We have a tradition with all our “Monsters” that on their birthday they can choose what type of cake they want. We have had some interesting cakes over the years. Chocolate cake, vanilla cake, Jello, (BTW this one was REALLY hard to get the candles to stand up in!) dirt cake, cookie cake, artfully arranged donuts, carrot cake and the list goes on. Never once in all these years did we say to the kids, “No, you can’t have donuts. Normal folks don’t ask for donuts for a birthday cake.” Well, maybe we did say that, but we still laughed and enjoyed the variety and allowed Smelly Monster #1 to be authentic and unique.
A friend of mine loves surprise birthday parties and has us plan one for her every year! LOL! Larry would rather eat his shoe than be the center of attention and wants to have a quiet dinner at home for his birthday. Why is it that we embrace differences in the way people want to celebrate but we want to give folks who are grieving a template on how they have to behave? Grieving is VERY personal. Some people need space while others need to feel connected. Some people still cry every time the loved one is mentioned even after many years and others can laugh and remember fun times. Sometimes some of us crazy folks even laugh and cry at the same time! None of this is wrong and none of this is right for everyone.
God wants you to have the space to grieve and feel the loss but there are a few things that WILL steal your joy and keep you from thriving for God’s glory:
- Focusing on your loss rather than your loved one. This may seem too subtle to point out but believe me it changes everything! When I stopped saying how sad and unfair it was for me and the boys to be alone and shifted to how blessed we were to have had such a godly husband and dad it changed my perspective. It didn’t change the situation but it did change how I looked at things. It freed me up to enjoy our memories.
- Allowing bitterness to take root. During an interview with a radio station they asked me how I avoided bitterness. I shocked them by saying I wasn’t able to avoid bitterness. (Funny how long it takes an interviewer to recover when you don’t answer the way they were expecting!) I shared that I wake up every morning with bitterness trying to gain space in my heart and have to make a choice… daily and sometimes hourly… to choose thankfulness over bitterness. Eph. 4:30-32
- Expecting people to understand. Cliff’s Aunt Cathy explained to me that people don’t understand. They have not experienced your same loss or pain. They are doing their best. You don’t really want them to understand because then they would have the overwhelming pain you are feeling. Turn to God for understanding. He has felt the pain and loss and knows just what you need. If you expect your family and friends to fill your needs, you will be disappointed. God wants you to turn to Him! 2 Corinthians 1:3
Grieving is a personal process that doesn’t have a shortcut. There are no magic verses that take the pain away but it is comforting to know that God is walking the path of grief with us and wants to hold our hand.
I have found that intentionally remembering Cliff’s birthday rather than the day he died gives our family comfort. We choose a project every year to celebrate Cliff’s life and his impact on us and others. One year our project was helping widows; another year it was creating personal memory books with pictures of Cliff and that family member together. What types of things have you found help you through your grieving process? Post some ideas below in the comments and help others learn to thrive not just survive!
Podcast coming on Saturday morning answering questions sent in by listeners and readers about grief. Don’t miss it!
Still Choosing Faith Podcast 002: Authentic Answers about Grief from a Pastor’s Wife