Processing Loss, Pt. 1

“I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” 

(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)

Lent is approaching, and with it, reminders of this shadow world in which we live. Graves surround us, whether literal or figurative ones. Light is ever at war with the dark—oh, how we feel the struggle!

Walk the earth long enough and you’ll experience loss. These subtractions come in a multitude of forms and degrees, and they deserve to be navigated well. (I haven’t always believed that. For most of my life, I thought only the big deaths called for grieving.)

When the cemetery stretches its mouth wide and swallows up yet another piece of beauty from among us, how can we move toward mourning well? Here are some ordered prompts to journal, pray, or talk through:

Who/what specifically am I grieving?

Is it a literal death? The loss of a friendship? The end of a dream? The simple act of naming your loss provides clarity as you begin.

How big is this loss to me?

When you look at the scope of your own life so far and factor in your personality,* what would be a fair ranking of this situation on a scale from 1 (minuscule) to 10 (massive)? After deciding its number, how much time, effort, and resources should be dedicated to processing it? A “1” death might call for coffee with a friend, while a “10” death would mean your entire normal life halts as you deal with surviving.

What does my body need right now?

Sleep? Nutritious food? Some exercise? A shower?

What does my mind need right now?

Stimulation? Privacy? A mental health day? Information? Processing tools?

What does my soul need right now?

Prayer? Worship? Meditating on the psalms of lament? Stillness in God’s presence? A gospel friend?

NOTE: The higher you rank a loss, the more often you should plan on revisiting those last three questions—deep pain requires a constant basic check-in with yourself. If possible, use a good day to list ideas for each category that particularly resonate with you for when a not-so-good day strikes. This is functional self-care at its finest.

*Pain comparison with those around you will destroy any shot of processing in a healthy way. Don’t worry about how much worse your friend has endured, or how so-and-so wasn’t nearly as affected by similar circumstances as you seem to be.

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