Have you ever heard of the 7 stages of grief? I knew there was a list but I didn’t actually know what was on it until months after I became a widower. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a list of emotions you would expect someone would go through as they process their grief. The list helped me not feel crazy for going through all the emotions. The problem I ran into was I found myself looking at the 7 stages as mile markers that would let me know how close I was to being ok. But when I realized that my emotions kept jumping back and forth between stages, I felt more lost than before I looked at the list. It left me wondering where I was in my grief and healing. Did I have to feel and process all those emotions before I could start healing or did the healing start somewhere in the middle of that list?
Not knowing where you are in your journey of grief of pain can feel like wandering through the woods without a GPS. You could be miles from your destination or just a few steps away, but both places can feel equally hopeless and lost if you don’t know.
My toughest days of grief were filled with twists and turns as I tried to figure it all out. I was on a journey through unfamiliar territory and I felt lost in some way or another for most of the time. But as I look back, I can see three distinct stages that I experienced that would have been a great GPS on my journey, if only I had known to look for it….not to get me out of the woods faster necessarily, but so I could have know where I was.
Do I think I am an expert on the subject of grief and healing? Not at all. Do I think I have all the answers to pain? Nope. All I know is I have stood in the chilling shadow cast by death with the person I loved more than life, and had to somehow find the strength to walk out of that shadow alone and not only live, but live with purpose. So, from a heart that refuses to waste that pain or process, I want to share with you what I wish I had known.
Here are the 3 stages of grief that I believe will help you identify where you are in your journey and what’s ahead:
1. Reflect (Looking Back)
I spent so much time in the first months after my late wife, Lyndsie went home to Heaven, reflecting on what I had and what I lost. I was looking back.
It’s healthy to miss someone you love and it’s natural to think about the moments you shared together. For most people, it’s the season of hot tears, terrible sleep patterns, and looking at every picture you can find. Don’t skip this. It can cause more long term emotional damage if you fill that empty space in your life with temporary distractions instead of just feeling it.
2. Recover (Looking Around)
I spent months recovering from what I had been through. I was so scattered and forgetful that I was looking around to those close to me for help.
Thankfully, they stepped in and helped me slowly transition back to a flow that made more sense than the first stage. In case you were wondering, who you choose to let in, will shape this season probably more than anything else and will make a huge difference in how you recover. Surround yourself with the best people and be the best to them.
3. Restart (Looking Ahead)
There came a point in my journey where the pain was still clearly there but it felt different. I became highly aware that the time I had been given was a gift and that I just wasn’t ok with staying stuck in my grief….the pain I had experienced was too great to waste. Restarting is easier said than done I might add, because it has to be a choice backed up with actions. The first step happens when you shift your perspective from looking around for help to looking ahead for hope. With that perspective shift, comes big decisions that you can only be prepared for by intentional prayer and even fasting. I Highly encourage you to do both because decisions made in this stage will without a doubt, have a long lasting impact on your life.
I think it’s important to remind you not to put a time limit on these 3 stages of grief. Each one can take a significant amount of time and that’s ok. Grief is extremely complicated. There are many layers to pain. So I would encourage you to allow a few people in your life who love you and are wiser than you to have the freedom to speak into your life. Those kind of people will want what’s best for you and may see something that you can’t.
If you are still reading this, there is obviously something hard you are processing. I’m sorry for your hurt. Pain is a difficult journey. But I hope this perspective will give you a better idea of where you are and where you’re going. So as you move forward, don’t do it to get away from the pain, do it to get closer to the hope that is found in Jesus Christ..