Standing Tall, Grief Underfoot

Once again I am addressing grief, and let me be clear that this is a purely philosophical take on the subject.

Without repeatedly giving my grief resume, let me just say my room is full of the stones of grief.

Grief is heavy, and ever-abiding. But we have our choice on how to approach it. We can live under it, we can stumble over it, or we can live on top of it. The one thing you can never do is totally eradicate it.

Getting on top of your grief allows you to wear it down over time. Even if you were to wear it down to sand, it would still be there, getting in between your toes and making its presence known.

Recently I’ve given some fresh thought to the things that have helped me to live on top of grief rather than under it. The uninitiated will expect us to grieve for a few months, but then move on. Those who walk this path know it’s a much stonier proposition. Let me encourage you that the presence of grief does not have to destroy you. You can still stand tall, aware of your grief, but keeping it underfoot. Here are a few ways I’ve done just that:

1. It’s all about who is Lord.

Yes, I am a follower of Jesus. But even if you aren’t, I’ve noticed that all of us have things that lord over us. This might sound harsh, but it’s dangerous to make the one we grieve into the lord of our life.

A lord has power, authority, and influence. What things control you? If grief is the master of your day, it is your lord.

I much prefer the lordship of Jesus, who teaches me peace, hope, and grace. I much prefer obeying him as opposed to obeying grief or any of my own whims or desires. The narcissist will find this difficult to do, but the lordship of Jesus is able to break through any of our walls.

2. It’s about a decision.

Imagine someone telling you, “I know what you want and need, but I’m not giving it to you. I prefer to stay unchanged, unmoved.”

I’ve had that said to me by people. But it’s also the whisper of grief in my ear.

As sad as it is when we choose not to be in relationship with those who desire to walk with us, it’s even sadder when we allow grief to dominate us. It takes time to overcome it’s heaviness, but the day will come when you realize that grief has served it’s purpose and it’s time to make the decision to get stronger. It’s time to be with people and to listen to emotions that encourage you and make you stronger.

I’ve found that grief isn’t my enemy. But it is up to me to decide what kind of influence it will have over me today.

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3. Talk

When we first encounter the loss that leads to grief, there are many people who will say, with the best of intentions, “If you ever need to talk, I’m here.”

Now, I understand that we’re all different when it comes to our ability to talk to others. For me, I couldn’t make an appointment to talk. It just happened. I find myself in the right situation, and it just comes out.

This is why I advise people not to offer to listen, but to simply give their presence. If you want to help someone, be there. And that is hard and time consuming. It’s not the responsibility of the professionals, the pastors, the counselors. They serve a purpose but it’s not to constantly be present. This is the job of friends and family. In my years as a pastor, I’ve noticed a great reliance on professionals to give presence because those who most need to do it are absent. A pastor or counselor can never give someone the presence that is most needed, it’s physically and emotionally impossible. This is the domain of friends and family, and it’s real estate that no one person can inhabit perpetually.

Noting that, let me encourage you to find ways to talk and express your grief to those who love you. Take them out to lunch, and talk.

And, don’t be afraid to seek the counsel of the professionals. Don’t see them as an abiding presence, but as wise helpers who can give you the tools to process your thoughts.

4. Get rid of things.

This is the ultimate bad guy on my list of things I advise. I’ve received the most push-back on this idea. People don’t resist it because they disagree, but because, they say, “I just can’t do it.”

One of the signs that we are a ridiculously wealthy society (even among people who consider themselves poor) is our abundance. We keep stuff, we collect it, we store it, we even pay other people to store it for us at times. We box it, stack it, stuff it, step around it.

I’ve had to move to new houses a lot more than I ever thought I would in this life. The more I moved, the more I realized the necessity of getting rid of things. Things bog us down. They become visual depictions of our grief. We don’t own stuff, it owns us.

The most important advice I can give, the one crucial thing that comes out of my experience, is that it is needful to move on from stuff. Sell it, donate it, throw it away. If there is any one thing in your life that you can’t get rid of because it means so much to you, then that is the thing that controls you more than anything else. Why would any of us give that much control over our happiness to a thing? Ah yes, we do it because it’s hard to let go.

And that is why putting grief underfoot means we take mastery over the stuff in our life and let it know just who is boss.

Even if it is a slow process, allow yourself to move on from things even if they have great meaning to you. Get rid of the thing, keep the memory.

This is hard. But, living on top of grief rather than under it requires hard work.

5. Love anyway

I’ve observed many situations where a griever removes their affection, attention, and presence with others in order to completely invest in the grief over one who is gone.

The cool thing about love is, we can make more. When we add a new person to our life, we don’t have to steal love from another. We have this remarkable capacity to create new love.

In the same way, those who are living still need your love and care. It doesn’t mean you love the one you grieve less if you continue to love others.

Don’t let grief create a vortex that sucks all the love out of your life. Think of it this way. If you have three living children, would you one day wake up and decide that from this point forward, you are only going to love one of them? That sounds silly and wrong. Yet, so often we do that same thing when we grieve a lost loved one.

Love. Love anyway.

These are all workable solutions that have helped me to keep grief underfoot. Mind you, I still stub my toe on it from time to time. And there are moments when I stumbled into it and fall. But as time moves on I become more adept at living well, and you can too. I know you can.

Greg Fish