“Shortly after my husband died, I bought a sign that read, ‘Have an adequate day.’ It made me smile. I could have an adequate day even if I wasn’t having a good day,” writes Jan Warner.
In her new book, Grief Day By Day: Simple Practices and Daily Guidance for Living with Loss, Warner offers a touching and heartfelt guide for how to walk through the process of grief, daily, weekly, and in search of a new way of being.
Grief, we have been told, comes in stages. Yet, Warner notes, “The nature of grief is to be always shifting.”
Some days are easier than others. Some days we have grief bursts.
“The depth of our grief measures the height of our love,” writes Warner.
The challenge is to learn to be fully alive while also knowing that our lives have been forever changed by loss. There is no predictable way to navigate grief, nor should there be any predictable timeline.
Warner quotes Rebecca McNutt, “Grief is only love, it’s nothing to hide or send away with happy pills.”
One step Warner suggests we do take is to write down our own stages of grief, in any fashion that best suits them. She asks, “What is you final destination — can you even imagine one?”
Loneliness is one of the most painful parts of grief. It is not anything that can be filled by others either, because what we miss is that one specific person — their face, their laugh, their smile.
Warner writes, “It is a quandary: The one person I shared everything with, still want to share everything with, is no longer alive.”
Memories, too, can be painful. Yet, when we can see them as a source of healing, they can often show us the way to keep moving forward.
“If grief is not going to go away, what if we can create something beautiful around it — with memory?” asks Warner.
Warner suggests that one way we can attach good feelings to our memories is by rolling our memories backward, taking ourselves back in time and remembering all the sights, sounds and good feelings that came with the memory, and then bringing them into the present.
When we lose someone, we also lose a part of ourselves. We may not have realized how connected we were to the person we lost until they are gone. What we are left with is a feeling of emptiness and a sense of uncertainty about who we are now.
Warner writes, “The death of someone central to our life can make our very being feel shattered. In attempting to piece the broken shards back together, we may find we do not know who we are anymore.”
And yet, we can see beauty in the world around us. One exercise Warner suggests is to close our eyes and find at least one thing around us that is beautiful. Write it down, draw it or describe it. She writes, “By doing this, you are training yourself to see beauty again.”
Grief can also inhibit gratitude and make us feel as if there is nothing left to appreciate. Warner quotes Richelle E. Goodrich, “Gratitude is medicine for a heart devastated by tragedy. If you can only be thankful for the blue sky, then do so.”
By learning to honor our loved ones lives in their absence, we can often transform our grief. Warner describes her own turning point, “My husband loved life. I honor him daily by finding ways to love life.”
Similarly, in grief, there will always be a part of us that wonders how it is possible that our loved one is gone, and we may even want to deny it. Yet, when we can find a way to embrace our loved ones, hold their memories close, and even communicate with them, we can relieve some of the loss of the emotional intimacy we shared with them.
Grief can shake our faith, even destroy it. Or, it can strengthen it. Warner writes, “If you feel your faith has been shaken or lost, remember what has been lost can be found. One who has wandered away can always return.”
In grief, we may not ever be understood. But, we can have hope. Warner quotes Dr. Brian Babington, “The journey across the landscape of loss to the inner self takes courage and persistence. It is a risky venture, with lots of false trails and humanizing errors…. But it is a journey in which there is always hope.”
We don’t medicate, sidestep, or avoid grief. We simply walk through it day by day, week after week and month after month. Often what we need the most is a companion along the way to walk with us, to help us find our way, to rejoice in the small victories and hold the space as we bear the pain of loss. Jan Warner is that companion, and her book is a blessing to grievers everywhere.
Grief Day By Day: Simple Practices and Daily Guidance for Living with Loss
Althea Press, September 2018
Paperback, 272 Pages