I must be dumb. I keep expecting life to be smooth, even when I’m grieving.
I know I expect “smoothness” because I get upset when life is bumpy. Silly. Life has always been bumpy.
I know that loss, grief, recovery, and healing are hard. Yet, I get surprised when my hurt hearts or my emotions are out of whack. I’m shocked when I get hit by a grief burst. Somehow I expect challenges and obstacles to be easier than they are.
Ralph expected life to be bumpy
As a hospice chaplain, I get to talk with people who are, as I call it, “on the rim of the canyon.” Their perspectives are amazing. Ralph was no exception.
Ralph was the ultimate tough guy. He had two Harleys in the garage and a gun case that would make most men drool. He was big and burly, with a deep, bass voice. He had intimidating eyes and a serious expression designed to make the opposition wilt.
And then he would smile. Suddenly Mr. Intimidation morphed into Mr. Teddy Bear.
What I liked most about Ralph was his attitude. He was realistic. He dealt with things as they were, not as he wished them to be.
“How are you handling all this?” I asked him one day, referring to him being on hospice and facing his own death.
“Like the rest of life,” he replied. “The bottom line is I expect this to be bumpy. If it turns out to be smooth, that’s just bonus.”
Two things struck me about what Ralph said. First, he saw death as a natural part of life. Second, he expected life to be unpredictable and challenging.
Realism like Ralph’s is hard to find
Last time I checked, the mortality rate among humans is 100%. Death and grief, heavy grief, is something all of us will go through. But most avoid thinking about it, and few actually dare to live with it in mind.
When things, even in grief, aren’t smooth, many of us feel wronged or cheated somehow.
Maybe we’re tired of pain. Perhaps we’re just tired. For many of us, life is getting more complicated and more demanding as it goes along.
Bottom line: It’s bumpy out there, and our time is limited. How we ride this roller coaster matters.
Riding the marathon roller-coaster
Most roller-coasters are fun – or at least, they were fun (the last one I rode led to a bout of nausea). If roller-coasters lasted for months or years, however, I doubt any of us would describe them as “fun.” “Torture,” “painful,” and “exhausting” might be more descriptions.
The grief roller-coaster is a marathon. Pacing ourselves, while being realistically optimistic, is important.
How does one grieve with realistic optimism?
- Quit expecting life (and grief) to be smooth. It’s bumpy. Like Ralph said, when it happens to level out, that’s bonus.
- Know that today will not go the way you expect. None of us are that powerful or have that much control. Life happens to and around us, and we respond to it. Grief is unpredictable.
- Make plans, but hold them loosely. Interruptions are normal. Emotions can hijack us at a moment’s notice. Flexibility and patience with yourself are key.
- Know your purpose, and let everything fall into place around that. This is critical. If we don’t know why we’re on the planet, we’re destined to wander looking for meaning and significance. Grief attacks and often derails our sense of purpose. Our identity can take a hit. We might even wonder who we are now.
- Focus on love and relationships. Whatever your purpose is, it has to do with other people. This is why loss is painful and grief is so hard. We were wired to love and be loved.
Grief hurts. It upends our world. Life is not the same, and neither are we. Take your time. Breathe deeply. One thing at a time.
Riding a marathon roller-coaster is exhausting. Be very nice to yourself. You’re going to need it.
Concepts for this article were adapted from the Good Grief Mini-Course. For more info about this free email course, click here.