This past week I read an interesting article on longevity in a bi-monthly email publication titled, “Nehemiah Notes,” by M. Blaine Smith, an ordained Presbyterian minister who retired a decade ago as Director of Nehemiah Ministries, Inc., which ceased operation shortly after he retired. He is also the author of several books as well as his bi-monthly online publication mentioned above. [Update Note–November 19, 2022: M. Blaine Smith passed away on June 24, 2021 and, apparently, his “Nehemiah Ministries” website which included his “Nehemiah Notes,” is no longer accessible online at the links noted above and for the article quote directly below.]
The article I read is titled, “Moving Ahead After the Letdown: Finding the Heart to Make New Beginnings,” and here is an excerpt from that article:
One of the most helpful insights we gain from studies of longevity is the importance of resilience. Centenarians, and others with exceptional life spans, are often those who are best able to accept loss and make new beginnings. Not that they don’t feel the pain of major disappointments and grieve them profoundly. Still, the point comes when they are able to put the past behind them and move on. And they are remarkably adept at making fresh starts, even at unlikely points in life.
Jeanne Calment was a stunning example of this resilience. By the time she died in 1997 at 122, this Frenchwoman held the title of being the world’s oldest living person with a documented birth date–a record still unbroken. Yet Calment suffered many misfortunes during her extraordinary lifetime. Pleurisy claimed her only child at 36, her husband died from eating tainted cherries at 72, and her only grandchild perished in a car accident at 36. After each crisis, though, she was able to regain her hope and “turn the page.”
At 110 she gave up independent living and moved to a nursing home, where she continued to make new friends and adjust well to her new lifestyle. She never lost her positive outlook, even in her final years–or her sense of humor. On her 120th birthday a reporter asked what sort of future she envisioned. “A very brief one,” Calment replied.
Genetics and lifestyle obviously played a role in Calment’s unusual longevity. Yet her outlook on life was a critical factor as well.
During our own lifetime, we each experience a multitude of disappointments and setbacks. They range from minor aggravations (a friend forgets a lunch date, your favorite restaurant closes) to major unwelcome turns of fate (the breakup of a cherished relationship, the death of a loved one). The experience of loss is universal–none of us escapes it. Yet the way we respond to it varies greatly among us, and radically affects our quality of life.
Some people never fully recuperate from a major loss. They feel its pain for years or decades, and carry continual sorrow over the relationship that didn’t work, the loved one who died unexpectedly, the dream that never succeeded. They had banked their hopes so strongly on this one area that life no longer has meaning without it. Grief for them becomes chronic.
At the other extreme are those with an uncanny ability to bounce back from disappointment. They may feel the pain of a loss acutely at first. But in time they always conclude that life still has important new horizons for them. They aren’t afraid to chance a new relationship or risk a new dream, and often succeed in forming deeply meaningful new attachments to people and goals. Over time their life even becomes richer because of their loss, for it deepens them in important ways.
The example of such people is so encouraging, for it helps us see that it’s possible to start over when life has knocked us flat, and inspires us to try. We should reflect on the experience of these people often, for their optimism is contagious….
Some people are natural optimists. Their ability to see the bright side of a dark situation and reset their sights after disappointment is mystifying to the rest of us, who are flattened by the same misfortune. Most of us have to work at being optimistic. We have to take decisive steps to break the spell of moods that can hold us captive for long periods. The challenge is greatest when we experience a serious loss. It can cast a dark shadow over our life from that point on, and forever color our perception of God’s possibilities for us.
In reality, we are much more capable of rebounding from major setbacks than we normally imagine. And we have much greater control over the healing process than we typically think. (Quote source here.)
Daddy died on Dec. 4th, and I haven’t been home since.
I’ve been hiding out three hours from his house, hoping that I could gain the courage to eventually drive home. It’s been four months. I don’t stare blankly at the wall as much as I did in the beginning.
I can now focus on assignments as I write. But every once in awhile, when I think I’m doing alright, grief sneaks up and reminds me that I’m not where I think I am—that loss isn’t OK, and neither am I.
What Is This Feeling? What Is Grief?
Even though I was there when he died, my dad’s death isn’t entirely real to me. I was with him for two weeks prior to his passing and helped care for him on weekends during the 10 months he battled cancer. But today, sitting in my cozy Nashville, Tenn., living room, the only pieces of evidence I have of his death are the legal documents I received in the mail and the nagging urge I have to call home.
Every now and then reality bounces through my head, and I’m stunned by the truth that my father died. It’s not just that I haven’t seen him in a while—it’s that he’s gone. When these moments come, I have to pick myself up and grieve again.
You may have never experienced the death of a parent, but that doesn’t mean you’ve never felt this kind of grief. Grief isn’t just related to death. Grief is an emotional and physical reaction to any traumatic or stressful loss: divorce of parents, loss of friendships, break ups, academic failures, injuries and illnesses, to name a few.
Regardless of the trauma, reactions to jarring circumstances are similar.
The 5 Stages of Grief
Psychiatrist and author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined five stages of grief in her groundbreaking book, “On Death and Dying.” But just like me, Kübler-Ross must have known that grief is tricky because these stages have no set order.
In fact, one may or may not experience all the stages, but everyone who grieves will most likely experience at least two. Here‘s a brief description of the five stages:
- Denial: This is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept the situation at hand. It’s a defense mechanism and is perfectly natural.
- Anger: People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves and/or with others, especially those close to them.
- Bargaining: When you face a loss you can’t imagine bearing, you might become more willing to do anything to negotiate another way. But bargaining isn’t just for matters of life and death. Right before a break up, somebody usually says, “Can we still be friends?”
- Depression: When reality sets in, depression is soon to follow. Routine tasks become drudgery and emotions are exaggerated. Apathy, lethargy and sorrow are common feelings associated with depression.
- Acceptance: This has everything to do with learning to deal with the situation at hand. It’s most evidenced as individuals move forward and embrace life on it’s new terms. Although the grief stages may occur in any order, acceptance usually marks the end of the grieving process.
When You Feel Alone in a Crowd
In “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Sainte Exupéry wrote, “It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”
He nailed it—grief is personal and private.
After my father’s death, I found myself in a room full of people I love, yet I was thinking, I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t be here anymore. I don’t want to be near these people. I need to be alone.
The people you love most in this world will want to help you grieve, but they might not know how. The best thing you can do is communicate what you need—this is appropriate and helpful. Don’t hesitate to say something like, “I need you to be here with me, but I don’t need advice or clichés. Just be here.”
Such a statement might actually relieve some of the tension and awkwardness that often accompanies condolences.
The Physical Toll of Grief
When you’re grieving, your emotions are jacked up—that’s obvious and expected. But are you dizzy, fatigued or short of breath?
Grief is such a big deal that it impacts you behaviorally, physically and psychologically. When it comes to behavior, you may find that you care a bit less about hygiene and organization, but you may care much more about waiting in lines or finding a parking spot—it’s common for irritability to be at an all-time high.
Physically, you may experience aches and pains, headaches, nausea or even hives. Psychologically, the expressions of grief may vary from feeling sad to feeling guilty. Your dreams might change, your concept of time might be loose and it’s quite common for everything to seem surreal.
For a season, you may not be able to absorb much of anything. I felt as if I swallowed the sea. I had so many emotions to work through—lots of feelings clanging around in my heart and mind‚ and I couldn’t put anything on top of it.
I had no emotional room to process. I couldn’t watch movies or TV. I couldn’t focus to read and I didn’t have the energy to think. Instead, I stared at the wall. In fact, I felt good about staring at the wall.
What the Bible Says About Grief
Today, the world says hard things are to be passed over as quickly as possible and should be avoided at all cost. But the Bible encourages us otherwise. The promises are these: Grief brings wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:4); God is near (Psalm 46:1; 147:3); and comfort can be found (Matthew 5:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Here’s what I know for sure: Grief will show you what you’re made of, and it will show you what God’s made of—stuff that doesn’t change, leave or die. Grief has the potential to transform your life for the better. In her book “Blessings,” Mary Craig writes:
“The value of suffering does not lie in the pain of it, …but in what the sufferer makes of it…. It is in sorrow that we discover the things which really matter; in sorrow that we discover ourselves.”
Today, I’m beginning to see the gifts that grief has given me. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’m now more transparent. I’ve come to like myself more when I’m broken than when I’m put together—turns out I’m truer and kinder this way.
I’ve learned to live with contradictions. I’m both terribly sorry and grateful about the same experience. Awful has become awfully good. Living my faith in the midst of layers of grief and a season of heartbreak has been the most challenging experience of my life with God and I can say that grief is good and is a gift, continually driving me to God who brings peace and binds up my broken heart. That makes grief and all of his friends easier to live with.
How to Help a Friend Who’s Grieving
- Acknowledge the situation and express concern.
- Offer practical help—run errands, buy groceries, do the laundry.
- Practice the ministry of presence. Just be there. That’s all you can do.
- Understand that grieving is a long process. Just because your friend looks fine, doesn’t mean he or she is fine. (Quote source here.)
Nothing in life can prepare us for the death of a loved one. Whether death results from a sudden accident or a sustained illness, it always catches us off-guard. Death is so deeply personal and stunningly final, nothing can emotionally prepare us for its arrival. With every death, there is a loss. And with every loss, there will be grief.
Grief doesn’t come and go in an orderly, confined time frame. Just when we think the pangs of anguish have stolen their last breath, another wave sweeps in and we are forced to revisit the memories, the pain, the fear. Sometimes we try to resist the demands of grieving. We long to avoid this fierce, yet holy pilgrimage. We fight against the currents, terrified of being overwhelmed, of being discovered, of becoming lost in our brokenness.
Culture tells us to move past this process quickly. Take a few days, weeks perhaps, to grieve, but don’t stay there too long. Grieving can make those around us uncomfortable. Friends sometimes don’t know what to do with our pain. Loved ones struggle to find adequate words to comfort our aching wounds.
Yet grief, as painful a season as it is, is a necessary part of our healing. To run from grief is to run from the very thing that can quell the pain of our loss. English poet and hymnodist, William Cowper, described grief itself as medicine. Grief cleanses the anguish from our souls and sets us back up on the path of life so we can dance. Grieving is the process God uses to bring us to a place of wholeness. Grieving is His great gift to us. It is a necessary part of our journey and healing.
Grieving can be the most difficult time trying to balance the feelings of pain and loss while going forward with your everyday life. Give yourself space and time, be honest with your emotions, don’t grieve alone, and don’t lose hope. With this collection of Bible verses, we can turn to God’s word for ease and comfort as we look to overcoming grief: Revelation 21:4; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3; Matthew 5:1-3; Psalm 73:26. (Quote source here.)
In an article published on June 23, 2015, titled, “4 Things You Need to Know About ‘Moving On’ from Grief,” by Emily Long, LPC, on GoodTherapy.com, she writes:
The phrase “moving on” is common in the grief and loss world, but it isn’t very well understood or, frankly, all that helpful.
What does it mean? What does moving on look like? How does one actually do it?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to those questions.
However, there are things it can be helpful to know about “moving on” after the death of a loved one, divorce, or other painful life event.
1. You are not responsible for how others feel about your grief process
Typically, it feels like what those around us mean by “moving on” is for us to stop hurting, stop talking about it, stop remembering, stop crying, and just stop grieving. They talk about wishing we would stop dwelling on the hurt and encourage us to just let go and accept what happened.
The truth is, what they actually want is for us to stop making them uncomfortable about our pain. Let’s face it—being with someone who is in pain and grieving isn’t the easiest of experiences. It’s difficult to watch someone we love hurting so deeply.
But other people’s discomfort with your grief is their business, not yours. You are not responsible for making them feel more comfortable.
2. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting
I suspect that the primary difficulty many of us have with the phrase “moving on” is that it often feels as if we’re being told to forget our loved one or the relationship we once had.
That’s not what moving on means. Moving on is more about learning to live what I call a both/and life rather than an either/or life. It’s not about grieving or forgetting, happy or sad, black or white. It’s shades of gray.
It’s about learning to live a full and happy life even as you miss and long for what you have lost. It’s about remembering and honoring the one you loved while also embracing the beauty and fullness of the life you still get to live. It’s about the brilliance of your love and the shadow of your loss coexisting in this complex and expansive experience we call living.
3. Moving on doesn’t mean the end of grief, either
Moving on from grief doesn’t mean a static end. It doesn’t mean suddenly we’re done grieving and will never hurt again. Moving on is more about moving forward than being done.
Grief and loss are complex, multifaceted, and multilayered. Loss and our experience of grief are integrated into our lives, not things we get rid of. Grief changes and morphs over time. We get stronger as we carry it, the edges of it round and dull, and with time it begins to take up less space in our lives. It doesn’t simply disappear. Grief can (and will) continue to remind us of our loss throughout our lifetimes, in different ways and at different times.
We move forward with life, embracing the fullness of it, even as our loss becomes part of who we now are.
4. Ultimately, you get to define “Moving On” for yourself
People will have all kinds of advice and well-meaning intentions about how you should move on, when you should do it, and what it should look like. They, however, cannot determine that for you.
There are no timelines or rules to the grieving process. You will move through it at your unique pace and not one minute faster. The process of grieving is unique to each of us. No amount of pressure from others can make us move through our process any faster, not in any kind of healthy way.
Only you can know when you are ready to move forward after your loss. Only you can decide what it means to let go or accept the loss you experienced. Only you can truly decide what it means to move on and move forward.
Whatever that looks like for you, it is perfect and right. (Quote source here.)
Blessed . . .
Are those who mourn . . .
For they will be comforted . . . .
NOTE: I had a reason for writing this blog post, and you can read it on a blog post I published three days later on my other blog titled, “A Eulogy for Dad.”
YouTube Video: “Talladega” by Eric Church (“Talladega” video makes a visual out of a song that is about a lot more than racing. The clip spans one man’s entire lifetime while he lays in a hospital bed, reminiscing before his death–longer explanation available at this link):