Monday, July 9, 2012

Acceptance a stage of grief

This week will be one month since the passing away of my best friend.  Two days ago I realized, as I lay in bed at night, that it was the first day I went without crying over her loss.  Now, I still thought of her that day, but it would seem that I am finally starting to reach the acceptance stage of the grief process.  I managed to escape the anger phase, which is certainly good.  I realize that there will be times when I will think of her and still tear up, once again realizing how much I miss her and how important she was in my life.  But life does go on.  Immediately after hearing of her passing, I was not open to hearing these sorts of words of wisdom.  It struck me as most insensitive when someone told me "that's life".  Obviously, but how is that comment helpful to a grieving person?  Still, I am now able to hear such a comment and agree with it.  The timing and circumstances came as a surprise, but certainly we are all headed to the same destination - eternal life.

Rachel's beautiful final resting place

So while I do feel a tiny bit of guilt over the idea of my moving on, I know that Rachel, in all her wisdom, would support my desire to do so.  Therefore, I am now able to reflect on a couple of other observations I made regarding the way people grieve.

In Poland, it is customary to wear all black while "in mourning".  I'm not up to date on all the details, but I know that widows traditionally mourn their husbands for a full year.  Frankly, I've never seen a man in mourning according to this tradition, but that's not where I want to go with this.  The first time I experienced this tradition first-hand was when my maternal great-grandmother passed away after an extended illness at the age of 85.  I had recently graduated high school and was spending 5 months in Poland with her and her daughter/my grandmother.  The day after she passed away, I began wearing the traditional all black.  My grandmother didn't think it was necessary.  She thought this was only necessary for spouses and parents.  Still, it felt right for me to take part in this tradition.  I wanted to express my grief outwardly.  Yet, since there was no specific time frame laid out for grieving one's great-grandmother, a little over a month afterwards, when I turned 18, I decided to officially end my mourning period by dressing in colorful clothes and going out dancing with my cousin.  (Oh yeah, one also doesn't attend any festivities of a happy occasion during mourning, except maybe once-in-a-lifetime celebrations like marriage, baptism, etc.)  By having allowed myself that time when I wore black and actively mourned her loss, I think I was able to have a healthy experience and be able to move past it.

On September 11, 2001, even though I didn't lose anyone close to me, I felt a tremendous weight of grief over my adopted homeland, and my reaction was to start wearing black.  I did this for only a few days before the call from the president came for Americans to wear red, white, and blue as a sign of patriotism, unity, and resiliance.  It was a strange idea for me at the time, but I obliged, realizing then that the customs of mourning differed by culture.

When Rachel died, I started wearing black.  I wasn't sure how long I'd wear black for, but it felt right to do so.  I was in mourning, and I needed a visible way to express this.  But then her widower requested that everyone wear blue - her favorite color - to her funeral in her honor.  Again, I was a little surprised, but having had the 9/11 experience, it didn't take me long to know I'd have to honor this request.  Interestingly, her mother wore black nonentheless, but she did comment with apparent appreciation on my wearing blue "for Rachel".  If I didn't wear black to the funeral, I had no reason to wear it afterwards either.  So these past few weeks I've been wearing regular clothing but still mourning on the inside.  Now I finally feel as though my inside is catching up with my outside.

The second observation I'd like to make is a bit shorter and to the point.  People seem to have come out of the woodworks to give their condolences and share stories of Rachel.  Yet I think it is clear that no matter how many wonderful things you have to say about a person after they pass away, none of it really matters or is sincere if you weren't there for the person when they were alive.  The only exception I can think of is for famous people who may have very well touched the lives of people who had no way of sharing their gratitude while they were alive.

Finally, everyone processes grief differently.  I shouldn't have to wear my heart on my sleeve in order to prove that I loved my best friend and that I miss her. Likewise, I shouldn't be accused of not having been a very good friend to her because I am finding a way to move on.  After all, no matter how close we are to the person who leaves this world, we should be even closer to the One who made us and who awaits our turn with open arms.  This is the reason we go on.  No single human being should be the center of our lives.  The center of our lives should always be God, and if He is, then He will help us get through our grief and on to the next phase of our life.

Phillipians 4:13

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

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