November 8, 2016

Reframing grief

In undergrad, I took a leadership course that required service-learning hours, and before I knew it, I was spending two hours a week volunteering at our local Hospice. Rather than spending time with the patients receiving end-of-life care, I was surprised to learn I’d be volunteering with a different group: the grieving children who lost loved ones in the patient wing.

A year later, well after my internship, I volunteered with the children’s grief and bereavement services for a program called “Camp Woe-Be-Gone” in which grieving children would spend a day at a beautiful retreat center to work through their feelings of loss and honor their missed ones. At the end of the day, the retreat organizers passed around blank message cards and pens and asked everyone to write a message they believe should be shared. Then they randomized the cards and asked everyone to blindly select one–an encouraging message to take home.

The image you see with this post is the card I held in my hand. It was written by an anonymous child who evidently learned how to cope, or, at the very least, be hopeful. I volunteered at this camp in 2012–the year Charise and I lived together–and when I got home that day, I propped this card up on our kitchen counter, where it stayed until we moved out. Little did that child know: Charise and I needed that message on a regular basis. Everything seemed to hurt that year. For a while, we felt it always would.

Grief and loss can look many ways. In the case of many kids at that retreat, loss meant death or abandonment. The Hospice program did a wonderful job in their workshops outlining how loss can also mean uncomfortable changes into new realities: the loss of the old or the familiar. This could mean losing friendships or connections, and even if physical death wasn’t the cause, it sure felt like emotional death.

The program staff framed grief through the “wave model”: a loving, accepting affirmation that the pain would come and go like waves on a seashore. Some days will be easy to conquer, and others will be a confusing mix of anger, sadness, resentment, and delusion, but eventually the waves become less frequent and less intense. This reassurance is comforting when you’re weeks or months into loss and you feel impatient about the fact that you “haven’t gotten over it.” Welp, sugar, science says you’re not supposed to yet.

So what’s the spiritual connection? The crushing feeling loss is as human of a feeling as we can have, and you better believe we feel pain for a reason. Many ascended masters have alluded to pain and suffering being necessary aspects of the human experience, and others have outlined how pain is actually good for us because it helps us become resilient. Maybe you buy that and maybe you don’t, but the idea that pain happens for a reason helps me find value in it. And what else is spirituality if not the idea that everything happening to us has a greater meaning, its purpose written in the stars?

Charise is now the holder of this card, and her polished thumbnail is the one you see in this photo I stole off her Instragram. I scroll back on her Insta feed every time I need to see it. Real talk: I’m missing someone hard right now, and this person’s loss is hard to overcome. But my anonymous friend speaks the truth: my loss, and yours, won’t always hurt so bad. The process of climbing through, rather than climbing out of our struggle, is what makes us powerful beyond measure. We can do this.

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