When Grief Won't Go Away

Four weeks ago today, I preached my father's funeral.  It was Father's Day.  In a strange irony, I felt it was a fitting way to say good-bye to a man I loved and admired so deeply.

I had unconsciously expected the grief to taper off by now.  I never actually said as much, but still, it was an expectation I harbored in my heart.  After nearly a month, I should be moving on, right?  He's gone, so I just need to let him go, right?  I'm a grown man, after all, and I have to move on.  That's what he would want me to do, right?

Unfortunately, things haven't turned out the way I had hoped.  I woke up today, four weeks after his funeral, and hit a huge brick wall of sadness.  As my mom used to say, "I fell all to pieces."  The strange thing about it is this; I felt like I really turned a corner on this grief journey just four days ago.

On Wednesday I spent an hour with my counselor.  He encouraged me that I was taking the right steps.  He affirmed that I was not losing my mind.  I spent an afternoon out of town, with a change of scenery and perspective.  I preached with anointing and passion on Thursday night.  I went to dinner with my wife and friends on Friday and Saturday nights, then watched a movie last night with more friends.  It almost felt normal again.

I felt like I had moved to higher ground.  I had firmer footing underneath me.  I was even telling a friend that I felt more confidence in my emotional state.

Then this morning happened.  A fitful night of bad dreams, none of them actually clear enough to remember, left a residue of pain and confusion upon waking at 5 AM.  The fog was so thick, it was like trying to drive on an 8-lane interstate in rush hour traffic without the ability to see where I was going.  As my family got ready for church, the very thought of getting dressed was too much to handle.  I "fell all to pieces" right there in the walk-in closet.  My wife just hugged me and told me she loved me. 

So what do you do when the grief refuses to go away?  Well, I am no kind of expert, to be sure.  But here is what is working for me...right now...when the grief won't go away.

1.  Talk to yourself - I tell myself things that I need to hear...not in my head (the space inside my head is a crazy place right now).  I say it out loud.  "Clayton, get up out of the bed.  Go get dressed.  You have a family to love.  You have a job to do.  You have the gospel to preach.  Just start moving."    The grief is telling me crazy things.  I have to counteract that voice with my own voice of common sense.

2.  Be alone - Everyone handles death and loss differently.  I'm an extreme extrovert and people energize me.  But I find myself getting anxious and cagey at times, and when I feel the panic sneaking up behind me, it's time to make a quick exit to a quiet place.  Only you know how long you need, and where your quiet place is.  Jesus did this.  So I don't feel guilty for disappearing for a little while to rest and re-set my emotions.

3.  Be around people - I force myself to break away from the propensity to stay isolated.  Being alone for a long time can lead to all sorts of dark places.  People are the means of healing that God employs to help His children get better.  Go get coffee, share a meal, go shopping, do yard work...you may have to MAKE YOURSELF do it, but we make ourselves do things all the time that we don't want to do (go to work, write a research paper, pay taxes).

4.  Tackle small projects - Grief drains me of passion and energy.  It also robs me of feeling like I am accomplishing anything.  So I take on small projects that don't demand much mental and emotional investment, like mowing the lawn, making up the bed, doing a few loads of laundry, or returning a few emails.  When they're done, it feels like a "win" for me, and right now, I really need a few "wins" because all I feel is "loss."

5.  Create diversions - This is fairly simple to do.  Grief makes my brain feel like a vehicle that's stuck in the mud; the wheels keep spinning but there's no traction and I'm getting nowhere.  So I divert my attention by reading a book or the newspaper, watching a movie, playing a card game with my kids, or taking a short walk with my wife.  It forces my brain to focus on something besides how sad I am.  It helps me gain traction mentally and I am able to move forward, even if in very small increments.

I hope these help you or someone you know that is on the grief journey.  What would you add to this list?