How to Cope When You’re Stuck in Your Grief

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How to Cope When You’re Stuck in Your Grief

by DiAne N. Gates

If you’ve lost a loved one in the past three years, chances are on November 1st you wish you could take a sleeping pill that will last until January 5th of 2017.

Truth is, all of us live life from one holiday until the next. February brings Valentines, then Easter is next in line, followed by Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, then the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, birthdays and anniversaries are smushed in between these festivities—and they are all difficult days.

Then we begin again. Next year.

But if you’re agonizing over the death of a loved one, holiday celebrations are brutal reminders of who’s not there to celebrate with you. You’re sad and lonely. Very lonely. But there is help and hope.

This year will be the nineteenth Thanksgiving without Mama, the seventeenth without Daddy, and the fifteenth without our daughter, Michelle. And two years ago, the Monday before Thanksgiving, I had a meltdown.

You’d think after all this time I’d be able to get through a holiday event with only a twinge of an emotional setback. But when I opened Mama’s silver chest to polish those family treasures that would grace our dinner table, memories of Thanksgivings past rushed down the corridors of my mind, ripped through my heart, and tumbled out in a river of debilitating tears.

I collapsed in the middle of the floor and gave myself permission to shed that heart water of love and loss that honors the lives of those who’ve gone home before me.

Tears of grief are liquid healing. Tears that scripture tells us, God saves in a bottle. Tears necessary to move us through the grief process and into our new normal.

But what happens to those who refuse the opportunity to cry and grieve? Are they stronger? Are those of us who weep and grieve weak?

Absolutely not.

Each family member grieves in a different manner—each person’s grief is unique. And most every family who has lost a loved one has at least one member who refuses to do the grief work. They choose instead to bury their grief alive because they believe their sorrow is much worse than anyone else’s and much too difficult for them to bear. The problem is when grief is buried alive there will be a resurrection one day. Or perhaps on many days, year, after year, after year—most often during holidays.

The quicksand of buried grief incubates anger. Anger blossoms into bitterness. Bitterness transforms itself into rage. And that rage dresses and terrorizes, in many colors and forms—sullenness, rudeness, unexplained irritability, unreasonableness, inability to demonstrate love within the family unit, stubborn refusal to participate in and accept the joy and thankfulness of the season. These reactions can damage or ultimately bring death to living relationships with family members who are dealing with their grief.

These desperate souls have stumbled unknowingly into a quagmire of grief and will not or cannot escape the devastating consequences of their destructive choice.

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