The Work of Grief

Young man sitting in a cafe and writing in a notebook.

I could tell it was a book the moment I held the wrapped gift in my hand. My niece watched as I opened her gift, carefully gauging my reaction. The book, One Question a Day, is a five-year journal asking a different question each day with space to record answers. I was delighted with the book, but my niece’s explanation for the gift caught me a bit off guard. She said she had given me the book because she would be going through my things one day and thought it would be a fun read! As much as I was caught off guard, I knew she meant no harm, and we had a good laugh. I assured her that I appreciated the book and would do my best to answer the question each evening over the next five years and make it as entertaining as I honestly could.

As I think back over that incident in receiving my book, I am aware of how my niece hit the nail on the head! She helped me realize in her comment about “going through my things” that losing a loved one brings about a lot of work in our grief. The work of grief involves both a physical and nonphysical aspect. Grief requires that we expend energy whether we like it or not and whether we feel like we have it.

Grief is an invitation, an opportunity to become healthy by dealing with a loss. No one ever “gets over” their grief, and why would one want to? Every day we experience varying degrees of loss which affect our daily lives in many ways. Sometimes the grief over our lesser losses will go practically unnoticed; at other times, when the loss is a more significant one, the grief may shake us to our core and seem insurmountable. No matter how you define your grief, you will have work to do simply because you’re experiencing it. Be aware that each person’s grief is a natural, individual healing process, and the work needing to be done for one person will surely not be the same as the work needing to be done for another.

Let’s take a moment for a closer look at the work of grief. I think of it as a check-off list and a gotcha list. The check-off list is the physical aspect of grief. Get probate started. Check. Meet with the lawyer about the will. Check. Contact the bank and creditors. Check. Take care of the house or apartment left behind, which includes disbursing clothing and items, cleaning, etc. Check. Not that this is an exhaustive list or even the things on your list, but the physical aspect of grief involves the things we have to go and physically take care of.

The physical aspect of grief results in our being pooped at the end of the day, but there is also the realization of having accomplished those things you have checked off of your list and feeling good about that. When everything is checked off of the list, you’re done. Other things may appear that will need your physical attention later, but not those. Those things have been checked off, and you can move on.

The gotcha list is the nonphysical list. This list deals with grief’s mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. This list requires just as much, if not more, energy as the physical list. This list will include confusion, emptiness, sadness, fatigue, withdrawal, inability to focus, crying, anger, denial, guilt, questioning, and even behaving in ways you never expected. The gotcha list has a never-ending number of feelings that may change quickly and leave you wondering who you are at any moment, as well as about relationships with others and even with God. Just when you think you’ve got it under control, the gotcha list kicks in, and there you go again. While the checklist will have an ending to the things which need to be accomplished, the gotcha list doesn’t give us that luxury. The gotcha list is never ending and will be with you for the rest of your life. But that’s also the beauty of it!

The gotcha list is the heart of the invitation and the opportunity to become healthy in dealing with our loss. Even when we think we have our feelings under control when dealing with our loss, we hear that song, smell that smell, or read that poem, and it takes us right back to the sting of our loss. Gotcha! But that’s ok. As you continue to move through your grief over time, things on your gotcha list will take on a different way of impacting your life, a more manageable way of dealing with the feelings, when you become better able to put them in perspective.

Grief is the journey that keeps us searching for ways to celebrate our loss rather than be paralyzed by it. It’s having the courage to face our grief head-on, pain and all, and see the hope for our life to have new meaning because of the relationship with the one we’ve lost. It’s never about abandoning the one we’ve lost, but about living in gratitude for what we had and in hope for what’s ahead. It takes work, for sure, but handling it in a healthier way makes all the difference in living.

Here at Hospice and Community Care, we understand the work which grief demands and how difficult it can be. We are here to support you and hope you will let us know we can join you in your journey. We all have stories to tell and can learn from one another! Please know that if you don’t need us now, you are welcome to call us at any point down the road.

Lee Ann Livingston
Spiritual Care Provider

The Hospice & Community Care team has a number of resources available for helping families walk through grief and loss.
Learn more about the support and services available to you.

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