To grieve, you need to feel what you need to heal.
A couple of months ago, I looked at my friends and said: “I have never really lost anything.” I realized I had never had to grieve a devastating loss that knocked me off my own two feet.
Little did I know the hit that was coming (aka, multiple hits.)
I really couldn’t recall a time when I had a loss that punched me in the gut, that sent me to straight to the pit of the grieving process. My friends talked about losing loved ones, and how this absolutely wrecked them. I stared at them in sympathy, because I couldn’t quite understand the feeling.
BUT THEN THE RUG GOT SWEPT OUT FROM UNDERNEATH ME.
The feeling of loss trickled into my life, with one heartbreak after another.
My boyfriend and I of three and a half years broke up. My parents told me they were getting a divorce. And to top it all off, my grandma passed away.
This happened all in the span of three months.
In a short amount of time, I experienced loss in all shapes and sizes. The loss of a loved one, the loss of a close relationship, and the loss of normalcy.
I WAS NOT THE SAME ASHLEY.
Slowly but surely, I started to not recognize my life. It didn’t look like mine anymore. And with that, I started to not recognize myself.
My normal, bubbly, “ray of sunshine” self was a distant memory. I wasn’t really into talking to people when I’m normally a huge people person. Cynicism clouded my view of the world.
But after a big tumble on my bum, I managed to get on my own two feet. Divine intervention stepped in through the vessel of mentors, counselors, and strength coming from something stronger than myself.
I WAS ABLE TO FOCUS ON HEALING.
I had not quite focused on healing before, because I didn’t need to. My life was pretty easy before. I went to school, I did well in school, I focused on my career, I had fun with my friends, and I had a big, happy family. But change, especially all at once, is quite the wakeup call.
I learned to let go of a lot. I learned about the grieving process. And I especially learned that these ugly, awful feelings could not be pushed down – they needed to be felt.
I still am not 100% healed, but I am a lot closer because of the wisdom I gained from others. Because of this, I want to share with you everything I learned about the grieving process, so you too can be on your way to freedom.
THERE IS NO LOSS TOO SMALL FOR THE GRIEVING PROCESS.
These five steps to healing can be applied to any loss: a death, traumatic event, change, or breakup.
Below, I’ll walk you through each step of the grieving process, and how to get out of each stage. You will go through each of these steps, and the first time through the cycle is the most grueling. And after you go through these stages the first time, you might cycle through these steps again, but in a much shorter time. Everyone heals differently.
Disclaimer: I’d encourage you to take each step and work in radical collaboration with God. It’s tough to walk through this process on your own, and when we are weak he is the one who will be strong for us.
When the ball of loss is dropped, you might not feel anything. And this is the most terrifying thing of all. It’s like you just learned about this huge life crisis, and your brain is aware, but your body hasn’t quite taken the blow.
You may feel numbness. You may also be in denial of the situation, and walk through your day to day life without even thinking about what happened. Out of sight, out of mind.
What’s happening here is your subconscious self is putting up a wall of protection. You know what happened, but your first inclination is to protect yourself from any kind of pain. I believe this is a gift because the pain could be too much to bear. It’s almost better the hurt is gradual.
The way out of shock:
You need to feel what you need to heal. This means that without feeling anything, you won’t move forward from this tragedy. I simply prayed every day to ask God to help me feel, even if they were sucky, awful, hole-your-stomach type feelings. I wanted to feel them now without causing them to linger and fester in my soul, causing many other problems in the future.
The second stage of what it takes to grieve is anger. You can be angry at someone else, you can be angry with the world, or even angry with yourself.
I was mostly angry with myself in my grief because I am naturally hard on myself. This, of course, was not very healthy. But it was my way of processing.
I was angry with God. I felt very abandoned by his love and care. I couldn’t say I was “on fire for Jesus”. Well, I was on fire, but out of rage, if we are being completely honest here. I know some people might think it’s wrong to be honest about being upset with God, because he’s God and all, but I think there is beauty in honesty. And I was so darn pissed.
The way out of anger:
Forgiveness. One of the world’s least favorite words.
This means forgiving yourself for not being perfect, for not saving the situation.
If you’re going through a breakup, this could look like forgiving your ex. Maybe he cheated on you, maybe he dumped you and absolutely broke your heart. Ask God to help you forgive him, and not to look at him with bitterness in your heart. I have seen friends who have not quite forgiven their ex, and it only hurts them and the way they view relationships.
I had to forgive my parents. I was so sad that they decided to get a divorce, and I was partly upset with myself for not saving the marriage. But I knew that in order to move forward, I needed to give my parents and myself grace.
All in all, let forgiveness lead the way.
Bargaining is the third step of grieving, and it looks a lot like what-ifs. You’ll go back and forth between a million different scenarios, how things could have been different, how you could have acted differently. Maybe what you could have done but didn’t do. Or maybe what you did do but shouldn’t have done.
I wondered if I didn’t intervene enough in my family’s problems. If only I had done XYZ, we wouldn’t be here. Or just maybe, if I had done something differently, my boyfriend and I would still be together. Or, I should have called my grandma more and visited her more, and then I wouldn’t feel as bad about her death.
Just writing that festered anxiety in me. Bargaining is full of worrying, thoughts that do not serve a single purpose.
This is what bargaining looks like, it puts us in control of the situation. But truthfully, we were never in control to begin with.
The way out of bargaining:
Trust in the Lord. Like I said before, we were never in control to begin with, and this is a good thing. This means that the Lord is orchestrating everything for us, and we are simply not strong enough or smart enough to change God’s plan for our lives.
The Bible has a lot to say about trust.
HERE ARE JUST A FEW VERSES TO SHOW YOU WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT:
“And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
No matter what you’ve done or haven’t done, God is going to work it all out for the good. All the pain, frustration, heartbreak. Somehow, and in some way, he is going to use all of the broken pieces to make a beautiful masterpiece.
HE WILL WORK IT ALL OUT FOR THE GOOD.
He has plans not to harm you. I want to put emphasis on this part of the verse because I totally thought that somehow God was punishing me. But he is on our side, not on the other team.
God is not the enemy in our struggle, he is our sidekick in getting out of it.
This is the stage that I dread the most. But, it’s inevitable. As someone who likes to be joyful and happy, I hate that I have to feel sad to heal.
Because I am a highly sensitive person, feelings hit me hard. When I’m happy, I am really stinking happy. But when I’m low, it’s like my whole world is rocked.
This sadness you are feeling is a symptom of your reality. You might feel terrible now, but you certainly won’t feel terrible forever.
SADNESS COMES IN WAVES
It literally will hit you out of nowhere, like a torrential downpour on the walk to class. Something might happen, someone might say something, and you go from having a lovely day to wanting to bawl your eyes out. I call these “triggers”.
When we get triggered, we feel hit, and then dizzy, and then we just want to crawl in a hole. For me, sadness comes through my tummy, so I feel it first there. And I know when this happens, I need to give this feeling attention.
MY COUNSELOR GAVE ME THREE STEPS TO WHENEVER THAT HORRIBLE FEELING STRIKES:
- Find God. Whenever the sadness reigns in like a storm, I quickly fix my focus on God.
- I feel the bad feeling. I let the feeling take its course, have its stay. I focus on God’s presence as it moves through my body, like a wave, and I keep my focus on God.
- Then, just like a storm that clears up to quiet raindrops, the feeling is gone. It just leaves. When I let myself feel the feeling – I am the one in charge. But when I don’t feel it, the feeling then has power over me. Once the feeling is gone, I experience God’s power to be able to face what’s ahead of me. I can then function, and just be a human. Whether that’s continuing my workout, making myself a sandwich, or talking with a friend. His power keeps me going.
This all reminds me of a poem that explains feelings that come and go. My counselor showed me this work of art, and it helped me so much in this season.
A POEM ABOUT FEELINGS THAT COME AND GO, LIKE A GUEST HOUSE.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
translation by Coleman Barks
The way out of sadness:
Hope. Having hope that it will not always look this crappy or dark. Hope that if you’re in the valley, you’ll also enjoy the mountaintop.
We need to have hope that God will redeem anything in this life, especially the crap. That it will get better, and if it isn’t better, we haven’t quite reached the end of the story.
HOPE: A CONFIDENT EXPECTATION OF GOOD.
My mentor gave me this biblical definition of hope that has stuck with me ever since. God will never leave us hopeless and in the muck. He longs to give us good things, especially in our pain. And though we are upset and hurt, he will never ever leave us like that.
The last, and final stage of grief is acceptance. When you have peace about your situation, accepting the full acceptance of the mess.
At the end of this process, you are finally free of the pain. But you had to move through the pain to be free.
GIVE YOURSELF GRACE.
The grieving process is not fun. It’s not something I look forward to. But when loss strikes us down to our knees, moving through healing is all we have left.
You may be not your best self right now, you might not have all A’s, you may snap at people. You are not going to conquer the world, and that is okay. You are moving through a tough season of life, and you gotta give yourself time to heal.
Ecclesiastes says there is a season for everything, for every purpose under heaven.
“There is a time to heal.”
If you are human, you will lose something in life. Loss is inevitable, unfortunately.
And because of this reality, I believe that’s why in each life, there is a time to heal. Just like there is a season for dancing and rejoicing, there is a season to move through pain of losing something you once loved, something you weren’t ready to lose.
So let yourself feel all the feelings. Give yourself grace in this time. Maybe don’t pick up all your calls, maybe step away from social media. Give yourself time, and lots of kindness.
And before you know it, you will be okay. You will have processed what’s happened. You will be moving forward, and not by the strength of your own two feet, but through the divine grace of the one carrying you.