What Being a Chaplain Taught Me about Grief
Frederick Buechner, author, theologian and preacher, wrote, "When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart. For as long as you can remember me, I am never entirely lost." These are words that I typically share in funerals and memorial services to help families and friends find comfort after losing a loved one.
Death is one of the major reasons we suffer grief and loss in this life. However, it is not the only reason we have these feelings. As a chaplain who has worked in hospitals, hospice, rehabilitation/skilled facilities, and retirement facilities, I have come in contact with many individuals experiencing loss and grief. It has been an honor to help facilitate the healing process for those seeking comfort and peace. Along the way, I have learned a few things that I would like to share about how individuals experience grief:
1. Grief is not about stages or patterns. No two people grieve the same way. Some show emotions, and others do not. If someone does not show emotions in public, that is okay and normal.
2. Do not assume that you know how someone is feeling because you have experienced grief. You do not. I have heard it said, "Grief is like a fingerprint—unique and different."
3. Feelings of anger, guilt, and shame are all normal. Even being angry with God, or any other higher power in which one believes, is normal. God is big enough to handle all of our anger, questions, and concerns.
4. Crying is wonderful. Crying is our body's way of releasing tension and stress. When stress and tension are not released, health problems occur.
5. As a society, we do not like to see people cry. Adults can cry for only 15 to 20 minutes before they have to stop. Unlike babies, adult bodies do not have the capacity to cry for hours. So, do not be afraid to cry, and do not be afraid to watch someone else cry.
6. Being vulnerable enough to share your thoughts and feelings with others truly does help the healing process.
7. Well-meaning people can still say some hard, hurtful things even while trying to help. Many people cling to phrases like, "This is God's will," or, "God needed one more angel in Heaven." More often than not, those phrases do not bring comfort. If you are grieving, you want your loved one with you, not in Heaven.
8. The loss of a person can be more complex than just losing that person. Roles and titles change. Husbands and wives become widowers and widows, respectively. Living in a community becomes living alone. A caregiver loses their sense of vocation.
9. Grief and loss come in many forms other than death. For example, we grieve when getting older, losing independence, and losing our driver's license. As a chaplain in a retirement home for a year, I saw more people grieving over selling their home and downsizing than anything else.
10. Creating rituals around the loss helps to bring closure and begin the healing process.
11. Holidays and special occasions can still bring painful feelings, even if you thought you successfully worked through those feelings. This is normal!
12. Painful feelings of grief can arise when you least expect them. This, too, is normal!
13. Being a part of a community helps a person realize they are not alone in their grief.
14. As cliché as it might sound, time truly does help heal wounds.
—Justin Nelson, Guest Contributor
Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today toll-free at 1-888-789-2922.
Tags: Grief Support