Will I Be Sad Forever?
“Mommy? How is Lexie going to get this picture I colored for her? I made it just for her and now she’s not going to see it!” My four year old Christian began to sob with big tears streaming down his sweet face and I was beginning to panic. I looked sadly at his little blond curls and big blue eyes and hurt with him about the loss of his sister Lexie. If I start crying with him I won’t be any help. What should I do? I suddenly had a brilliant idea, straight from heaven.
“What if we take your picture, tie it to a balloon and send it up to heaven so Lexie can see it?” He loved it, and was suddenly happy and full of life again and I was in a puddle. I missed her too and wondered how we would all survive after her death. It took me a few weeks to go and get those balloons (Christian did not let me forget). We tied the card to the balloons and sent them up and prayed for Lexie to get them.
Suddenly we saw a jet stream in the sky and Christian screamed excitedly, “Here comes Lexie to get her card!” The moment was preserved in our minds forever. He was delighted and I felt like I had helped him process his sadness and bring him joy. Mission accomplished.
How Do I Deal With This Sadness?
Will I ever get past this heaviness? Now that’s a question I used to ask a lot. How long does it take to grieve? Should I be back to normal in a few weeks? A few months? Or is a year normal? Do I ever get over this sadness? Will I be like this forever?
Seeing as how that was such an important question years ago, I thought it might be good to take it out and look at it again. Never having been through death before, I thought it was something so hard you could barely live, and then you just got back to life eventually. So when I seemed to be in pain for so long, when I kept crying for months, I thought something was wrong with me. I just want to comfort those of you who are wondering “Is it normal to be this sad for this long? If I’m not sad, does that mean that I’ve forgotten them and don’t care?” Both of those thoughts are normal and you’re going to be ok.
I thought since it was Christmas time and we had just talked about grief, it might be good to go a little further and share some things that our family found helpful in the days and years after losing a loved one.
What can we do to work through the pain we are feeling? Here’s some ideas to help you think about this, but the main goal is to just pick one thing, and maybe spend 15 minutes trying to get a few words on a piece of paper, or going for a short walk in the neighborhood. Just focus on today.
Write a letter to your loved one.
My husband did not have a bunch of friends to process his sadness with like I did, or counseling sessions. He just got on with life until one day he ended up needing anxiety medication. His blood pressure was up and the doctor felt this was the cause for the high blood pressure he was experiencing. We agreed to the medication, as long as he got someone to help him process his feelings. One of the things this wonderful counselor did was to tell Mike to write a letter to Lexie about how he felt. When he got done reading the letter to us, we sat in stunned silence of how tender and poignant the letter was. It gave Mike a deep satisfaction that he was able to be in touch with his emotions and that he was able to say those things out loud that he had kept inside for so long.
Write down all the things you loved about that person.
- I like to write to Lexie on her birthday. At first it was really sad, but now it’s a time of thankfulness
- Tell them how much you miss them.
- Tell them how much you are grateful they were in your life
- Tell them the changes that have happened for good in your life
Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re pretty angry with God for the loss of our loved one. We weren’t ready or we believed they would be healed, or we thought we were following Jesus, and this wasn’t in the plan. Our counselor (same one) suggested Mike write a letter to God, starting with the last time he was happy up to now and to not edit it. Don’t try to make it “appropriate” on how we’re supposed to talk to God. If we’re mad, let Him know. He can handle it.
- Write questions to Him that you have
- Write about how hard things have been for you
- See if you can write down some good things that have happened after walking through this difficult trial
- If you’re mad at the person who died, you can tell God that too, or write a letter to that person and tell them
That’s where I spent a lot of my time. I went for a walk almost every day, even in the rain! And poured out my heart to God. Sometimes I was really mad at Him, and told Him so, and He’d always answer me in things that lined up with scripture. Some times they were funny, but other times it was very sober and tender. My favorite time was right at sunrise. I have to admit there is something surreal about being in the breathtaking colors and the quiet of the dawn that is like no other. When we would visit in California, that was the first thing I would do. Race down to the beach and talk to God and many times cry. Once in a while I would see dolphins jumping alongside of me down the beach. When I’d get home, I usually had some answers to my questions of the day and felt so much at peace. So glad I went on those journeys.
Just wanted to tell you that from my experience, the answer to my first question is “No, you won’t be sad forever”. To keep processing. When you get stuck, find someone to help walk you through the next season of questions you might have. Don’t isolate. Always good to have another person help you go through the thoughts you’re having. Focus on the family you have around you. Give it your best effort every day.
Many people wonder, “Will I ever be ‘done’ with grieving?” A famous psychotherapist said it best when writing to a dear friend whose son had recently died:“We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else.”During grief work, people are encouraged to focus on the following 4 tasks of mourning. These tasks represent moments of realization that must be completed before the task of mourning is finished
Tasks 1: Accept the reality of the loss
Some people refuse to believe that the death happened, and become stuck in denial. Denial can vary from a slight distortion (maybe someday he/she will come back) to a full-blown delusion (hallucinating and talking to your loved one even though they are not there, refusing to call someone to come pick up the body, etc.) Another way to avoid accepting the reality of the loss is to minimize it. (He wasn’t a good husband anyway/she wasn’t really a close friend/it’s not like I had that much time together with him)
Task 2: Work through the pain of the grief
It is impossible to lose a loved one without experiencing pain. People try to short circuit this pain by numbing their feelings, minimizing their feelings, or claiming to “have peace” about the death, even though the likelihood is that they are in a state of shock, not a state of peace. Some people do not give themselves permission to grieve, and say things like “I should just get over it,” “he wouldn’t want me to be said,” or “Life goes on.” While all these things may be true, nevertheless, pain is necessary to embrace and move through.
Task 3: Adjust to an environment in which the loved one is missing
There are external adjustments, which is how the death affect’s one’s everyday functioning, internal adjustments, which is how the death affects one’s sense of self, and spiritual adjustments, which is how the death affects one’s beliefs, values, and assumptions about the world and about God.
Task 4: Emotionally relocate your loved one and move forward with life
This task is not to forget or “give up” the memory of the person, but to find a way to remember and honor them while at the same time having energy to invest in other areas of life. This task is “accomplished” when the mourner can find an appropriate place for the dead in their emotional life that will enable them to go on living effectively and with joy in the world.
Most people need support at these times of crisis. Don’t isolate yourself. Here’s some ways to get connected.