Getting Over It

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

May, 2018

The reminder appeared on my phone: “Dad’s birthday.” He died six years ago. I never got around to removing his birthday from my calendar.

Up that point my day was going according to plan. But with those two words everything came screeching to a halt. All I could do was sit for several minutes, as if I was physically pulled down to a place I had no intention of visiting but had no choice in the matter.

You probably know the feeling. From beneath the surface, grief pops up like an uninvited cork, and there’s no avoiding it. The trigger can be anything: a photograph, a snippet of a song, an aroma. In an instant, we’re weeping or staring into space, drawn deep into memory.

We might ask, “Am I ever going to get over this?” Even well-meaning friends may suggest it’s best to “Get over it.”

Broken things should be fixed, so we’re uncomfortable thinking some stuff cannot be repaired. That’s why I’m regularly asked, “When does it ever stop hurting?”

I once had an easy response to that question. But that was before so many family members and dear friends died, before I’d performed more funerals than I can count, before I was a hospice chaplain, before I led grief support groups.

I used to say, “Things will get better in time,” but that’s just a gentler version of “Get over it.” Now I know better. Loss is a not a thing that must be gotten over, cured, or even dealt with. Ever heard that one? “Deal with it.”

Sorry, but there’s no dealing with grief as if we could negotiate our way out of it. Grief is perfectly normal. The inconvenient moments when it comes up from nowhere and grabs you by the throat? That’s normal.

When people ask, “When will I stop hurting?” I now say, “I think never. That’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but someone ought to tell you the truth.”

When a loved one dies, there does seem to be a progression. First, most of us feel an immediate devastating blow that knocks us for a loop. That’s bereavement. Then we mourn: the outward expression of grief. Next, grief settles down for a life-long visit.

It’s not a sign of weakness, but an indicator of your humanity. Your loss stays with you like scar tissue. The initial wound mends up, but that scar is a mark you’ll always carry.

My best advice to anyone concerned about grieving is to keep moving forward, one day at a time. No one should expect you to get over it, and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself. We don’t stop loving someone just because we can’t see or touch or hear them anymore.

And we would never hurt so much in the first place if we didn’t love so much. Who among us would never want to love, or to have been loved? Celebrate the gift of that love.

Love is more valuable than anything, and if love means we’ll eventually have to grieve, then grief is well worth the price.

In the music of a lifetime that accumulates in our heart, grief is the recurring melody affirming that we’ve been successful at loving. If that’s true, we’ve been successful at life.

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