Four Axioms of Grief Recovery
Learning four axioms about grief helps us take control of it. They help in developing the stamina and patience it takes to endure the burden, stress and duration of grief. Last month we offered the first axiom: The way out of grief is through it. Here is the second axiom:
2. The Very Worst Kind of Grief Is Yours.
What is the very worst kind of grief experience? That’s a question I have been asked more times than I can count. Is it worse for a widow if her husband died suddenly of an unexpected heart attack? Or is it worse if he died an inch at time from cancer or ALS? Is the loss of a child worse than the loss of a spouse, sibling or parent? Is the grief following a murder or suicide worse than that if the person died in an accident?
In truth, all such questions are irrelevant. There is only one worst kind of loss—and that is yours. Whatever loss you experience is the one through which you have to make your way.
One year, two terrible things happened, both of which had an impact on my life. First, several miners died in the collapse of a mine in Utah. My sister called in tears to tell me of it because she knew most of the men and their families. The other tragic event was the death of our fifteen year old cat, Samantha. One of those events caused me to cry my eyes out and act like anything but a mature clergyman. If you guessed it was the death of our cat, you are right.
There is no comparison between the loss of human life and the death of a semi-crippled old cat. But, “Sam” was my cat. I loved her. I didn’t read newspaper reports of her loss and say, That’s too bad” and go on to the sports page. Her loss plunged me into grief.
I have experienced deeper times of grief. I was there when my sister died of cancer. I have done funerals for family members and dear friends. Nevertheless, at the moment our cat died, her loss was the worst grief in the whole world.
This experience, more than any other, taught me to never apologize for grieving any loss. If we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t feel as we do, or pretend we are not hurting, we block our own healing and put our mental and physical health at risk. Recovery begins when we admit that no matter what other tragedies exist in the world, at this very moment, the very worst kind of grief is yours.
The way out of grief is through it. And, the way through it begins by acknowledging that your loss is worthy of grief—even if it is for an old cat.
Bob Deits, M.Th.