Life is a journey, and each year there are marker posts which must be recognised and acknowledged. Today marks the second anniversary of my father’s death. In my role as chaplain death is part of the job, but like many other professionals, we sometimes give the impression that we are immune to the ravages of grief. We are not! We like everybody else have to walk this rough track if we are to remain healthy and able to help others on their pilgrimage. There are no shortcuts, and like some of the bush walks I have been on recently it looks like there is no track, though every now and then there is a reflective disk to remind you that you are not lost and others have indeed been here before!
The journey of grief is not just travelled by those who lose someone in death, there are other significant losses that qualify you for the course, the loss of a relationship through divorce, the loss of a job, a deployment to a war zone or a range of other losses will leave you in a similar spot. Our culture readily accepts the fact that your life will be disrupted for a while, even a couple of months, but in our fast paced world, most people will not even notice one or two years down the track. So how do you cope when the feelings are still so real and painful? What can you do?
My suggestion is that grief is cyclical, and the way to approach it when it comes back is very similar to what you did in phase one:
- Accept it! You cannot turn back the clock, or return things to how they were, so instead of denying the reality and saying you are OK when you are not, accept what has happened and deal with it.
- Own your emotions! Emotions are neither good or bad they just “ARE”. Even years down the track there will still be times when you are overcome with sadness, anger, guilt, depression or hopelessness. If you refuse to express those emotions things will only get worse.
- Celebrate your loss! Find a concrete way to honour the one you have lost, take the time to cry though the photo album, visit the grave site or participate in a memorial service with other who share your loss. You may feel alone in your grief, but that is rarely the case.
- Talk about your future! Share with someone how far you have come, and what your hopes and dreams are for the road ahead. Accept the fact that though this may seem like a failure, it is just a natural part of the ongoing healing process.
Well, for what it is worth, that is where I am today. There are many other things that I could say, many of Bill’s one liners I could add, but two years down the track I still miss him and that is OK. If you are struggling with grief, don’t make believe that you are OK when you are not, get some help, so that you can move forward.
Chaplain Ian Whitley