Friday, November 11, 2016

The Art of Grieving

Someone recently asked me to elaborate on the importance of fully grieving any loss, particularly those associated with having been married to a perpetrator.  I was intrigued by her description of the grief process as an art.  Images of artists painting a masterpiece or fashioning a pot of clay sprang to mind.  Art, I've learned, is a messy process--paint splatters and drips, clay hardens under fingernails and clings to any surface it comes into contact with.  And like art, grief is unpredictable, time consuming and messy.
Grief is Unpredictable

The inspiration for creative artistic expression does not appear on command but rather comes when the time is right--when the muse strikes.  We've all heard of the writer with writer's block and I assume the same phenomenon happens with other artists.  And so it is with grief--we cannot orchestrate when it will arrive--like the wave crashing onto the shore, it comes in and threatens our sense of stability and balance.  It does not come on our schedule so often catches us by surprise.  But grief, like the wave, ebbs and flows.  When it floods into our hearts and minds, we remember that it does not come to stay, it will flow out into the deep once again.

Grief Takes Time

Artistic masterpieces take time to create.  It took Michelangelo fifty-four months to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  It was a huge investment of time and yet his work is still revered and admired today.  To fully grieve a loss, we must be willing to invest the time necessary to grieve.  Too many of us are so uncomfortable with grief work that we try to shortchange the work--stuff the pain, deny or minimize it.  We prefer to complete a simple paint-by-number piece rather than invest the time and allow grief to create the masterpiece it is capable of creating in our life.  Losses that are not fully grieved come back to haunt us when we encounter a future loss.  Like the stubborn clay that sticks to everything it comes into contact with, the pain of our unresolved or ungrieved losses come along for the ride when a new loss is incurred.

Grief is Messy

Have you ever envied the person who can cry gracefully?  Dainty tears streak down a face without gathering makeup or mascara, eyes do not grow puffy nor does the face become red and splotchy.  This is not me!  There is nothing dainty or neat about my appearance when I have been crying.  I am a mess.  The work of grieving is messy.  It is not linear, circular or logical.  It just is.  We often cycle back through the same phase again and again.  There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grief, it simply must be done.  Friends and family may be uncomfortable with the messiness of our grief; they may urge us to "just get over it" and we soon learn that not all help offered is helpful.

So what are the guidelines that can help us during a season of grief?  Here are some things that have been helpful for me:
  • Learn to lovingly contain grief.  Give yourself time and space to experience the pain and to grieve but then lovingly and carefully pack it away for another day.  This is different from stuffing or denying the pain; it is learning that you can contain it to an extent.  I like to imagine packing my grief away in a white box with a large red ribbon and placing it on a prominent shelf in my closet, with the promise that I will return and retrieve the contents another day.
  • Practice extra special self-care during periods of grief.  Be sure that you eat regular meals, stay hydrated, get plenty of rest and do those things that soothe and comfort you.  It may be watching a funny or sad movie, taking a long hot bath, talking to a friend, listening to music, praying, journaling or going for a walk.  Be gentle with yourself and give yourself losts of tender, loving care.
  • Lower the expectations you have for yourself during a seson of grief.  Carefully manage those expectations so you can avoid "shoulding" yourself, i.e. "I should . . . " or "I shouldn't be . . ."  there is no guidebook, no right or wrong way to navigate this season.
  • Invite someone along for the joruney.  Again, remember that not everyone who signs up for this assignment will be able to help.  You only need one or two individuals who know how to be present with you when you are grieving.  Avoid individuals who need you to comfort them;  this isn't the time for that.  It is so easy to get lost in the grief--you need a midwife to coach you through the really tough times.
  • Remember that as long as there is breath, there is hope.  This is not the end of your story!  There is a plan and God is always redeeming the pain in our lives.  The things that Satan meant for harm, He is turning for our good.  Hang onto hope, however small.  Nurture it and allow its warmth to invade the wounded and broken places of your heart.  

The Japanese, it turns out, have discovered a perfect artistic expression that illustrates the art of grieving.  Valuable ceramics that have been broken are repaired using a resin with gold powder in it.  One artisan puts it this way "Many Japanese have come to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way, seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot's life story. . . when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful:  SOURCE

We all experience times of breaking, losses that shatter our lives, hopes, dreams and aspirations.  Allowing the art of grieving to work its way into the jagged edges of our breaking can create a far more beautiful masterpiece of our lives that we were before the shattering, a stunningly beautiful new work of art!

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