On October 1st, 2015, ten young and beautiful lives walked into Oregon’s Umpqua Community College and never walked out. Ten lives, including the shooter, which had boundless potential for either great good or great destruction. It is easy to get mixed up in the flurry of opinions around the tragedy, yet we must recognize that the most important and heart breaking word of the previous sentence is the word “had”. The anger and pain of injustice scream within us because of the countless things lost in the blink of an eye. It is from this foundation that we form our reactions and choose to join with the suffering through empathy, lash out at the shooter (and his gun) in fury, try to ignore or burry our feelings about it, or some mixed drink of the three.
If the Oregon shooting was the only traumatic tragedy we were likely to face in our life time, the pain would still be enormously difficult to work through, but my guess is that most of us could manage it and move forward with our lives in confidence. The problem is that life has already taught us to ask a very important question in times like this: “What’s next?” The reality is that when grief strikes us, we can’t be sure that we have the time or skill to deal with the first major loss before the next one comes.
Fear is our arch-enemy here, and not much else, because it is the foundation of virtually all our other thoughts regarding grief. Questions like, “Where will the next shooting happen?” and “What are we going to do about guns?” or, in a broader sense, “Will I ever be able to get over this?” and “When is my next strike from grief going to happen?” are all valid and all based in fear. Knowing this, we eventually come to find that the pain from loss, as profoundly difficult as that is, does not shake us to the core as much as the question of “Can I handle this?” That is what makes those who have grieved bitterly, yet successfully came out the other side stronger, so calm in moments where our nation or our lives are suddenly thrown into mourning. This blog post seeks to teach you how to grieve so that you might find peace and confidence along that bitter road.
- Ignore the Order. Grief, like human beings, doesn’t exist in straight lines. Humans are dynamic, complex, and highly influenced by both internal and external changes that come our way. The same goes for grief. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ 5 Stages of Griefhold great wisdom, but people don’t step neatly from denial to anger to bargaining and so on, they jump around and that is okay! This principle includes any order you might get from this blog post as well – grieve how you need to grieve. Allow for your own path and your own time frame (because other people don’t get to decide how long you grieve).
- Accept and Channel the Energy. Too often, grief is seen as a bad thing because of what it seems to make people do, the pain it causes, and how people “do it wrong” according to others. Reality, conversely, shows us that grief is absolutely vital because otherwise the pain gets stuck inside and eventually turns rancid. Rather than fight it, we need to accept the pain, hurt, and anger and then begin to channel that energy into something useful. Examples of this would be journaling out your feelings, visiting with family and friends more often, picking up some form of art (painting, pottery, music, etc.), or building something – like a work desk, dog house, or tool shed.
- Get Connected. Many of us already know that the easiest way for a lion to take down a gazelle on the savanna is to get the gazelle separated from the pack. The same is true with grief. Our natural impulse is to suck into ourselves, disappear, or put up invisible walls – this is perfectly logical because we were just wounded and instinct tells us to close up and protect ourselves. Let me be clear – some of this happening in your life is perfectly healthy, but we usually need to step out and connect with other people before we feel ready to do so. Again, family and friends become vital for us. Other tools are things like “GriefShare” or seeing a counselor because they help remind us that we are not weak or crazy for feeling this way. Instead they give us wisdom on how this pain can make us better, not worse.
- Self-Care, Self-Care, Self-Care. Ever feel the weight of depression keeping you from taking care of yourself? Ever think, “How dare I do something fun for myself while so many people are weeping”? The barriers to self-care during this time are real and tough, but we must put our utmost into increasing our self-care anyway. Grief rightly cuts our heart open so that the poison of pain can get out, but if we don’t actively replenish our life, energy, and value, we will eventually “bleed out” before the body or mind naturally heals itself.
- Trust the Process. The human psyche has proven to us time and time again that it was designed to naturally heal a wound, just like the body. Some wounds don’t require any intervention, but rather need to heal naturally. Other wounds call for knowledgeable and skilled persons to step in and help us where we cannot help ourselves. In either situation, our mind/body/soul connection is hard wired to help us through the process. At the end of the day, if you can say “I did the best I know how” and “I actively searched for wisdom about this”, you then have all the permission in the world to simply trust the process.
Let these guides, along with the other wisdom you find along the way, grow you into someone who can look the mystery of the future in the eye and still believe in your ability to meet, survive, and overcome any challenge that awaits you.
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