Grief is never the friend that you want to invite to sit on your porch, take a long walk with, or talk to endlessly about your hopes and dreams, but for many, grief is a daily palpable feeling. One we need not be ashamed or afraid of.
I cannot remember the first time I recognized grief for what it was following our son’s traumatic brain injury, but it has come to feel like a familiar acquaintance.
Grief comes in waves we are both prepared and unprepared to experience. It is sometimes subtle and can be hidden under the surface, and other times the power it brings is too strong, refusing to be ignored. Grief is part of the human existence. How we process grief is up to us and will play a part in determining our own path of healing.
I am not a qualified grief expert, but I have certainly encountered it enough. At times I have handled grief with certain grace and other times I have been swept away by its current. These are some coping strategies that have helped me get through to the other side of my own grief. (That being said, I know that grief returns. I am not sure it ever has a clear-cut ending.)
Acknowledge Your Pain
I receive a lot of messages from people thanking me for sharing my perspective about my son’s injury. Within many of those communications, there is a common thread. “I don’t talk about my sadness anymore because I feel people have grown tired of hearing it.” Or, “This thing that we deal with is difficult for others to understand, so I’ve stopped sharing.”
Grief is painful enough. Feeling muzzled about the emotions associated with grief can be harmful.
Find a safe friend, therapist or family member and share your sorrow. Speaking the painful thoughts aloud may make you feel as if you are quite literally putting your heart through a meat grinder, but there is wisdom in knowing that sometimes we have to allow things to be dismantled in order for them to be put back together.
Ponder Sweet Memories
Flooding of grief often comes in the form of memories, and these memories can surface at any time or place. For me, it comes while sitting on the dock in Virginia where we spent summer vacations, at the baseball field in our hometown, or watching a special occasion like a prom unfold. While those memories are cherished, they are also painful. They hurt because I remember what was. I remember the person that I shared them with, and the dreams I held within those moments for my son. Those memories make my heart ache. It is the clear line of the before and after.
I have discovered that sharing fond memories with my family or friends, promotes laughter and sweet reminiscing. I have noticed that admitting in advance that recalling the past might be challenging can help. And I have learned that I appreciate sharing fond memories of life before brain injury. Life was simpler then, and reminiscing lifts some of the heaviness of now.
Put Pen to Paper
I know it can seem impossible at times to express our emotions. How can you truly speak the depths of sorrow, anger, and sadness you feel? Maybe you can’t. At times, I can’t either.
When I can’t speak of my sadness, and yet it is filling every portal of my brain, I write. I write a letter to myself, just as I would a friend. I write a letter to the “old” Taylor, telling him what happened. Or I sit down and make a list of every single emotion I am feeling, and I own it for what it is.
Sadness. Emptiness. Guilt. Anger. Frustration. Depression. Heaviness. Loss. Endless loss.
I put pen to paper, and I admit that these horrible things are there. I don’t form a friendship with grief, but I recognize its presence. Pretending it doesn’t exist does not make it disappear.
If writing isn’t your style, find what works. Paint a grief picture. Listen to some music for fifteen minutes that will release any bottled up tears, and let them flow. Exercise, scream, shout, grieve.
Finding healthy coping skills gives control to emotions that often feel uncontrollable.
Come Out of the Cave
Our lives are made up of choices that we make in given circumstances. I dislike someone telling me how to feel or respond. There are times when I want to scream, “This hurts, let me let it hurt. Let me sit here for a bit and feel every single ache of it!” And I do. I let myself feel it. But I have to come out of the cave, too.
Our youngest son, Tanner, wrote a beautiful song honoring the first weeks of his brother’s brain injury. The song is titled, “Clarity.” The lyrics say, “Don’t sit in your mind too long with everyone around you.” And then goes on to say, “You can choose to see the light in it, or you can choose to see the darkness in it.” Such truth is packed into those words.
Staying in the cave of grief, you will be kept from the light. There are practical ways to get out, and they will help you.
Go for a walk and notice the beauty around you. Each day, acknowledge three things that make you feel grateful. Just three. Gratitude can help shift your mind to another place. Play dance tunes and dance all around the room. Plant a flower. Plant a seed of hope.
Combat the harsh feelings of grieving, with the beauty of living. Make room for the sad moments in your life, but also the truly lovely ones. They can and do co-exist.
Grief has the ability to swallow you whole, and like a riptide, take you to a place that is too far out from shore. Should you feel that pull, remember to remain calm and use the strategies you possess to find your way out.