Ponder the word “next.” A curious little word, it is. As much as we may overlook it and take it for granted even, where would we be without it? “Next” means that something has already taken place and is yet to come. It is a most useful word.
Context gives “next” meaning and the forward direction to be taken. “Next” while you’re in line at the store will mean something entirely different from the “next” you ask yourself when you’re following a recipe in preparing a meal or waiting in a doctor’s office. Asking what entertaining activity will be done next is a far cry from asking what comes next when trying to figure out a complicated algebraic problem. (Well, it is for some of us!) “Next” can be that which you welcome with open arms, that which makes you want to stick your head in the sand, or that which leaves you spinning in circles.
“Next” is an essential word in our grief journey. We may not actually say the word at first, but it’s there. The loss of a loved one is difficult and unsettling. When the death of our loved one occurs, we may ask, “what do I need to do now?” or “how will I get along without them?” or “what will I do with their stuff?” Multiple questions come to mind at each step in our grief journey and are asked in various ways, but they all come down to “What’s next?” And that’s the difficult part. We never want to have to face that, do we?
In her book, The Nature of the Beast, Louise Penny writes on page 165, “Clara had put the shepherd’s pie and apple crisp in the fridge. They’d been her own comfort food after Peter had gone. She’d followed the casseroles back to sanity. Thanks to the kindness of neighbors who kept baking them, and kept bringing them. And who’d kept her company. And now it was Clara’s turn to return the comfort and the casseroles and the company.”
When I read that passage, I understand “what’s next?” in a practical way, in the way life is lived. And that’s the whole point of “what’s next?” in grief…the way life will be lived without our loved one. Of course, we must give “what’s next?” a thought or two as we wrestle with what that means for each of us. But “next” doesn’t stop with a thought.
Maybe you can identify with Clara in her grief and even find room for a smile when you consider the casseroles coming in after such a loss and understand that that’s what we do because we don’t know what to do! But casseroles (and other foods!) provide a tangible way to show caring and support; whether we realize it or not at the time, that’s what we all need. Casseroles bring us comfort and company, but it doesn’t stop there. What’s next?
For Clara, she realized the difference the casseroles and the comfort the company had made for her. She wanted to pass it along to others who had encountered loss in their lives. Connecting with others who were also experiencing loss became Clara’s “what’s next?”
The grief journey can be a very lonely journey because no one experiences grief the way you do, and no one ever will. Your experience is unique. But there is a connection with others for that very reason! It’s in our uniqueness that we discover what we have in common!
In grief, “what’s next” involves courage, risk, soul-searching, creativity, and re-creating, and that’s just the beginning of that list! It involves moving out of the comfort zone of what was to discover the endless possibilities of what’s ahead. Each of us has to figure out “what’s next?” for us in our grief journey. Be careful! Just when you think you’ve figured it out, there’s another “what’s next?” around the corner!
Here at Hospice and Community Care, we care about you and how your grief journey unfolds. We understand that “what’s next?” is never easy but always worth it. If we may provide a listening ear, a companion for your journey, or a casserole, please give us a call. Please note that we are much better in the listening ear and companionship areas than in casseroles!
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.