Note: My husband, John, died almost 8 years ago. I wrote this blog about a year after his passing. As I thought about what to share today, this piece resonated with me. I no longer experience intense eruptions of grief, but I do have moments of sadness. Reading this post again, reminded me of how far I’ve come. Perhaps my words will give someone else hope as they navigate grief.
During the months following John’s death, I took pride in the fact that I was not as distraught as those I read about in various articles or grief blogs. I was emotional, but I was not falling apart. I was tired, but I never felt like I could not get out of bed. I cried, but I never felt so sad I could not speak without crying. I successfully hid the intense emotion. In my mind, I was an expert on grief. I pushed through the hurt. I even taught a class on grief and loss. I convinced myself that I was not an emotional train wreck.
Grief erupts: When a volcano of despair blindsides you
The truth is for 8 months I pushed down every intense emotion that tried to bubble out of my soul by using old habits of coping. I found comfort in food. Food kept the intense sorrow locked inside. I ate when I was alone or when I was sad. Eventually, the volcano of despair could no longer be contained and grief erupted! I woke up as tired as when I went to bed. My body ached in places that had not ached for months. I struggled to get out of bed each day. My tears flowed like lava that cannot be contained.
“I have cried more and more intensely than I have in years. I have realized that the deep sorrow of grief will not be pushed away forever. Oh I tried by letting it bubble out for brief moments thinking, “I can do this.” Short blasts of tears predict the eruption to come. Body tremors warn of the pain within. Fatigue warns that all is not well in the soul. Then the deep sorrow and anguish of grief erupts. The eruption will not stop until the depth of pain is released. The violent eruption exhausts my being. I grasp for something familiar to hold to. I cry, sob and my body trembles until I can cry no more. Then there is calm, but the sadness remains because the reality of the loss is now undeniable. The volcano is quiet for now, but I fear the rumbling within.”
Like a city in the path of the hot, volcanic river of fire, I could not ignore the pain. I was forced to face it. I was forced to accept it. I had no choice. I felt helpless and out of control, which led to anxiety and fear. I tried to manage the eruption without help but soon realized that led to more exhaustion and frustration. I realized my survival depended on yielding to the intensity of emotion. Doing so meant there were tasks I could not perform both personally and at work. I delegated tasks. I rescheduled tasks that could be rescheduled. I accepted that some tasks were left undone. When I needed to cry, I left the office or simply stayed home and worked when I could. Fortunately, my supervisor understood and helped me adjust my schedule to accommodate the onslaught of emotions.
Navigating the eruption
When grief erupts give yourself permission to experience it.
When you fall back into old patterns (and you probably will), have at least one person who will be honest with you. Someone who will point out negative coping. Someone who will direct you to healthy coping to get through the “moment” of stress.
When you begin to feel the exhaustion of grief rest. This may mean taking more breaks during your workday. You may need to take partial or full days off when the eruption is intense. When the exhaustion of grief erupts it invades every fiber of your being. When grief erupts you need to rest.
Find outlets that are healthy and work for you
In order to prevent “capping” the volcano with old behaviors, I wrote my thoughts in my journal. I talked to my counselor. Most importantly I prayed and read my favorite scriptures. I was not perfect in this effort but when I allowed Christ to enter the eruption, my soul was refreshed. My body was renewed. I could face the challenge of a new day.
You are not alone
When grief erupts remember you are not alone. You do not have to “fix this”. Remember Christ’s words, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. I have used that phrase with clients countless times. I sometimes forget the simplicity of this short scripture. Christ provides all we need for every situation, but we have to “come”, “knock”, “seek”, ask” (Matthew 7:7). I have spoken these words countless times to those I counsel, but I felt guilty applying them to myself. Sometimes, when the heat of the eruption was unbearable, the last thing I wanted to hear was a quote from the Bible. However, this was in fact, what I needed to hear. Only when I allowed the words to sink in was I able to receive. I surrendered pride and allowed Him to comfort me instead of turning to food. I surrendered fear of failure and allowed Him hold me as I cried. I surrendered control and allowed Him to guide me (sometimes through others) toward the peace of letting grief erupt. Letting go of the need to be strong and perfect freed me to “hear, ask, seek and receive” the peace Christ longs to give me. A peace that no bad habit can provide.
How are you manage the eruption of grief? What brings comfort to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.