Difficult to Chew and Hard to Swallow

Sometime ago I was asked to do an article on the topic of healthy grief, my first thought was what a well worn subject. Having spent a lot of time on this subject it has become sort of common place to me and I wondered if there was any thing new that could be said about grief.  I thought about this for a few days and was about to ask for a different topic, but then I opened a cupboard door in my kitchen and came upon a plastic bag of beef jerky.

A few weeks back, my husband and I made a trip to a Samís Club and as usual they had the isles loaded with demonstrators and free samples. At one table there was a lady with latex gloves, shears and beef jerky. Two packages for the price of one, one labeled Original Beef Jerky, and the other labeled Teriyaki Beef. I took a sample and popped it into my mouth, that Teriyaki beef had a very nice flavor but just like the original it was difficult to chew and hard to swallow. I bought some, any way. Of course, you understand, the original and the Teriyaki were both beef jerky, but one had a slightly different taste and sounded better than the other. A marketing tool had been put into play.

As I stood looking at that bag of beef jerky in my cupboard, having nothing more important to think about at the moment, I started to think how I would market this different beef jerky. Perhaps a large label that declared, New and Improved, 98% fat free, thinner, easier to chew, easier to swallow. Maybe I could cut it up in to tiny pieces and advertise No chewing, No taste just swallow. It would still be beef jerky, wouldnít it? Just faster from the lips to the hips.

Then it occurred to me that in this fast food, seven steps to a new life society we live in, people have taken healthy grief and put it in a new package. The label might read, Four keys to pain free grieving. Original recipe altered. New seasoning, less sodium, a spoonful of sugar, with just a pinch of Valium, easy chew, easy swallow, no lingering bitter after taste. Results guaranteed.

But there is a problem. This easy chew, easy swallow is not going to fix everything. Healthy grieving is hard work. Healthy grieving takes time, it is not easy to chew and easy to swallow

In the last fifty years there has been a lot of attention given to what constitutes healthy grieving. Caring and dedicated people have researched, interviewed people and made lists. Good lists that many people in the throes of grief have taken and used as a check list.

With list in hand the person in pain asks themselves, have I felt shock? Yes, check that one off. Have I felt numb? Yes, check that one off. Have I felt denial? Yes, check that one off. How about anger? Yes, check that one off. And so thru the list, to the bottom, everyone checked, so , I must be done. Time now to dust off my hands and get back to work. Business as usual. America is filled with images of tough cowboys and frontier women who did not take time to grieve. We are told, when times get tough, the tough keep going. Get over it, and keep a stiff upper lip, after all it has already been three months. So the person in grief, thinking they have already killed and buried the giant, called grief, feels shock when they round a corner and the giant standing in their path overwhelms them.  The tears flow again.

Grief comes from many kinds of loss. The Doctor leans forward at the desk and says, "Iím sorry, weíve done all we can do." The mate of many years, says, "I donít want to do this anymore." The teacher says, "Your child is not capable of doing grade level work." The employer says, "We no longer need your services." The accountant says, "Your business can not survive." A friend or loved one dies, a pet of many years reaches the end. Life is full of rejection and separation. If we are to survive, and live a life that is worth living we need to learn about healthy grief.

Healthy grief, like beef jerky is difficult to chew and hard to swallow. In order to get thru it and into a new and different life we need to have enough patience to stay with the process. This process can be long or short depending upon the person. Most people do go thru some predictable stages of grief but they may not occur in the same order. Some folks linger longer in denial, shock, and numbness. Others get very angry at the one who hurt them, or died, or at God. Asking questions like, "why me?" Others sink into guilt saying, "If only I had done this", or "If only I had said that." Some even feel guilty about being alive. Then there are those who live in the land of lonely, one foot in the present, one foot in the past, fearful that if they move both to the present they will be dishonoring the memory of their loved one. Though their mind says go forward, their heart says NO!!

Sometime ago someone asked one of the nurses I know what she did when a family fell apart at the time of death. She replied, "I call Mary." Her reasoning was, Mary is the one who took classes, read books has the title. Rev./ Pastor/ Chaplin/ Bereavement Counselor. She is the one who has studied the Bible and quotes chapter and verse. But the real truth is that all of us are able to do the work that I do, not because of reading and studying, but because of having been there.

I have felt the sting of rejection and the pain of the phone call asking me to come and identify the body. The heavy sorrow of, "We no longer need you" has come my way. I have heard the news, "Your business has failed." I have clung to the hand of a loved one as she slipped down into the deep valley of death, unwilling to let her go but unable to hold her any longer. I have stood at the grave side of a loved child and felt pain that tore at me, and so have many of you.

The Bible tells us to grieve, but not to grieve as one who has no hope. Healthy grief acknowledges a loss, allows pain, anger, doubt, sadness and even despair. Healthy grief takes time, but the end leaves us in a place called hope, a place where we can move forward into life and once more experience joy.

The first chapter of 2 Corinthians says we should give praise to God, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God. In other words, pass it on.

So, what can we do to encourage healthy grieving? Offer caring compassion, let love shine in your eyes, donít hurry away, stop and listen. If they want you to hold a hand, or give a hug, then when they are ready, share words. Remember that in a week or so the casseroles will quit arriving. People will go back to their own lives and the bereaved will need a friend more than ever. Encourage talking about the loss or the loved one, memories though painful are healing, a way to treasure someone you love. Donít be judgmental or critical about the way they are grieving, and remember what you felt like when you were there.