Widowed at 37, She Discovered Five Myths – and One Truth – About Grief
[Cindy H from suburban Chicago is the winner of book #4 of our weekly January book giveaway. Congratulations! Your copy is on its way.
And a gentle reminder. February 14, Valentine’s Day, is a week from today. Let’s make a special effort to reach out to friends who are single or single again – especially those who will be alone this year. Put a cute card in the mail, make a call, send a text. Let the love flow down from God through you!]
Early this past Saturday morning - the final day of our week in southwest Florida visiting longtime friends – our host woke to a crash.
His beloved wife, Charlene, had risen from bed and then suddenly fell, pulling the bedside table down with her.
An urgent call for paramedics. An ambulance ride to the city hospital downtown.
The diagnosis: a blood clot in Charlene’s brain. A major stroke.
Just the evening before, we were conversing eagerly around a table brimming with platters of seafood fettuccini and bowls of pear salad, singing worship songs and favorite hymns to the strumming of an acoustic guitar.
I turned to my friend. “You’re going to live to be 100, Char!”
She threw back her head of glorious white hair and laughed. “Only if I’m healthy,” she said with a twinkle. “We never know.”
We certainly do not.
Before dawn on Monday morning, Charlene passed into the arms of God.
I suspect every one of you sharing this space with me right now understands the transience of time, the shape and substance of grief.
When a loved one dies who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we are deeply thankful they will spend eternity with Him. We have the glorious hope of seeing them again.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” 1 Thess. 4:13
Yet we still grieve.
Grief has identifiable stages, correct? Once we move through one, we can expect to progress predictably through the rest.
But sorrow cannot be rushed. It has a timetable of its own, lurching forward – and sometimes in reverse – like a locomotive lacking an engineer in a land where nothing runs on time.
Few understand this better than my friend Dorina Gilmore-Young.
After her husband’s death left her a young widow at the age of 37 and the single mother of three young girls, Dorina quickly discovered that people had quite a lot to say about grief. She was often surprised by the comments.
Dorina has graciously granted me permission to share her thoughts with our community. (You can find her original post here.)
“Sometimes [others] would share their insights in hopes of offering comfort,” she writes. “Oftentimes these opinions were driven by myths about grief that get passed around, rather than a deeper understanding.
Through my grief journey, I have learned how vital it is to separate our misconceptions and expectations from the reality of grief. When we are grieving, we are vulnerable. People’s well-intentioned words can sting us in surprising ways.
When you’re grieving the death of a spouse, or the loss of a child, or the loss of community when you’ve moved to a new place, comments about how you ‘should be’ grieving are not helpful. I decided to take an informal poll of some of my widow sisters and friends.
Here are five common grief myths that frequently find their way into attitudes and conversations.
MYTH #1: GRIEF HAS FIVE STAGES.
People often talk about these definitive five stages of grief…a theory developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. These stages include denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Some people think you go through these five stages in order and then you are done with grief. Originally these were marked stages for people who were facing mortality, not those grieving a loss.
David Kessler co-authored a book with Kubler-Ross called On Grief and Grieving. He explains that these five stages are tools to help us identify what we are feeling.
“They are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.”
Grief cannot be simplified or tucked into a logical flow chart. If your grief looks different from the next person’s grief, you are not crazy.
MYTH #2: GRIEF IS LINEAR WITH A BEGINNING, MIDDLE AND END.
Grief can skip, repeat, do a loop-de-loop and double back. In other words, grief is a journey, not a destination. At times, the journey feels treacherous and uphill. At other times, it’s about walking slowly forward one step at a time on a steadier path.
When I realized that my grief and loss would be with me long-term, it helped me shift my focus. I was no longer wondering when I would “get over it.” I was free to concentrate more on how to grieve well.
I have to be intentional to check in with myself. Around certain anniversaries, I know I need to carve out space for grief. When I am unexpectedly triggered, I need to give myself the gift of grace. Our family has also created rhythms of remembrance, which help us during these times of the year.
MYTH #3: TIME HEALS (to be continued)
*Dorina's new devotional journal, Breathing Through Grief, is releasing in November 2023 from Ink & Willow. Subscribe to her Glorygram for details.
YOUR TURN! What have you found to be true - or not - about the journey of grief?