By Joan Endicott
“Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child, whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, ‘Nothing, I just helped him cry.’” (From The Most Caring Child, by Ellen Kreidman)
This last year I have had many opportunities to help others cry. It is a painful, yet powerful reminder of the impermanence of this life. Christians grieve differently, yet grieve we do – and should – for how final the loss is in this life. Though we know intellectually death is part of life, we still feel devastated by it. We cry, mourn, and grieve these irreplaceable losses. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” — Jamie Anderson, Australian author
Even though we know death is part of life, if we are not purposeful, we easily slip into apathy, passivity, and distractions that keep us from being fully engaged, present and appreciating the irreplaceable gifts of abilities, relationships, and experiences. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. modeled for us and challenged us with these words: “You can’t choose when you will die or how you will die, but you can choose what you give your life to.”
When we think of the word grief, we naturally think of the loss of a loved one to death – the greatest grief we humans endure. But the more I have studied grief for my personal growth and worked with clients who are walking the grief path, I’ve discovered one of my most valuable lessons for choosing how I will live this life, which happened to also unlock a new level of freedom for myself and others.
Grief comes from loss. In addition to the death of a loved one, think about other loss you have experienced in life, such as the loss of a trusted relationship, or rejection; feeling ridiculed, bullied or shamed; the devastation of infidelity; being used or manipulated; divorce, job loss, failed business opportunities, or any lost opportunity. My dear husband experienced lost opportunities both as an athlete and a coach. While a coach, his team went undefeated the entire season. They already had two victories over the team they ultimately met at the championship game. They lost! It was painful. He still calls the arena they lost that championship game in “The House of Pain.”
It’s important for you not to diminish your pain by comparing it to someone else’s. “Well, compared to them, mine is nothing.” The good news is, it is not a competition. There is plenty of compassion and kindness to go around for everyone. This journey we call life is full of sorrow, pain and heartache and it’s important to acknowledge yours with the same grace you would your best friend.
After my friend Laurie was in her car accident (due to her distracted driving), she was so severely brain-damaged, she was disabled to the point that she could do nothing – not even communicate. It is impossible to describe the tremendous loss and grief I experienced – grief for her, her four children, her family and loved ones.
In case no one’s ever told you, grief has no expiration date. Please never try to deny processing a past pain because “It was sooo long ago…” It does not matter how long ago something happened; if it has not been pulled up and processed in a healthy way, it is still there.
It wasn’t until I was an older adult that I learned how to give myself grace to grieve over the neglect and abuse I experienced in my childhood. My five-year-old self was still in there and since she never had anyone acknowledge her pain, offer compassion, and grieve all those losses with her, she still needed that! Since I was the only one who knew exactly what she went through, I began grieving with her and for her over her stolen innocence, abandonment, nightmare fears, destroyed trust, and the unfair shame that accompanies being used and abused.
Just because you were able to repress something for years certainly doesn’t mean it’s gone. It’s like taking a large, slippery, air-filled rubber ball and pushing it under water. You can use both hands and a great deal of your energy and focused attention to hold it under the water. That works for only so long before you’re exhausted, lose your grip, and it bursts out of the water and smacks you in the face. That’s why getting help processing any painful loss is so, so important. It does not go away and our secrets can make us sick. When we have someone help us put a small hole in that ball and let the air out gradually, we can finally find freedom. Easy? Heck no! Worth it? 100%!
Rather than trying to avoid it, or escape it, if we connect with others who understand, it helps normalize it for us and we realize we are not alone. Though hard and uncomfortable at first, for your sake and those you love, lean in – don’t lean away.
I was deeply grieved when feeling rejection from my mother before she died. That was far more painful than her physical death. Her death was not her choice, rejection was.
I so wish my mom would have been willing to work with a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor to help her process her grief over all that was happening – her past, the disease, the loss of ability, the loss of control in her body and her life, fear of the process of dying, the fear of the unknown, wondering where God was in all of this…
Once I gave myself compassion and the grace to grieve over all the heartache I felt with my mom, it opened a whole new level of compassion for her – truly helping me to look past her deeds to the need of her struggling soul. I began to fully grieve for her and still weep for what she went through and how she suffered.
The more you give yourself opportunity to process your own grief with self-compassion, the more you have it to give others. It’s a multiplier. As Mother Teresa reminded us, “The world is full of suffering. It is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Just like our little four-year-old friend demonstrated how to “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), he brought comfort and compassion to his dear, grief-stricken neighbor by simply sitting on his lap and helping him cry. Any time our soul is suffering, we just want someone to help us cry. I’m sure you’ve done this for others on many occasions. Now is the time to make sure you are doing it for yourself.
Joan Endicott is an Award-Winning Keynote Speaker, Author of “I Get To!”® founder of GIANT-Slayer Coaching and “WOW!” Women Owning Their Worth©. Her coaching reaches over 30 countries. Meet her and get her FREE videos, book excerpts and content at JoanEndicott.com. Follow her on IG – she posts encouraging words daily!