Yesterday was 4 years since my mom passed away. In some ways that feels like a long time and in others just a minute ago. It has been said that there are six stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and finding meaning. When I first learned about these stages in my psych classes in college, I thought this was a linear process. You start with denial and move through them one by one to finding meaning and then that’s it. I thought grief was something to get through or something to endure until the process was over and then it was all better. Now that I’ve experienced some grief in the forms of loved ones passing and other losses, I know that this is not a linear process, it’s more like a spiral that you go around and around until you come out the other side. And there is no timeline. It could take months or years depending on the depth of loss and how you allow yourself to experience the grief or not. There are also other factors such as if a loved one has a prolonged illness then you can pregrieve their passing and go through some of these stages before they even pass away. This might make the process shorter after they pass or it could make it longer, depending on the situation. Grief is personal. It’s unique to each situation and person. We cannot compare grief. Two people can experience the same loss but experience it in different ways. And what I have found most recently, and I know this intellectually, but it always surprises me still, is that grief begats grief. When you are going through something that causes a grief response that can trigger you to go through old grief that is unresolved. For example, I’ve been to grief counseling three different times but each time I found I wasn’t processing my most recent loss but the one before it. When I went to counseling after we lost our stillborn son Andrew, I was processing adoption and raising special needs children grief. When I went to counseling after I lost my mom, I was processing Andrew’s loss and when I went to counseling after I lost Kaki, I was processing my mom’s loss. Then a year later I had to go back to counseling to deal with Kaki. Now I find myself grieving another situation in my life and my mom’s loss has hit me all over again. I think it is because losing a parent is such a earth shaking thing in ones life and also because It was just Mother’s day, and her date of passing and my birthday is coming up. It’s a time of year when I miss her more. She made every holiday special, even the seemingly insignificant ones, and I miss that. She was always there to listen to me when I was going through something, and I miss that.
I have also realized that one thing she didn’t teach me was how to be sad. In my house growing up being sad was not something we dwelled on. Anger was okay but sadness not so much. So when I find myself sad I am not sure how to process it. Sadness is a tough one for most people. Lots of people see it as weakness to be sad. Or like you need to go medicate that feeling away with something. We don’t understand how to sit with sadness. It’s a skill you have to learn. Back in the old days they used to have a room in your house called a Parlor. There was also one in the church. We still have them in some houses and churches but few of us actually know what they were for. When a family member died you would lay them out in the parlor for a few days and friends would come and pay their respects. But often the family members would sit in the parlor and go about life around their deceased family member. Sound morbid? It does now because we have institutionalized and sterilized death. We have put it in the basement of the hospital and in funeral homes so we don’t have to deal with it at all. I think it has stunted our ability to deal with sadness and loss. We deny it’s even happening and go on about our lives. We have even renamed this room in our house the “living room” as a way to overlook death and focus on life. Focusing on life is good but we need to get back to realizing that death exists and grief exists and we need to learn how to deal with it and stop medicating it away with our addictions. Addictions have grown exponentially with an estimated 20 million people in the US being addicted to drugs or alcohol, and many many more addicted to gambling, sex, food, video games, or other things. Most treatments programs that are successful not only deal with sobriety but primarily deal with teaching people how to handle their own emotions. How many people could we save from those addictions if we learned to handle emotions as children?
So, as I deal with some sadness over the loss of my mom I am learning to be okay with that. Some days I will be sad and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with being sad. Many people in the Christian tradition think that so called negative emotions such as sadness or anger are not okay. One should always feel joyful if they are following Jesus. That’s just not true. Jesus was angry and he showed it in the temple of all places. Jesus was sad when his friend Lazarus was dead, even though he knew he was going to bring him back to life shortly. Jesus was feeling intense emotion before the crucifixion, so much so he was sweating blood. Negative emotions are okay. They are meant to be felt, not stuffed down and self medicated. And so I will sit with my sadness and know that it is a reflection of my relationship with my mom and a life well lived. And I know I honor her as I sit with sadness or joy. Obviously if we have clinical signs of depression, that should be dealt with with medication and counseling, but I’m referring to just general grief and sadness. You cannot even be diagnosed with clinical depression if you have experienced a loss within the last six months, because sadness is expected and a normal part of the healing process. But as you learn to deal with sadness and all the emotions that come with grief, you may find that you are grieving very old losses that have not had a chance to be processed, and that’s okay and good. Emotions are called feelings because they are felt in your body as sensations and those can get trapped in your body and you carry them with you until you deal with them and release them or they manifest in physical issues such as pain or even heart attack and stroke.
Today I want you to know its healthy to feel whatever you are feeling. Sadness and anger are okay, joy and happiness are okay. Don’t be afraid to sit with whatever feelings you have, it brings healing.