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What I’m learning about grief

My grief counsellor showed me this diagram:

It’s about ‘grief work’, which is a combination of doing two things: feeling the loss, and working out how you will go on. Healthy grief work is like a pendulum. You swing between the two, and the swings are big at first and as you do it more and more the swings get less extreme until there’s a bit more stability there.

You need to do both, but the thing is, most people get stuck in one or the other, either they feel the loss so heavily they can’t move on, or they are so busy moving on they don’t give attention to the feelings of loss.

This immediately made sense to me, and I could see how I am ‘stuck’ in the restoration-oriented extreme. I’ve been in survival mode since Red Twin died, and maybe before that too. I’ve been living cross-culturally, receiving care cross-culturally, doing a stack of solo parenting, finding and moving house, establishing us in a new neighbourhood, and getting Elliot going at a new school while navigating his high emotional needs. All with virtually non-existent local support, though there’s lots of love coming to us remotely from Australia. So, as my counsellor said to me, it’s appropriate that I spend 90% of my time in the restoration sphere!

But now that things have settled down a bit and finally there’s a chance for me to swing over to the loss side, I’ve found myself reluctant to face that aspect of grief work.

Grief has been this burden I have carried around with me. It has made me slower, less creative, my brain fuzzier, my temper shorter, my Swahili and my English less fluent. And it has made me so so tired.

So I asked my counsellor, will a swing over to the loss side decrease the everyday exhaustion? Because I feel like maybe I’m too tired to make the big emotional push to go over to the loss side. I’m pretty good at keeping on keeping on, even with this bundle weighing me down. I still get dinner on the table. I still smile at school when I talk to the other mums. But I don’t feel like I have the emotional energy to do those things AND do the grief work on the loss side.

Apparently this is a pretty normal thing for people in the restoration sphere. They feel like things might be less than good, but they’re basically OK, so why open up and face those painful feelings?

But the counsellor had this insight for me. She said that part of my exhaustion is the effort it takes to suppress those emotions. The bundle of grief will always be there; loss doesn’t go away. But it takes a lot of energy to NOT spend time in it. I’ve been using up my energy not only carrying the bundle, but also ignoring it!

I had been thinking that going over to the loss side would drain me further, but she reframed it as more like a release of tension that would help me have the strength to carry the bundle. I’ve been wondering if maybe it’s like sore muscles? I get really tight calves. It’s often a bit painful to stretch them out, but once the tension is gone I do a lot less limping! Maybe the analogy isn’t quite right, but I’ve learned not only that I have to do both sides of the grief work, but that I don’t need to be afraid of one side or the other.

In my experience, therapy is so worth doing. There’s stuff you can get from looking at a book or diagram about grief, and then there’s stuff you need the grief specialist to talk you through. There are no superheroes. We all need help sometimes.

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

1 reply

  1. Hey Tamie

    I just attended a two day ‘Grief and Loss’ PD for my chaplaincy job and came across that diagram. It seems quite helpful. Your reflections on the source of your tiredness also struck a chord. I sometimes literally find it harder to walk up steps when I am grieving. All the emotional and intellectual processing manifests as physical exhaustion. I acknowledge the source of my tiredness and give myself extra rest. I occasionally self medicate with chocolate [much needed endorphins].

    It also reminds me that we constantly live in the balancing act/tension of the now AND not yet as the people of God in Christ. I find myself doing grief work at times — responding to and focusing on the loss that sin and death and decay cause. It’s a reality for now. It sucks. I hate it. I get so tired and I just want it to all go away – Come Lord Jesus. But on the other hand God calls me to live in step with the Spirit, in the same way Jesus did [and does]. There is a restoration focus and a new identity to learn to live from. I know that God is very present in both spheres of focus. God is grieved at the consequences of evil, including death, sickness etc. AND He is also actively planning and enacting our transformation into the likeness of the righteous Son. I am very glad that He never leaves me nor forsakes me and that He will complete the work he has begun [omega and alpha] .. It helps to know that He is always present whether I am currently so much more aware of the darkness and grieving the consequences of evil, the state of the world. or whether I am focusing on the work of faith and believing in the One who alone can ransom, redeem and renew.

    I pray that you will know the presence of the Spirit of Christ in all your life: in lament, in grief and mourning and in seeking, reaching out to the Love of your life and learning to walk by faith and see things from his perspective – whether they be one of grieving or joy.

    Much love,
    Sandy

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