There is an emotion in the midst of everything I do these days. It is like a cloud, heavy and yet undefinable. It comes across like apathy sometimes, and other times it looks like anger. Or sarcasm. Sometimes it even looks like fear. Most people do not have words for what it means to them because they have spent a LOT of time and energy running from it. It is grief, my friends. It is heavy, and it is real, and it is not going to allow us to ignore it. Many of us are dealing with grief.
In therapy sessions, I urge clients to “open the door” to emotions which they have historically been afraid of addressing. This is undoubtedly one of their least favorite exercises because I also encourage them to personify that emotion. Does it have a body? A face? What does it want?
If you have ever watched a scary movie or TV show, you know that the terrifying things are the things in the “unknown.” What is downstairs? What is around the corner? What is waiting for me at home? What’s in the box?
Dealing With Grief Clouds
The emotion that is clouding things for us these days is grief. It can cover everything we do in today’s life to the point where nothing looks like it “should” look because it is touched by loss.
Our natural inclination to dealing with loss is to employ the “At least…” scenarios. These are unhelpful in the best of circumstances, and downright dangerous in others. These set-ups are a go-to for many people, especially within the structure of Christianity, where we have all been taught from a young age to “count our blessings,” “be thankful for what we have,” and realize that “others have it worse.” These others are “the least of these” and should be our focus. So we change our thoughts from fear and grief and instead tell ourselves we are happy for what we have, and that is the thing to focus on the most.
Can you see the problem, though?
Acknowledging The Possibility
To be happy that your families is safe means to acknowledge that others are not, or that yours might not stay that way. To be thankful you still have your job is to acknowledge that there is the possibility you could lose it and that others have already done so.
To use this time to engage your students in a new and different way, on a new platform with a new schedule, is to acknowledge that our old ways were not working the best and that much of our labor until now may have been in vain. And to dream about “when this is all over” is to admit that there is a “this” right now – that while we hope there will be an “all over,” we actually have no idea.
In the midst of all of this comes the reality that we still have a call to answer. If adults are having trouble understanding how to honor their grief, how are the kids doing? On the surface, many may seem fine or unphased. But at some point, it will hit them, and when it does, we will want to help. So, what can we do?
Dealing With Grief
You Cannot Fix Them
The first step is to understand that you cannot fix this for them, and you should not try to.
Allow them to be sad. Allow them to be angry, or confused, or checked out. Reach out to them, but do not get upset if they cannot receive it. Sharing with them that you are here for them is helpful.
Understand Your Motivations
Be aware of your motivations for what you do.
If you are trying to do a celebration for your graduates, it may be a good idea to stop and check your intentions. Are you trying to “make up” for what they lost? You cannot.
Are you trying to make them “feel better”? You are also unable to do that.
Are you trying to stave off the sadness for them or yourself? This is not the best idea.
What you can do is ask them how they are doing. If they don’t have the words, that is okay. Give them permission to be wishy-washy.
They may know what they need from the ministry, or perhaps they do not have a clue. They do need you to tell them that it is okay to have their feelings. They are allowed to be mad one minute, sad the next, and checked out the time after that.
Processing losses takes time. Whether it is significant losses like freedoms and the idea that air is generally safe to breathe, or seemingly little ones like the cancelation of a prom, any loss is an opportunity for grief to set in.
Dealing With Grief Is Possible
Grief is the emotional process by which we come to terms with change. It is necessary, and it is not fun. But when we acknowledge it, let it in the door, and sit with it for a while, we can understand it better. When we understand it better, we can handle it better.
Grief does not go away in the way that we think it will. There is no timeline for it, and no strict order for the process. It will sit with you daily and sometimes demand your full attention. Addressing grief and acknowledging it, will remove the mystery and thereby remove the fear. It is okay to miss the things you lost or that were taken from you. It is also okay to wait a bit before dealing with grief. We all have our ways of processing, and that is okay.
Kelly R Minter is a 20 year veteran of youth ministry, and an RMHCI in the state of Florida and operates Anchored Counseling. Kelly is currently taking new clients and can be reached via email. In addition to her work in counseling and the local church youth ministry, Kelly has been an advocate for youth involvement within the Florida Annual Conference of the UMC.