Processing Grief

“Sorrows like sea billows roll…”

That lyric from the old hymn “It Is Well” has come to life for me.

I’ve written about this before, but in January of 2017 my wife and I had a stillborn child. At 36 weeks pregnant, our baby’s heart stopped beating.

What came after was a whirlwind of emotions. And my wife and I handled the experience a little bit differently.

When we first arrived at the hospital and received the devastating news, we both just broke. I had never wept like that before.

But the weeks after that were quite interesting. I dove into a pragmatic role and just tried to meet all the practical needs of my wife and daughter so that my wife could process her thoughts and emotions. I didn’t want her to have to think about anything related to food, cleaning or caring for our home in any way.

The natural byproduct of me focusing on practical needs meant that I suppressed most of my emotions and thoughts.

And then week three post-death rolled around…and I broke.

The emotions came on strong and I couldn’t contain them. I wept as my wife held me.

And the grief has come in waves ever since.

One of my closest friends, Nathan, came to visit for a few days in February. He shared some of the most insightful advice I had ever heard about grief.

A couple of years ago his brother was murdered. And when Nathan was in high school his mom died from cancer. So he knows a thing or two about grief.

1. Give yourself permission to feel. Deeply.

All kinds of emotions can appear at any given moment: sadness, anger, fear, doubt, more sadness. And if you don’t allow yourself to fully feel the depth of those emotions, they’ll show up in other parts of your life…and not in a good way.

When processing grief, it is absolutely normal to be angry. To be sad. And it’s absolutely normal to go from completely fine to a sobbing mess. Allow it. Accept it. Express it. Let it out.

2. Don’t try to escape.

I’m a non-emotive person. I just don’t like to show my emotions. It’s probablly rooted in pride, but nevertheless, it’s who I am.

But when faced with grief and mourning, I can’t run away from it. Or rather, I shouldn’t run away from it.

It’d be easy for me to shut the world out by drowning myself in entertainment. Movies, TV shows, social media, endless web surfing. Or even turn to substance abuse. I can completely understand why someone might take to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain.

But if you don’t face your grief, it will control you forever. Running away isn’t a solution. Escaping won’t help in the long run.

3. Know that grieving takes time.

This is my least favorite part. I’m so goal-oriented that when I can’t see a clear end in sight, it drives me crazy.

But with grief, there is no “end.” It lessens over time, but it stays with you forever. Nothing or no one can replace the life lost. Eventually you just get better at living life without them.

I’ve actually done more grieving as time has gone on. As the letters, gifts, notes, text messages, phone calls and visitors have wained, I’ve had more time with my thoughts and emotions. More time to process and feel. And at the strangest moments, a wave of emotion will come over me. And I let it happen.

Loss is a part of life. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It just means we have to learn to deal with the inevitable.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”
FaithDerek HarveyComment