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?