It seems fitting that I am writing about grief on “Overdose Awareness Day.” How else can I honor my brother, Jason Paul Keels, than to write about the gaping hole in my heart?
I still have his phone number- even though it belongs to somebody else now. For 6 months, I would call it so I could hear his voice as he said, “You’ve reached Jason Keels, leave a message.” It was just seven words, but enough for me to remember the gravelly, deep sound of his voice, and remember how our last conversation sounded.
It was Thanksgiving, and while the family ate together, Jason was sleeping off the effects of a drug relapse after a year of being clean.
Around 5:00 pm, he came downstairs for a slice of pie. As he turned to go upstairs, my heart went out to him. I knew he hated the addiction. He hated how it affected his life and the life of his family and friends. I gave him a big hug. My brother gave the best hugs. It was like being surrounded by a big, soft bear.
As we hugged, I said, “I love you J,” to which he replied, “I love you too.” This was our last conversation before he entered eternity that night.
I have noticed that Grief doesn’t run on a timeline. It doesn’t tell you, “Hey, I’m going to pop by for a visit tomorrow morning.”
It shows up unannounced and invades the space in your heart and mind.
At first the stays are long, but then the visits become more spread out, spontaneous, and are surprisingly intense. Sometimes, I slam the door in Grief’s ugly face.
“I don’t have time for this.” “I don’t want to feel this.” “I’m not ready to face this.”
Grief can be quite persistent, because it just knocks louder. I become increasingly agitated and unable to focus, anxiety increases in my mind, and I subconsciously isolate from those that love me. I even isolate from God.
If I’m being honest, I have found myself here often in the last nine months.
Sometimes it feels like we can’t grieve because it’s too painful. Or we shouldn’t grieve because we know that God is in control, or our loved one is in Heaven, or… you can fill in the blank.
Last week on our blog, we talked about various losses and giving yourself permission to grieve. This week my hope is to offer some basic tools to grieve in a healthy way. Keep in mind, this isn’t the “right” way, it is a healthy way.
As humans, it’s natural for people to not want to feel the pain of any loss. Many people grieving different losses can find themselves coping unhealthily with alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, extramarital affairs, social media, and the list goes on. These methods of coping often compound painful circumstances and leave us in worse shape than when we began.
Acknowledge the Feelings
If you find yourself sleeping too little, sleeping too much, avoiding people, avoiding being alone, having a low appetite, binge eating (common at night), being busy, and/or spending an excessive amount of time on devices, it’s time to evaluate ourselves with this question:
What am I feeling and why?
Note: It may be helpful to write your answers out.
Example: “I feel sad, that my brother is not here. I feel regret for not being there for him more. I am angry that he chose to do drugs again! I am hurting for my kids who love and miss their uncle.”
Embrace the Feelings
Sometimes grief comes like a wave. Rather than running away from it, run into it. Allow yourself the space and grace to weep or be angry and then express it in a healthy way. Maybe that means painting, singing, journaling or talking to somebody about the loss. Sometimes you need to let the ugly cry come out for a bit.
If this is difficult for you, set a timer for 5 minutes to think of and feel the loss. This is a good practice if you find yourself easily detaching or distracting yourself from the pain.
Grief is exhausting, so it important to take care of yourself!
- Sleep– When we get the recommended 8-11 hours of sleep every night, our brains get time to heal and to rest. This makes thinking and processing this new life a little bit easier for our minds.
- Exercise- Whether it’s walking to the mailbox or hitting the gym for 20 minutes, science shows that exercising releases endorphins in our brains that can help us adapt to loss.
- Nutrition– Drink lots of water- tears are dehydrators! Back off of caffeine and remember to eat reasonably healthy foods. This supports your shocked immune system and keeps you from potentially getting sick while you grieve.
Be in Community
Even if it feels vulnerable, having a safe place to share your stories and your feelings reinforces the truth that you are loved and that you are not alone. Though people may not fully understand what you are going through, you matter and your loss matters.
Here at Good Shepherd we have a friendly and caring community called GriefShare, which is designed to provide community for those grieving the loss of a loved one. For more information, click here.
Fill Your Soul
As great as tools are, Jesus is Life. Without Him our souls become weary and hopeless. Our souls can be filled when we know what God has said and believe and trust His words.
Psalm 63:1 says,
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
I can’t think of a drier or wearier time than facing loss and grief. Verse 8 continues with,
“My soul clings to you; Your right hand upholds me.”
Peter says to humble ourselves before God and to cast our anxiety on Him, and in due time He will lift us up because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7).
These words can produce tension in us. We wonder, “Will God lift me up out of this pit? Does God care for me?”
This is an opportunity to walk in trust and believe what He says.
Even in pain, I can say, “Yes, I trust that You will lift me up and that you care about me.”
Keep striving to know your God, trusting in Him. Do this through prayer, journaling, reading Scripture, or worship. Whatever your situation, do what you can to meet with Jesus and know Him. When we come to Him- when we cling to Him- He upholds us.
Grieving loss is a long road. I am learning to have extra grace for myself as I walk. It is OK to not do it all.
The reality is that nothing takes away the pain fully. There is no “right way” to grieve, but we can strive to walk this road in health and in the grace God provides; waiting on Him to lift us up.