One very common response to grief is to hide it. We don’t want to feel pain and we tell ourselves that if we hide it, then we don’t feel it. In some ways, we’re right. We find ourselves becoming so good at fooling other people that we begin to fool ourselves. But don’t let yourself do this. Your body, mind, and soul still hurt. You might get good at pushing through it and dealing with it. But as soon as you slow down, it hits you like a brick wall.
We do this with more than just grief, but we are particularly prone to do so with grief especially as believers because we mistake grief for a lack of hope. Grief doesn’t take away from hope; it acknowledges that this person had an impact on our lives and their absence from this earth is felt. There’s nothing wrong with that. It reminds us of the attachments we have and that we are made as relational beings. This is good; it just doesn’t FEEL good.
In North American culture, we do not set aside much time for grief. We have a funeral or memorial service and this time is reserved for grief. If you’ve ever lost someone with whom you were very close, though, you know that often these services do not offer much of a chance to really grieve in the way your heart needs. But somehow we have it in our heads that the closure a funeral provides means we need to be capable of returning to work the next day and be perfectly okay. This isn’t true. But because we have to return to work, it is easy to quickly become so enveloped in our work and home responsibilities that we neglect grief.
We can’t, typically, just take off for a month, grieve, and then come back to work. If we are able to take that much time, it’s usually spent in sorting out details, deciding what to do with a person’s belongings, filling out paperwork, paying final expenses, etc. It’s a time of business, not of grief.
The more people who depend upon us, the greater the difficulty in breaking away for a good cry, scream, etc. And we use that as an excuse. It’s valid that we need to take care of the people we love, but we do that best when we honestly look at our loss and honor the person we lost by letting ourselves feel the emotions associated with grief.
We can’t assume that if we just make ourselves busy enough eventually the emotions will go away. They won’t. They will make themselves known; we can cooperate in that venture or we can become a victim of our own emotions. What does this look like? Usually something physical.
Do you remember as a kid when you were really upset you would get a tummy ache? Or maybe you never experienced that; I guarantee at least one of your friends did. When you were little, this tummy ache was usually a sign that something you couldn’t or wouldn’t explain was going on; it was too big for your little mind and body to handle. We’d like to think we do, but we don’t outgrow that. We become more adept at explaining the things that upset us; we learn to label our emotions and to handle them in appropriate ways. But we never outgrow the tummy ache that comes from not explaining what’s going on.
Our adult minds and bodies are still too small to handle grief, and it doesn’t get easier the more loss you experience. You become better at hiding it and pushing through; you don’t become any less impacted by the pain. When we don’t let our emotions be our emotions, they start to hijack our systems. The pain manifests itself in physical ways because it has to come out somehow. We experience nausea, headaches, joint and/or muscle pain, dizziness, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, etc. We might find ourselves less able to fight off the common cold. We have a choice not to let this happen. But that means we can’t hide the grief.
We need to be open with someone about how we are doing. We need to intentionally take some time to ourselves to let the ache be real and felt. Some people cry. Some people are silent. Some need to talk about their memories and experiences. Some need to hear someone else talk. Everyone is unique and each new experience of grief is different. You might have to go through some trial and error. But don’t stop trying. You are not big enough to hold it all in. Don’t try. Those around you still need you and you will serve them best by being healthy not hidden.