Validating our Grief

So, this morning I was driving to my biweekly therapy session. Along the way I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Not Good. The episode I heard was about grief; the host Molly gave a very thoughtful and heartfelt monologue about what grief looks like, what it feels like, and shared some very moving stories of her own life. She discussed how grief does not only occur after someone we love dies, but can occur during and after any sort of loss. This is something I’ve talked about myself — in fact, not two weeks ago I preached a sermon in which I said something similar.

But I’ve said before that there are times when I don’t hear my own preaching. This, it seems, might be one of those times.

Molly discussed Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief, and I found myself fascinated when she described depression as one of the stages. This started some wheels turning in my head. At the close of the podcast, she asked a few questions to listeners: Who or what are you grieving today? What stage of grief do you find yourself in? Where do you need to have more grace for yourself? Where do you find hope? What can you do today to honor your grief and your loved one?

I kept driving, thinking, thinking, thinking. I am so sad right now, but I can’t figure out what I could possibly be grieving. There’s nothing there. And I wondered — could I be in a continual state of grief throughout my life? Could I be carrying unprocessed grief? Is that why I so often feel like this? Could that even be connected to my current back problems?

I talked about this with my therapist. He asked me when the last time was that I really felt grief. I couldn’t place anything. I couldn’t identify a time. We talked about how I so easily minimize my feelings — yes, I am sad when a member of my congregation dies, but my grief is so minor compared to the grief of the family, and so I say that it’s nothing. It’s not really grief, I say. It’s too small. Yes, I was sad when I applied for a job that I really wanted, that I really thought I was perfect for — but I had a job, so I had nothing to complain about. Other people had it much worse, so it wasn’t really grief. It’s too small.

I always do this. I minimize my own feelings when it comes to loss. Because somebody else has it worse, I can’t even accept that I have experienced a loss. So I place all the blame for my lousy feelings at the feet of Depression the Great. It’s all about Lord Depression, La Voz Oscura. But I don’t do it when I talk to others about their feelings. In my role as pastor, I often hear people who are suffering tell me that “others have it worse.” I always try to validate their feelings — “There’s no need to compare suffering,” I say. “Just because someone else suffers more doesn’t mean you’re not suffering.”

It reminds me of something I hit on at the beginning of Lent in therapy — how much it bothers me when I hear someone say, “I don’t want to be a burden,” and yet how much that sense is part of how I relate to others and to myself. This reminds me of that, because here is another instance where I know how to treat people in my role as pastor, but I don’t treat myself the same way at all.

I tell other people that their suffering and grief are valid, no matter how big or small. And by validating them, it makes it possible to process and move forward. But I tell myself that if I have suffering or grief that is too small compared to someone else’s, then it is not worthy. I do not deserve to call it suffering. I do not deserve to grieve.

This is all brand new to me, all formulated in the last twelve hours or so. So I might look back on this in a few days or weeks and think, yeah, that was all bunk. But I don’t know — right now, I think there’s something to this. I’m going to try to identify some of the things that perhaps I’ve never allowed myself to grieve. Maybe they are part of the gunk inside me, and maybe by recognizing and validating them, I can let them out. Maybe that’s one element to healing.

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Validating our Grief

  1. Beautiful vulnerability. You cannot give to others what you do not give to yourself first. I think this is incredibly insightful and potentially helpful to yourself and subsequently others. Self care isn’t narcissistic when it will end up serving others. Re gearing: re-tooling ourselves and our capacities makes us more available for others, not less.


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