Note: Column first published Oct. 3, 2006.
What do you say to someone who has just lost the love of her life? How can you offer hope when all she sees is despair?
I often hear from readers who are grieving the loss of a loved one. They write to me about their loss, as I’ve often written about mine in this column in the eight years since my first husband died of cancer.
To hear their stories and share in their grief is an honor and a gift. I’ve had thousands of such letters over the years and have tried, with limited success, to answer as best I can.
Some things don’t get easier with practice. Loss still hurts, no matter how many times we suffer it. And finding the right words to offer comfort is never easy. I’d rather send a casserole than write a note, but I’m not great at casseroles either.
What I have learned is this: If we use our loss to help others, it can turn tragedy into gain.
So we try. I recently heard from a woman who had lost her husband of 34 years and wanted to know how I “got through it”? Here, more or less, is the reply:
I am sorry for your loss. I can't imagine how you must feel. Every loss is different — as unique as the one who suffers it. I can't tell you what to do or how to heal. You’ll decide that for yourself. You’re the only one who can. But I’ll tell you a few things that helped me, and hope they’re of use to you, too.
First, let me say this: You are stronger than you know. You have all the strength you need. It’s in yourself, your family, your friends and your God. It's like the air around you; you aren’t aware of it until you need it. Just remember to "breathe."
Second, as Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, "To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven." This is your season to grieve. Allow yourself to be there. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like laughing, laugh. If you feel like screaming, put your face in a pillow (so the neighbors won’t call 911) and scream away. Do what feels right to you.
My sister hates winter. She'd much rather lie on a beach in a bikini than bundle up in a parka in the snow. But in winter, she doesn’t try to tell herself she’s got no right to feel cold. It’s natural to feel cold in winter, just as it is to feel sad in grief. Do as my sister does — bundle up and pray hard for spring.
How long will you have to wait for the "spring thaw"? I can’t answer that. It takes as long as it takes. Pay attention to your heart and trust it to lead you. It's a good heart. It’s broken, but it will mend.
Of all the advice I heard after my husband died, two things in particular made sense to me.
The first was from a reader who told me to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom to make it look different — to make it my own. I did and it helped.
(Note: Moving furniture is like prayer; good for the soul but hard on the knees. Trust me. Do not try to move a king-sized bed and a double dresser alone.)
The other advice came from a friend: "The challenge for you now,” he wrote, “having lost your loved one, is to live a life that is honoring to his memory, while at the same time that life moves forward, so that only one person has died and not two."
It is a challenge — one of the toughest you'll ever face — to move forward with your life when you still long for the life you had. The reality, of course, is that you can't go back. You can either stay where you are in a season of grief; or step out in faith to honor your husband's memory and choose to be alive for whatever lies ahead.
You’ll make that choice when you're ready. I made that choice many years ago, and I still make it every day.
Here’s wishing you grace and peace.
— Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924, or on her website: sharonrandall.com.