Waiting through grief

I often hear the idea that one should wait a year before making any major decisions after a significant loss. And while well intentioned, this thought often leaves the mourner with an expectation that the one year mark holds some magical opportunity or relief from the pain of grief. And, when it arrives, it can feel disappointing at best or painfully frustrating at worst. It can even make you feel as if something is wrong with you or that you should “be over it” by now.

But really, losses, changes and waiting have schedules all their own.

Waiting through some recent changes in my own life’s journey, I have had an opportunity to reflect on waiting and what it can reveal. One of my first observations is that waiting is downright uncomfortable. Mostly I think this is because, as humans, we want to have clarity about the “what’s next” in our lives. Wouldn’t it be much nicer if there was a clear path with the steps outlined and all we had to do was follow them? Wouldn’t it be less painful if we didn’t have to sit in the mystery and WAIT to see what happens…listen to how we might be called to respond to a loss or life change?

Instead, we get to wait.

Another observation I have about waiting through loss and change is that clarity doesn’t come all at once. Instead, it comes in fits and starts—two steps forward, three steps back. Clarity may look like a possible solution to the problem of waiting—and then turn out to be a nonviable option. For instance, in the discomfort of waiting and the rush to seek answers I began exploring furthering my education. In my research I learned that I could spend another 6 years getting additional training. It would definitely add tools to my tool kit….but it wouldn’t provide any real advantage over where I am now. What I noticed is that I want to rush into a strategy for fixing my own discomfort and sense of powerlessness when problem solving isn’t what’s needed. Instead, I’ve had to learn to companion myself—stick by my own side with kindness, rather than trying to move forward by finding a “solution.”

I’ve noticed that the messiness of waiting has purposes I don’t understand and cannot see when I’m in the middle of it. And just as grief is messy, so is the waiting. It may look like trying on one decision or another. It may mean sharing your thoughts with a trusted friend or friends—and listening carefully for their sense of what you are going through. It may involve writing and writing and writing in a journal about your questions or about how hard waiting is. And being willing to keep writing (or drawing, painting, sewing, making art) until the next right step becomes clear.

The waiting can seem interminable.

It can feel painfully uncomfortable.

It is difficult.

And it may take longer than we ever imagined. Longer than that predicted year in the saying I’ve so often heard. It may take years to fully comprehend the changes that are upon you. And it is hard. And yet, in the waiting are the mysterious fruits of what’s to come. And here’s the catch—our job in waiting is to look for them. Look into the mystery with curiosity. Look with hope and courage and a willingness to sit still in the uncomfortable. Find companions who can sit with you without judgement. Look for the tiny glimpses of inspiration. Look for the love that is there and ever present…even when it doesn’t feel like it. And, while you are waiting, look for ways to practice supreme self-kindness.

1 reply
  1. Rita Liney says:

    5 years down the line on the worst journey of my life since losing my wonderful husband. I have found a type of peace that stops me longing and crying for him every single day. I never thought it would happen and I do fear it may return but I’m living in the now. Of course I think of him every day but I can now remember him without feeling the immense pain of grief. Next step is to go through our photo albums after spending 44 wonderful years together and having 2 wonderful children who incidentally live the other side of the world from me in Australia. I want to say I never believed I’d feel peace again but I do. To all of you on this very difficult journey, there is hope. Much Love Rita

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