No One Brought Me a Casserole: The Secret Grief
I remember coming home from the hospital after our son’s craniotomy. We were definitely working through a traumatic time in our life. I’ll never forget the incredible outpouring of love from all over the nation during this time. Family, friends, friends of friends, strangers, churches, hundreds and hundreds of people lifting us up in prayer. We felt the very tangible support through it all. Cards and gifts poured in for weeks to months after. Everything from money to ice-cream sundaes. And the food, endless and soothing to the soul. All these things, the visits, the calls, the encouraging words and prayers, they held us up.
We are made for relationships and community.
Even when life is going along wonderfully, we find ourselves drawn to others who lift us up, make us smile, and bring us a sense of unity. We have all known grief to some extent, and most of us have experienced the amazing support that comes during those times.
But what about the grief that goes unnoticed?
There are some life events that cause indescribable pain, yet, due to either stigma or shame, there is no community support, no cards, and no casserole...
Coming home after burying a family member who overdosed on pills.
Finding out your spouse has been watching porn or has had an affair.
Getting a call from the police that a loved one is in jail.
Calling in to work because of the bruise on your face left by your spouse.
Coming home to an empty house because you’re drinking drove your family away.
Recovering at home alone after an abortion.
Leaving the funeral of a family member who committed suicide.
Daily struggling just to get out of bed because of depression.
These are just a few examples of heartaches that aren’t talked about openly. Because of this secrecy, the grieving process can turn into complicated bereavement if not attended to. There are added feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, defensiveness, anxiety, and unanswered questions. The extremely uncomfortable opinions and judgments of others, often subtle, unspoken, and implied, can become the enormous elephant in the room. Suicide, abortion, addictions, overdose, divorce, sex addiction, self-harm, obesity, incarceration, and mental illness are all examples of stigmas in our society. Grief and suffering are hard enough without the attached judgments and perceptions of others.
Making meaning of it all
There’s this thing called “existential crisis”, fancy term for how on earth do I make sense of my world now? A crisis can make you question the very foundation of your life. Before this happened, you had plenty of answers to questions about life and understood the world around you. You knew where your place and purpose were in the world. Life was mostly predictable and fair. Now, you question nearly everything including the very existence or goodness of God.
Trying to find meaning for something that is almost impossible to comprehend is courageous and healing.
All of these things are normal. As humans we have an innate desire to make meaning out of everything. We seek logical reasoning because it brings a sense of safety to an unsure world. Great time and energy are often focused on trying to make sense of a secret loss to decrease feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. Trying to find meaning for something that is almost impossible to comprehend is courageous and healing; however, challenging. You may not fully understand the reasoning behind the loss, but you can become more tolerant of the ambiguity behind it, which will help in your healing process.
Helping the bereaved
What would happen if we gathered around everyone who grieved, no matter the reason? What would happen if we loved them without question? What would happen if we brought them a meal, even stayed to eat it with them?
I believe there are a great many that want to come alongside their grieving family or friend but just don’t know how. I encourage you not to shy away from your loved one. You may think they need space; they will have plenty of space, so your faithful presence in their life will be welcomed. Just being with them, watching TV, taking a walk, playing cards, texts throughout the day. When asked “how can I help you?” most of us respond with something to the effect of, “just pray”. Most people won’t tell you what they need so you will have to take a step toward them and put your compassion into action.
Everyone grieves differently and there is no time-limit on grief; however, if your symptoms of grief continue to impair your function at home, work, and/or school after several months of the loss then you could be experiencing complicated grief. If you are having continued sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, exaggerated startle behavior, phobic anxiety, intense shame, rage, horror, fear, isolation, numbness, meaninglessness, avoidance of reminders and even thoughts of self-harm, please reach out.
If you are feeling shame, guilt, or embarrassment from a loss that is stigmatized and surrounded by secrecy, know that there is no situation and no person too far gone that can’t be restored.
No matter the circumstances surrounding your grief, I would be honored to sit with you in your time of distress and, together, work toward healing. Call 601-517-7854 to schedule an appointment with me.