Grief and loss are always on the horizon, but we can prepare to grieve well. This can help with the grief we are carrying now.
I am pruning roses at the moment.
It’s winter here in New Zealand as I write this post, and one of my tasks every winter for the last seven years has been to prune around 120 roses in a beautiful country garden.
The property is being sold, so this will most likely be the last time I prune, cut, and snip away at these old beauties.
I probably won’t see the blooms next summer.
There is a small heaviness in my heart.
I have enjoyed tending and caring for not just the roses but the fruit trees, the large magnolia trees, the camellias, and much much more.
The garden, when I took over, was in a state of disrepair. But with love and care over many seasons, it has developed a new life.
I fear that new owners may not care for both the soil and soul of the garden. But I am a steward of this season in its life.
It’s a relationship I have with wood, wind, and water—Sun, compost, and worms.
I am grieving, and I am preparing for grief.
I have grief in me. We all do.
Do you sit well with loss?
There is a time to grieve.
What if we were to say that there is a time for you to grieve. To say, ‘this is the moment for you to feel the loss.’
That sounds a bit mechanical and logical and engineered.
It also sounds quite defined. Like you can only grieve between these times, and after that, then you should be over it.
Grief doesn’t work like that, though. It can sweep up on you and catch you unawares. It can’t and won’t be controlled. Try and control it, and it will pop up somewhere else.
All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain.
If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us. Richard Rohr
We all, I believe, need a place, a time, and a person that says, ‘It’s ok to grieve.’
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes speaks to the naturalness of weeping and mourning.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance Ecclesiastes 3:4
Weeping is as natural to life as laughter. Mourning is as natural as dancing.
It’s normal, natural, to be expected. It’s not to be avoided or diminished.
There is a time to feel the loss, and that is ok.
We needn’t fear negative emotions.
The feminine noun
There is a softness to this expression of time. There is a proper, suitable time for everything.
It’s the welcoming embrace for when the moment is right to be in that place.
It’s not on a schedule or a timetable. The grief moment is not organized to arrive at this train scheduled time. But more so, it’s a knowing that this season will come and go.
There is an official day when winter begins, but we all know that winter starts when it starts, and spring comes when it comes.
So we don’t rush this process. ‘Eth’ has a time of its own accord.
The pendulum swings
As I write this, I have a grandfather clock ticking away in my background.
It has a large pendulum swinging away inside of it. Back and forth, back and forth, the arc of the ball swings.
It keeps the clock ticking.
Swinging in and out.
I have noticed this about my grief load too, I swing in and out.
I have lost people to me and felt the pendulum’s swing seemingly sit in the dark zone, and then it swings away. A memory swings me back but maybe not so far. Not so deep. Over time the swings don’t go so far in and not so severe.
There is no perpetual motion machine of grief.
But I wonder what keeps some people’s grief pendulum swinging so deep for so long? Perhaps the answer is to be found in our understanding of forgiveness – ourselves and others.
Prepare for grief
How does one prepare for grief?
That’s a strange question because I think we all, to some degree, carry a load of grief with us at all times.
Those little losses, the hurts, the job redundancies, the deaths, the missed opportunities, the failing health, the words we wanted to say someone but now can’t. The broken relationships.
We all carry something that, at times, can feel overwhelming.
Here are some guidelines to prepare for grief.
1. Be ok with not knowing what the grief will look like.
I really don’t know what it will be like not to have this garden in my weekly life. It’s an unknown. I wonder what I will miss the most. What will get triggered in me when I think of the roses.
Thorns or fragrance?
There is an unknowing to much of life, and we have to sit in the mystery of wondering what will come next.
The only thing I can be assured of is that I will not be alone in it.
Jesus, in grief load moment, invited his friends into his garden of Gethsemane. So I’m going to be ok with the pendulum swings.
2. Keep the good memories alive
Over the years, I have taken photos of the garden. Different seasons bring different perspectives.
As I grieve, I will also celebrate the blessing and the gift of that time and place: thorns and fragrance.
Where you focus, you will go.
3. Forgiving the failings
We live in a world where mistakes and bad choices happen. It’s part of the tapestry of life.
I try to live with a short accounts book. I don’t want to be a bookkeeper holding tightly to a ledger of rights and wrongs, so I try to forgive myself and others quickly.
One of the little affirmations I have each day is, ‘I am discounting my mistakes before they discount me.’
Grief can so easily become a swirling whirlpool of regrets. A central vortex can appear that sucks you down and away from reality.
Forgiveness can begin by letting the little fish go.
4. Talking it out with someone safe
Sharing the load, sharing the loss, being vulnerable and open about a particular memory moment.
This is an Emmaus walk where we talk about the mystery of loss out with a friend.
We don’t want anyone to F.A.S.S. (Fix. Advise. Save. Set one straight). Instead, we want someone to sit with us and invite the stories of both thorns and fragrance.
We all have a suitcase of grief. Is yours heavy or light? Perhaps as we learn to prepare for the pendulum swings, it will help with what we are carrying now.
Quotes to consider
- Conversion, which is forever refining the most intimate nature of our experience, is a long, long process. More a long road to Emmaus than a one-time road to Damascus. Richard Rohr. Job and the Mystery of Suffering
- When we fail we are merely joining the great parade of humanity that has walked ahead of us and will follow after us. Richard Rohr
- Those who do not turn to face their pain are prone to impose it. Terrence Real
- In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience—our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection
- Redeemed pain is more impressive to me than removed pain Phillip Yancey
Questions to consider
- How do you prepare for grief? What are the lessons it has to offer you?
- It’s a season, a time, a period, a pendulum swing. Which image connects best with you when you consider loss?
- What are the qualities of a person that is safe for you to share your grief?