~by Chris Lenshyn
My father passed away almost 2 years ago, and it is still painful. But it has been a complicated pain. The reality is that no matter what pain we experience life continues on in relentless fashion. This has deeply impacted the way in which I have worked through this pain. In the midst of the relentlessness of life, my ability and opportunity to explore in depth the impact of my father’s passing was seemingly compromised. I still needed to work while I was dealing with this loss. I still needed to be a husband while dealing with this loss. I still needed to be a father while still dealing with this loss. This takes effort, and effort takes energy. Mourning too, takes effort and energy. So for me, I guess you could say I made a choice of where I wanted to spend my energy. I needed to be all of those things, and mourning a loss didn’t seem to make the cut. As such, the pain I was feeling, the emotions I was going through were left like unattended like a wound. Time moved on like it does. Those emotions began to scab over. I would notice them from time to time but found delight in the opportunity for ignorance that the scabbed emotions gave to me. It allowed me to move on, surfing the wave of the relentlessness of life. It just made things easier.
The problem was that the scab didn’t go away. For me, the result of my emotional scabbing was that my energy levels dropped significantly. I became more stressed at work. The result of which impacted the relationships around me. I was simply holding on. By default, it seems that I simply chose to ride the wave of life. Funny, because the choice I seemed to make was made in an effort to prevent this from happening. My neglect was eating away at me.
As I sit here and write this I am in a different place as a result of a number of people caring about me. They’ve asked me questions, encouraged me, and brought me new perspectives that have been life-giving. So, I’d like to share three things that have been important to me as I move into the depths of my emotions dealing with loss.
I share them with the hopes that what I have learned can help you.
- Talk to someone – I was encouraged to see a counsellor. I was downright resistant to the idea. In principle I thought it was smart, but in reality I just put it off because I was scared. So about 8 months after the suggestion, and numerous questions and encouragements about setting up an appointment I saw a counsellor. I left the space of the appointment feeling like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. It was incredible and worth every ounce of courage it took to walk through those doors.
- Give yourself time – One of the first things the counsellor said to me was that I didn’t give myself time to grieve. This shocked me at first. At the moment of my dad’s death, my church gave me 3 weeks off to work through the practicalities of the funeral, and the endless streams of paperwork that go along with death. In my head that seemed like “time.” Yet in retrospect, I can very well see that I didn’t give myself time to grieve. My schedule was busy when I returned to normal life, I was tired, and grieving takes intentionality of which I was too tired. I wanted to have a break when my schedule finally took a break. You will need to give yourself space to breathe and grieve. Doing this will dare you to face the consequence of that very grieving on your heart. This has not been easy for me. In fact, it has sucked.
- Create individual and shared practices – I am supposed to write a letter to my dead father. I haven’t done this yet because I am intimidated by what words I would actually write, or what they might mean. But in even thinking about writing the letter has changed my experience with grief. Practices take intentionality. Sometimes practices seem a bit weird because they are not natural. For me, this is not even close to being natural. But it will be good. I just need the courage to do it. Practices are great because they are wholistic experiences. A part from the letter writing, I am exploring what a shared family practice could look like.
For me, the results have been telling. I have far more energy now than I have had in years. Initially it seemed counter intuitive for me to dive into something emotionally painful to find more energy, but it has been so. It still hurts, but as it hurts I am getting a better grip on my life as a husband, father and pastor. I hope that this can be of encouragement to you if you are in the mist of hurt and can’t seem to move on.
For others, I would humbly ask that you share what has been helpful for you in working through pain and grief?