Following my father’s death, there were days when it was hard to know whether I was feeling sorry for myself or plodding through the quicksand of grief as best I could. There were days I longed for someone to tell me how to get through the grief. But when someone would suggest it was time I “move along,” I wondered why they didn’t understand that I just needed time to grieve. One of the most difficult aspects of my grief was finding the balance between pushing myself to go on with life’s activities and allowing myself to rest and postpone activities or decisions when needed.
What I needed was a sort of Serenity Prayer for grievers. It is offered with the hope that it can bring strength as you seek support from others and from God, while also paying attention to your own responsibility to be a part of your healing. It is really three prayers in one. Each one is a step in the process of healing from grief.
God, grant me the strength to keep moving when I can.
In so many aspects of your life following the death of a loved one, you will face the questions about moving through the journey of grief. When is it time to go back to work? When is it time to give away many of her belongings? When is it time to start socializing? When will I stop sleeping so much? When will I stop crying?
You may wonder when you will feel the energy to cook again, or exercise again, or make new friends. In reality, there are times when we should not push ourselves too hard, and then times when we need to push ourselves to take the steps that will lead to our healing. Your prayer to God for strength to keep moving signals your hope that you will find your way through your days of pain.
God, grant me the grace to rest when I need to.
The other risk during a time of grief is that we can so deeply want to move beyond the pain that we throw ourselves into constant activity, saying yes to any invitation to go out, turning down any offers for help, working long hours, or pouring our energy into some harmful addiction—all in an attempt to either hide the pain or keep friends from worrying. In the midst of frantic business, grievers can lose the insight to know when their bodies and spirits are tired and need to rest.
In this prayer, your invitation for God to offer you grace is a reminder to yourself that you can take time and set your own pace for your grief. Grace for you is time to make decisions, time to cry and to remember, and time to rest and allow your body and spirit to heal. Rest takes different forms for different people—from a walk in the park to an afternoon nap to a visit to the beach. Explore and learn what helps you feel rested.
Grace is the gift of a restful reprieve where you can lower your expectations of yourself and simply wait. Wait for the darkest hour of the night to pass. Wait for a ray of light to break through—a new day for hope, healing, and being able to once again get moving.
God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference.
When delicate questions begin to arise about whether you might be pushing yourself too hard to move through your grief, or not pushing yourself hard enough, the wisdom to know the difference is an important aspect of your healing. I believe finding the wisdom to balance our choices comes from listening—to our self, to trusted others, and to God.
Grief is a journey with many winding turns and detours. But it’s a journey of grace if we trust our inner wisdom, the wisdom of others, and the courage that our faith can instill in us.
With save the dates covering my fridge it is becoming hard to deny that wedding season is upon us. Though most people who think about weddings probably don’t jump right to thinking about grief, most people who think about weddings probably don’t write a grief blog. Lucky for you, around here just about anything makes us think about grief.
After a loss, no matter how many years have passed, significant life events are reminders that the person we have lost is not there with us. For our wedding we may have always imagined that our mom would be there for wedding dress shopping, that our best friend would be our best man, or that our dad would walk us down the aisle. When that person isn’t there, there absence is a deep and constant reminder of our pain. The most joyous of events become bittersweet.
We have written in the past about coping with weddings after a death, but our words of wisdom are scattered all over the blog. Think of today’s post as one-stop-shopping for your wedding-after-a-death needs. Click on any of the images below to check out our tips, tricks, and creative ideas for remembering your loved one on your wedding day, and some tools for coping to boot. Whether you are the one getting married after a death or supporting someone who is, we hope some of our ideas will help.
Wedding Dress Shopping Without Mom
Your Wedding After a Death: Remembering Loved Ones at Your Ceremony.
Your Wedding After a Death: Remembering Loved Ones at Your Reception.
What should I give as a wedding gift to someone who lost a parent?
Wedding Journal Activity for Grievers
The First Family Wedding After a Death
Have some great ideas for remembering loved ones at a wedding or coping with grief during wedding season? Leave a comment to let us know!
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Emilia wants to know what happens when we die. She asks a few times a week, on average, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on whether or not we’ve spoken about my dad or about Tanner or about dinosaurs. Today, she asked because they’d been talking about the Easter story at school. She wanted to know why Jesus got to fly up into the sky, and Grandpa didn’t.
You burned him, didn’t you? she asks. How could he fly after that?
Explaining death is one thing. Explaining the cremation, the afterlife and Divine resurrection are something else entirely.
We’ve had a lot of these talks. We’ve been having them since my dad died, since she watched me collapse and shatter into a million tiny pieces and wanted to know why. They’ve been good talks, but I fear that they’ve been better for me than they have for her: she has grounded me with her questions, and given me solace with her answers. Because she has her own answers, she pulls them from the sky or the stars or the spirits or her soul and she lays them bare and shares them with me, her stories, the stories that she weaves to make sense of all this mysterious loss, this loss that I can’t explain, lapsed, struggling Catholic that I am, groping for a faith that eludes.
This is why I am failing at this: I have no answers for her. I have no answers, only wishes, only hopes, only deeply held hopes that I ache to grasp with certainty, but which remain – for me, who is grasping at that lost faith, that faith that once upon a time held answers – ephemeral, evanescent, faint. So when she asks me, where did Grandpa go, I say, I think that he went to a place called Heaven, a wonderful place full of love and light where we will someday see him again, and I cry as I say it, because I don’t know for sure, and I wish with every particle of my soul that I did know, that I could know, because I would give anything to know, anything. And she says, in the softest of voices, I know where he is. He’s in his Death House, the one that I made him, and someday we will go there.
— Oh, sweetie…
I know that you think he’s in that box, but he’s not, he’s in his house in Heaven, and we’ll go there someday, and you’ll see, and you’ll know.
And my heart expands, and breaks.
My friend Kate, who has known terrible loss, wrote the other day about thumb-wrestling with Death as she prepares for the death of her grandmother. She didn’t like doing it, she said, not least because he has longer thumbs, which I imagine is true. She asked her readers to not leave condolences, but, instead, memories, of their mothers, whose flour-dusted hands wiped tears and whose lipsticked mouths left kiss-marks and whose warm arms were the safest place in either earth or Heaven, so that we might reflect upon motherhood persisting against and beyond death, and I said this:
I have nightmares, about losing my mom, about losing my mom after losing my dad and being left, alone, without them, an orphan, my longest and most deeply held fear. I have nightmares, about fighting with Death, about begging him to stay away.
I’m sorry. I wanted to say something lovely, about my mom’s belly laugh and her twinkling eyes and her perverse imagination, the one that conjures alligators in closets for my daughter to hunt and her ability to bake a lemon cake, right on the spot, just because you asked. But I’ve been having nightmares.
I have been having nightmares, nightmares wherein my dad is already gone and then my mom goes too and I am left to suffer the pain of my greatest fear, the fear that drove me to sleep on their bedroom floor at night, the fear that kept me from sleepover parties and sleep-away camp, the fear of losing them, of being left alone, an orphan. When I was child, my good Catholic parents would comfort me and soothe me and brush my hair from my tear-dampened cheeks and tell me that they would never leave me and I clung to that, even as I knew it to be false, I clung to it, and when I flew west to deal with my father’s death some months ago (an eternity ago, a second ago) I sat in my seat on the plane and cried and cried and cried like the little girl that I had suddenly become again, having flashed backwards in time to that experience of knowing that it would happen and that it would hurt, bad, worse than anything else I could imagine, and then flashed forward again to discover that yes, yes, this is exactly how it feels, and it is terrible, horrible and bad.
And so now I am terrified of having the loss compounded. And I am terrified of communicating – directly or indirectly, intentionally or not – this terror to Emilia, who is too astute, who knows too well when I am sad or afraid and who knows the difference between my sadness and my fear and wants to understand them. But I don’t want her to understand them, I don’t want her to think about losing me, because I want to forestall this pain for her, even as I shudder at its inevitability.
I have nightmares. And my only solace – my lifesaver, my heartsaver, the backbone of my soul armor – is, really, my daughter and her kindergarten theology, her insistence that it will all be okay, that we will all end up at happy place, that she knows this, because we must, because it is true.
I hold her to me tightly, and weep for this, in gratitude and shame.
Are there horses in Heaven? — I don’t know; what do you think? — Did Grandpa love horses? — He did. — Then there are horses there. Someday, I will ride them.
— Me too, sweetie. Me too.
This post was inspired by a discussion that was shared between me and some very good friends – Lindsay, Loralee, Julie and Devra – at Mom 2.0. We curled up on the floor of the bedroom of the Four Season’s Presidential Suite during the CheeseBurgHer party and talked spirituality and faith, grief and loss, prayer and meditation and all variety of confused and confusing things. And then Lindsay decided that maybe we should explore some these questions (like the one I’m struggling with above, talking to kids about death) together, on our blogs. So we are. You’re welcome to join in. Leave me a link if you do. Or just speak your piece in the comments. Talking, maybe, will bring enlightenment. Or maybe more confusion. Either/or.
So: how do you talk to your children about death? Do you talk to your children about death? If they ask the hard questions, how do you/will you answer? Or do you, will you, like me, seek their answers, and look for comfort there?
PS: I offer another, somewhat less morose reflection on navigating the waters of loss with children over at Their Bad Mother. Because once I start talking, I can’t stop.