One of my favorite shows is called The Office. It's a documentary-style series that follows the life and times of average workers. For TV purposes, it's full of hi-jinks and chaos that would never fly in a real office setting. For example, during one particular episode, the office manager has all his employees in a room talking about times when they lost someone. He's trying to convince them to open up and experience grief the way he is experiencing it during that moment.
The storyline is ridiculous, and I love it, but now and again, they drop a line that isn't silly. It hits home. For me, this episode has one of the best lines. The manager, Michael Scott, says,
"Society teaches us that having feelings and crying is bad and wrong. Well, that's baloney, because grief isn't wrong. There's such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown."
It strikes you as dumb because he makes that Charlie Brown comment, but at the same time, it is resoundingly true. Society at large is comfortable with feelings, but it does subtly teach us that feeling deep dark bouts of grief is wrong. It shows us that our natural state should be happy. This comes out in phrases like "it is what it is," or "let's be a problem solver," or even "Hakuna Matata." These are all idioms that refuse to acknowledge the loss that people experience. In the end, they don't really help people move on; they simply bury the feelings.
I believed that was the best way to deal with this myself. Unfortunately, I am highly uncomfortable with deep negative emotions due to my family experience. So I tend to mask them with humor or apathy. But I recently went through a leadership session on grief with a trained pastor, and I can see that I was actually harming myself because, as charlie brown said, there is such a thing as good grief.
In this leadership session, the pastor listed several components that we all need in order to properly and healthily deal with grief. I will list them below, but I only want to focus on one.
Connect with someone in a vulnerable way
Value what you lost
Be sad and say goodbye
The one I want to focus on is connecting with someone in a vulnerable way. I want to focus on that because it is my biggest weakness, and I think many other people struggle in similar ways. I've heard it said that grief experienced alone doubles, but grief experienced in a community is cut in half. I thought that was stupid for a long time, but it's becoming more real than I could have thought as I try to become a more emotionally healthy leader.
Too often, people think that if they intellectually process something or read a book they resonate with, that's good enough. But the reality is that we were made for a community in all areas of life, including when we experience loss. As much as possible, we need to bring our losses into relationships. Not only do we get good and wise counsel (which is what most are seeking in books), but we also get to feel that we are not alone. Unfortunately, it is not enough for people to know we aren't alone because our hearts don't listen to what our brain says all the time. We need to feel it. We need a hand on the shoulder or someone to tell us we matter. Those things change how we experience grief. I would encourage you to tell someone about your losses: a trusted friend, mentor, pastor, or therapist. By letting someone in, we let the feelings out.
Rather than end on some pearl of wisdom or Bible verse, I thought I would tell you the catalyst of why I'm writing on this particular topic.
Like I said before, I was in a leadership session last week with the pastoral team I'm part of. Now I know that I'm emotionally handicapped. I recognize it and see that I use humor to deflate any deep emotions because I don't have the tools to climb out of that well. But I was in this session about grief. The pastor leading it had us come up with a grief inventory. It was a list of losses we experienced (deaths, loss of dreams, sense of safety, etc.) and then we were supposed to attach consequences to them.
Some pastors had gone and been vulnerable with the group in ways I hadn't seen before. So after two had gone, I already had tears in my eyes and felt myself getting choked up. I had a lot of losses because my life has been more unfortunate than most. But the one I chose was "the loss of childhood." Due to those demanding situations, my parents and siblings unknowingly asked me to step in to lead our family or to become a patriarch at an age that was much too young for that responsibility. This led to the consequences of resenting my parents for not filling that role, feeling like I am not enough because I must always take care of others, and the fear of letting people pour into me because I'm weak. I felt like nobody loved me, like I loved them, and I still feel this way.
As I explained this to the men, I could barely get out the words at times. I was sobbing. I had never shared at that level with others before. My soul was on display, and it wasn't pretty. And I cannot begin to say how grateful I am for the looks around the circle to see these men crying with me, for the hand of a man I love and respect on my shoulder to know that I wasn't alone, and for my lead pastor to say that I was worthy of that love, and he was sorry I didn't get that.
I had known those things before. But this was the first time I felt healing on that wound, and I believe it's because I let other people into my loss.