Permission to Grieve: a humble how-to

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It has been two years this week since I last saw his little face. Somedays it feels like a decade, and other days it feels like I just saw him yesterday.

I remember the days when I was certain the weight of grief and anxiety would never be lifted. I was convinced the pain would never end.

I remember the months following his death, the struggle of just trying to function. I was a window pane that had completely crackled from a hit and one small touch would send all the bits crumbling to the ground. I knew I was fragile — about losing Tage and about what this meant for the future — and I knew it was a tender place in my heart because when someone touched it, the tears came.  Push harder, more tears, like the bursting squeeze of a water balloon.

But I wanted someone to touch it. Because most people were afraid to touch it. They were afraid of the crumbling and the squeezing and the tears. But I wanted to get some of them out.

Perhaps you find yourself in this season of grief right now, too. I wish I could be the one to sit with you as you cry. We’d be tucked away in some back corner of a coffee shop, and you could sit facing the wall so the people wouldn’t see your weeping face. You’d talk about the pain, the things you didn’t get to do with them, the final questions you wish you’d asked, and how you don’t want to walk down an aisle if they aren’t going to be there. You’d ask, “When will it not feel like this anymore?”

The best analogy I ever heard was that grief is a river. You can walk around it, but it will take a long time. Or you can just jump in, and swim to the other side. Yes, it’s messy at times, but it will take a lot less time if you aren’t afraid to just dive in. It seems scarier, but it’s really not, and you will come out faster and healthier if you do it.

I know you are struggling to do the daily tasks, and you wonder how you might grieve with all that you have to do. So, maybe you just need someone to give you permission to do it.

Grief takes work. That means you have to say no to other things in order to take time to grieve well. I am not an expert, but I am quite experienced. So, friend, I want to give you permission to grieve well.

Here is what you are free to do:

You have permission to get the tears out. You may feel that if you let the tears come, they will never stop. But they will. Some days you may cry for hours, others you may cry for minutes, or you may start and stop ten times. But you need to get them out. You will feel better, despite the puffy eyes. You’re just cleansing your heart.

In order to do that, you have permission to say no. It won’t be forever, but for as long as it needs to be, you get to be selfish with your time. Grieving takes a lot of energy. A lot. You are wise to push some things off your plate, and people will understand. It doesn’t have to be forever, but be intentional about how you will spend your time for this season. They can find someone else for the committee, or the little league coaching spot, or the ministry at church, or the whatever. You have permission to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t right now.”

Which leads us to this: you have permission to carve out time to be alone. If you don’t carve out time to grieve, you will grieve when you don’t want to — like in the middle of a nice dinner at The Cheesecake Factory (which will really freak your young waiter out) or in the middle of a party for a friend who is in town (and no one wants to kill a party). Trust me on this one — make time to cry at home, or in your car, or while you’re out walking with your sunglasses on. It’s much better than crying when you don’t want to.

You have permission in your time alone, to read the Bible and talk to God out loud.
If you want this pain to have purpose, this is where you will find meaning. If you’ve read the Psalms before and thought they were boring, they won’t be now. You will find words for your soul, you will see you’re not alone, you will see you are not forgotten. God will meet you in places you’ve never seen Him before. He will not waste this pain as you seek Him in it.

Friend, you have permission to get yourself a massage. Grief makes knots. If you find yourself struggling to take a deep breath, or taking more deep breaths than normal, you are stressed, and of course you are. A massage will do wonders. Trust me. There is no limit on massages during this time.

Let’s talk about your health for a minute. I did both extremes. During one season of grief, I ate every comfort food and as much of it as I could. During another, I ran like it was my job and could barely eat. The former was a lot harder to recover from, but it definitely tasted better. So, for this grief season, you have permission to not eat “normally” — maybe more, maybe less. Either you’ll get in the best shape of your life, or eventually you’ll realize your pants don’t fit and be ready to make a change. This is not a big deal.

That being said, I must also mention this: you have permission to get outside and move. Maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk, maybe it’s a bike ride, maybe it’s a run or playing an organized sport, but you will be glad when you get out and get moving. Don’t short yourself by not making time for these moments. Some of my best cries were during a jog, and getting good exercise will help you sleep, which may be difficult anyway when you’re grieving.

So, you also have permission to sleep. Did I mention grief is exhausting? You may not be a nap person and suddenly find yourself napping. Do it. You may need to take a sleep aid so that you can sleep at night. Do it. You need sleep.

You may also need an anti-depressant. You have permission to get an anti-depressant. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, and it doesn’t mean you will be on it for the rest of your life. But if you find yourself struggling to function every day, it might be time to talk with your doctor.

Talking to a counselor also helps, so you have permission to find a counselor. The first one may not be the right fit (I saw three before I found one I really connected with). But a great counselor is a gift. They will ask you things your friends and family won’t think to ask, and they are comfortable with your tears. You won’t regret it.

Finally, friend, please don’t isolate yourself all the time. You have permission to spend time with friends and family and LAUGH. An hour after my mom died, we all stood in the living room around her body with our puffy eyes as we waited for her body to be taken away. She had requested that some of her hair be spread at our cabin, so my dear dad took the kitchen shears and cut a large piece of hair right in the front and center of her hairline. My sisters and I yelled, “Dad, what did you do?!” And then we all had a much needed belly laugh. She would have killed him for making her look like that!
Life is a mixture of good and bad, and when we grieve, we really need to laugh, too. The evening after my son’s funeral, laughing with my girlfriends at my kitchen table was healing, just as much as the tears were. It prevented despair. Find the people who know you and who will help you laugh. It’s a must.

Seasons of grief are bitter, but they can also be so sweet. I cherish the memories of sitting around my kitchen table eating pizza from two different places with friends because I couldn’t make a decision, the moments I spent crying as tears streamed down my face while I expressed anger but felt God’s deep love for me, the pan of creamy chicken cordon bleu baked by a friend that I singlehandedly ate because it was just that good, and the star lit runs in my neighborhood when I didn’t know what else to do. The pain is severe, but eventually we are able to turn around and look back at it, and we’ll see it is surrounded by such treasured moments. Don’t miss them. Slow down. Take time. It won’t feel like this forever, so be intentional with what you do and don’t do.

If you do the good work of grief, the grief won’t last as long.

Grief takes time, just like all noble things.

You have permission to take time to grieve well as you honor the one you love.

I promise, it won’t always feel like this. You’re gonna like the version of you after grief.

I did it, and you are doing it, too. Just take one more step.

25 thoughts on “Permission to Grieve: a humble how-to

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. These are words my soul needed to hear. I lost my mom unexpectedly in July and feel like I don’t know what to do during this season.

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    1. I am so sorry about the loss of your mom, Amanda. I can very much relate to that feeling as I lost my mom six years ago. I am glad this gave you some ideas on how to grieve purposefully. You can do this.

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  2. Great message Molly. Thanks so much for sharing your life stories with us. It really is a beautiful thing how well you do this by putting all your heart into it. God bless you!

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  3. Wise wise words! Grief comes in many forms, for many reasons. If you are grieving, heed Molly’s advice. Lean into the pain and work through it. Take it from those of us who have done it. No matter the effort, it is SO worth it! ❤️ you, Molly!

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  4. Thank you for your words, Molly! I wish we lived closer together and could go get that booth at The Cheesecake Factory. But I’m thankful we were introduced to one another and appreciate your words from afar! ❤️

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  5. Well said, Molly. I think of you and the other families from our retreat and wonder where each of us is on our grief journey. I appreciate your blog to know how to pray for you. Jerry and I are coming up on 3 years since our dear Peter died and your words resonate.

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    1. Marge! So great to hear from you! That was such an incredible weekend, and I do miss all of our friends. Praying for you and Jerry as you continue to grieve, love, and remember that handsome Peter.

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  6. Love this post and forwarded it to my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and even some friends. Already, I got a lot of thank you’s from people, because they feel like their lost happened “a long time ago” and they shouldn’t grieve so much anymore. This was helpful to have permission to continue grieving. Thanks for your continuing encouragement and being brave by sharing your story. Love you sweet girl and miss little Tage so much!

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  7. Thank you for writing Molly. I have found for myself “the pain of grief doesn’t go away, but it gets further away”. For some reason, that statement resonates with me. I think we share some mutual friends and I know your life has revealed Christ to them in an unique way. (Kara Palmer ?)
    I pray that God will keep using you in a mighty way and that He would be your comfort and peace.

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  8. Thank you. I needed this. Hearing these words from you, whom I’ve received much encouragement and inspiration, makes me feel the permission more than just reading it. It’s been a while since our walk, and I’m sure much has happened for both of us. A dear friend of mine took her own life a couple months ago. I’ve not been doing many of these things, and feeling guilty about things I have been doing. So, thank you for helping me feel more comfortable leaning into the pain and sadness. Love you and your heart and would love to see you again sometime! ❤

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  9. Oh Molly! This is my most favorite post yet.. Aside from the earliest posts during Tage’s journey to heaven. Will you please allow me to print this and share with my bereaved patients? They will be forever changed.

    “The pain is severe, but eventually we are able to turn around and look back at it, and we’ll see it is surrounded by such treasured moments. Don’t miss them. Slow down. Take time. It won’t feel like this forever, so be intentional with what you do and don’t.”

    This right here.. So powerful.

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  10. I had avoided reading this until now because we are dangerously close to the one-year mark since my dad’s death. Those who know me well know that I’m an emotional stuffer burying hurts deep so the tears don’t come at inopportune moments. Today I thought I could finally handle this, Molly. Thank you for sharing. There are still things…thoughts I can’t bear to speak, but maybe someday I’ll give myself permission. Love your vulnerability. Always have. Always will.

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