coping with grief

Forty Days Til’ Forty, Day 16: Reaching for the Good Stuff

While driving into work recently, I heard a story on NPR about the linkage between weight and the presence of junk food. The story cited that adults who left snack foods and sugary beverages out in plain sight weighed around 20% more than those who did not store those items within view. On Halloween I made the proclamation that I would not eat any candy which I nearly managed to do. After all the trick-or-treaters were gone, I couldn’t resist having one piece; two days later, however, when my kids were sampling their sweet loot, I ate, not just one but two, three and, well, you get the picture. Feeling as though I had deprived myself of the annual candy-binge, I scarfed down a few from my son’s stash without him noticing. It was true! I would be in big trouble if that candy remained on the top of my refrigerator all year, within sight, just barely out of reach.

Grieving after a divorce is an animal in itself. There is the loss of not only the relationship, but all the plans and expectations that were made within the framework of that commitment disintegrate as well. Add to that the complexity of feelings that can follow, depending on your circumstances, and recovering and regaining ones footing can feel tentative. Resentment, anger, sadness, regret are like emotional undertow. I am often surprised by how accessible those feelings are even when I’m feeling really good. They are right there, within reach.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is gaining some attention lately, perhaps because it is less focused on changing the inevitable, our feelings. Instead, the focus is on accepting and acknowledging our reactions, choosing a course that honors one’s values, and then taking action. Instead of dwelling in the negative feelings that resurface, through the ACT approach, we can become more objective of our reaction. This practice has been empowering to me as I’ve continued to pursue growth and healing following a painful divorce.

Up to now, my coping skills (exercise, prayer, journaling, self-care) helped me survive throughout a season of loss that broke my heart. More recently, though, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had also expected that I would eventually not be sad or brush up against uglier feelings. I’ve begun to recognize that the tension between grief and moving on to new-and still-good-but-different things may quite possibly always remain. When sadness or anger drift in like unwelcome houseguests, I acknowledge them but don’t make room at the table. They can stand ,or better yet, just get out. But I don’t beat myself up for knowing them.

Gratitude, creativity, and faith satisfy the apatite. Instead of reaching for regret, we can celebrate our strengths and hopes for tomorrow and satiate ourselves with food that brings real comfort. But we must take care in what we leave out on the counter, with life-giving choices in view and reach for the good stuff . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness.

Forty Days Til’ Forty, Day 8: When We Walk Alongside the Grieving

The last few weeks have been an exercise in digesting bad news. Several friends, family of colleagues, and just downright good people who have graced my path have left this world all too soon, abruptly so. A friend posted an article about grief that I think is tremendously helpful in considering how to be present with those we love in their grief.

I am reminded of the first night I was alone in the rental house my now-ex-husband and I had lived in briefly before the tumultuous end of our marriage. He had moved out, and I was alone in a city and state that were far from ever feeling like home. I was consumed by grief as I walked into the closet where he’d cleared out his clothes. I could not imagine life beyond that moment. My childhood friend, Melissa, spent the evening lingering on the phone with me as I digested my reality. I will never forget her presence with me on the other end of the telephone line.

Grief comes packaged in all different shapes and sizes. There is no sense comparing whether yours is worse than mine. We lose even more in the moment we make sorrow a competition. May we, instead, learn to be with one another when we are without the one we’ve lost. I think this guy says it so well.