Jenny, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing some of your story. I’m so sorry to hear about your losses, I know it can take a long time to slowly piece your life back together after something so hard and how tiring it can be, I do hope you have people with you, walking alongside and helping you through this. Thank you for the encouragement, I’m so glad you found the blog post helpful. Lots of love xx
Thank you for sharing this. You were able to into words what i never could. Very well said ❤
Hi Jill, thank you so much for your comment and your words of encouragement. I’m so glad it helped. With much love to you xxx
Thank you for your words. So many people tell me I should not be so depressed, after all it has been 1 1/2yrs. How can I explain that my love, my soul mate, my best friend went to sleep and didn’t wake up. No warning, no signs. I grieve for the loss of him and for the loss of my life, my light, my joy. I am trying to heal, but it is so hard. It is nice to know I am not alone in the pain. Andrea
Hi Andrea, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, a year and a half really isn’t that long. I remember worrying I should have stopped grieving because people stopped asking me how I was feeling or checking up on me, until you experience loss I don’t think you realise how long it takes to get over. It’s not just the loss of a person, it’s also the loss of the life you once had and coming to terms with a different reality and one that never wanted. I’m glad these helped you feel less alone. I’m so sorry for what has happened, I hope you have people walking with you in your grief and I pray your heart will know healing. I don’t think grief ever leaves us but I do think we eventually grow stronger and are slowly able to find joy and life again and that is what I truly hope for you. With much love xxx
I think sometimes I am all grieved out. I’m all dried up. No more tears. Since 1986 I have lost my sister, my Dad, my oldest brother,my grandparents (my moms parents who I loved dearly) a dear cousin who was my anchor when I needed her most and most recently my Mom in July of last year. Since my Dad passed away in ’91 I was there for my Mom. We were each other’s rock. She was there when I needed her and she took care of me and my son. In 2005 she got sick and confined to a chair. For 11 years I was her caregiver. Now she’s gone. The one person I counted on and she counted on me. I feel like I let her down and probably did. I feel sad and lost. I miss all of them but my Mom the most. I want to grieve. Maybe I have, but I know people will think I’m dragging it out to long. Thats probably just my thinking,just feels like I shouldn’t grieve or be sad anymore. I can’t help it tho. She was/is my Mom. I miss her so much. I ask God to turn back time. He hasn’t or won’t. I’m just tired.
Hi Kat, thank you so much for your comment. Thank you for sharing your story, I’m so sorry for the pain you have suffered through the great number of losses you have experienced in your life. I’m so sorry to hear of how, after caring for your mum and growing so close to her that you lost her last year, it must be very tough for you. I know alongside grief we can often carry regret, but I don’t think it’s helpful to hold on to guilt or regrets after loss because ultimately it stops us moving forward. It sounds like you did a lot for your mum and you gave a lot to her and ultimately there is nothing you could have done to prevent your loss. Don’t worry about what people think about you and how long it’s taking to grieve, those who know grief also know you can’t rush grief, I think it lasts a lot longer than people think it does. Many people will stop asking you how you are long before you begin to feel stronger. Ultimately, I don’t think we ever stop grieving, but by allowing ourselves to feel and seeking redemption from our pain, we can be changed and we can grow through our grief and that is what is what gives us the strength to keep living and to enjoy living. Don’t be too hard on yourself, give yourself time, but when you start to feel a bit stronger look for redemption, ways to bring good in the world from your pain. Whether it’s walking with someone who’s just lost their mum or supporting someone who cares for a relative or simply telling someone you know how it feels. The legacy of the loved ones you lost and how much you loved them and what you have learnt from struggle can live on through what you do with your life and has the potential to help a lot of other people. With much love xx
so refreshing to read an honest account of grief, with no platitudes, quick fixes, out of context bible verses nor false promises.
Hi there, thank you so much for your comment. I’m so glad you found it helpful. I think I was one of those people who reached for platitudes and out of context Bible verses until I actually experienced loss for myself and realised nice sayings just didn’t cut it. I think our culture and our church culture can be really bad at knowing how to handle grief and struggle and so often the rawness of emotion is just brushed under the carpet. We need more people being real about what they’re going through and talking about faith and hope within the experience, rather than people passing comments from the outside looking in. Thanks again, here’s to avoiding platitudes!
Hi Lizzie, I’ll drink to that! non-alcoholic of course LOL
Hi Lizzie, I’ll drink to that! non-alcoholic of course LOL
Thanks Dave! x
Recently lost mom & dad within 1.5 yrs a part from each other. No words on how to describe this pain but I’ve manage to finish grad school and graduation is next Sunday. I will walk across the stage and finally see a glimpse of light and feel joy.
Hi Sharon, thanks so much for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, it must have been so tough to lose both your parents within such a short space of time. What an amazing achievement to still have completed grad school and be graduating, even with everything you have had to go through. I imagine it will be a bittersweet day because your parents won’t be there to celebrate with you, but as you mentioned, I really hope and pray it will be a day that will give you a glimpse of light and joy. Sending lots of love and hope for the future xxx
God took my husband on 26-Feb16 in a road accident he used to dropped me regularly at my office. He was 36 years old full of live a very happiest person very handsome and smart. I start my every morning in trying to understand myself that he is gone God took him he will never come again but my mind and heart both not listen to eachother.
Hi Amna, thank you so much for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, it must have been such a shock to lose your husband so suddenly and at such a young age. I can understand your struggle to come to terms with the reality that he is no longer with you but this did not happen very long ago and you need to give your heart and your mind time to catch up with each other. I really hope you have people around you who are walking this journey with you. Please know you are not alone, I’m so sorry this happened to you, it is not fair, I pray you will know hope and peace again. With much love xx
Lizzie, each word spoke of life as compared to some of the life-sucking Pollyannaish denial that is thrown in the face of the bereaved. Thank you!
Hi Tony, thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad you found the post helpful. I agree, the toned down denial of grief is just not helpful, I think more of us just need to be honest about it, to help people understand what it’s really like but also to encourage others who are lost because they’ve no idea what to do with how they’re feeling. Thanks again.
My grief took away my word that I had used for emotion. The emotions were so new and unknown I hadn’t word to articulate them. Thank you for writing them down for me and making me less lonely. I can’t believe I’m not the only one who can’t be bothered with make up anymore. The only thing that I felt differently was not walking into the darkness but let the water (darkness) swallow me and that when I can breathe again, when I am ready to look life in the eye again I will rise above the dark water and be clean again. Clean of this black life. Tattooed black life. X
Bizzy, thank you so much for your comment. You’re so right that learning to grieve is almost like learning to talk again, I remember I didn’t use to possess the vocabulary to articulate what I was feeling and to talk about how I was struggling. I’m so glad the blog post helped you and helped you to feel less lonely, I do hope you have people walking alongside you in your grief. I know it can feel like you’re drowning at times but yes, you will rise again, I promise you will also be able to wear make up again one day. With lots of love xx
thanks lizzie for your kind words but you know in this situation one can only console you some times its works but most of the time you have to handle yourself alone and that gives a pain a lot sometime giving the feeling of your own death I know its very difficult and unfortunate journey of life without my soul mate.
Hi Amna, yes, I know it can be really lonely and you’re right, when you’re grieving it’s only you that actually goes through it. You can go through this and life will eventually get easier, I’m sorry for what you’ve had to go through and how painful it is. With much love xx
A friend just sent me this article today… My husband died in a car accident a few weeks ago. I only have tears… Thank you for writing this… You have made a difference for me.
Hi Cheryl, thank you so much for your comment. I am so so sorry to hear about what happened to your husband, I know there are no words to change your situation or make you feel better but I’m glad you found this blog post helpful. With much love and prayers that you have good people around you to cry with you. xxxxx
Incredibly moving. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you Brandi xx