Give Yourself Grace—The Ultimate Gift
How forgiving yourself leads to healing.
Posted December 26, 2016 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
In 2013, I began to write about healthy ways to cope with grief/loss. And in this Huffington Post piece, I wrote about giving yourself grace as a method for dealing with the weight of sorrow.
The bereaved live in two worlds — the past and present. Sometimes more time is spent reliving memories than creating new meaningful ones. It is an arduous task fraught with sorrow to inhabit two distinct worlds, but making a clean break with the past seems nearly impossible.
For the bereaved, the past speaks so loudly it often visits them in the voice of a critical parent berating them for things they should have said or done. The past can become so powerful that it can wake one up from their sleep or cause them to drink an inordinate amount of alcohol to try to soothe the pain. Although the past narratives can't be changed, for the bereaved they represent a stained looking glass. Stained with judgment, fear, anger, and deep pain. And it was in this vein that I offered the suggestion of giving oneself grace. In other words, give yourself a pass.
If you are reading this as someone who has lost someone near and dear to your heart, then you know it isn't easy to think about giving yourself a break. I'm writing this to you as something to consider in your journey with grief.
Grace is not just for the religious or spiritual as a preconceived construct that needs to be carefully debunked or defined, nor is it a room one enters. Instead, it is how you feel when all is unraveling, and at the very end, you find yourself with an unexpected gesture of kindness: that is grace. Grace happens when the person you weren't so polite to earlier that day shows you kindness later; that is grace. It is the young child you snapped at that later hugs you. That, too, is grace.
In these situations, grace comes when you least expect it or deserve it, and in that moment, it changes you. It softens you and makes your heart beat a little faster. Like forgiveness or love, you can't see it but you know when you've experienced it.
Grace is about acceptance, forgiveness, love; and as hard and bitter as this is to swallow, it heals you unlike anything else. There is no magic formula, but those who are open to the possibility of it occurring and those who practice self-compassion will tell you that grace begins to mold together the fractures.
And if you are grieving your loved one and wearing the cloak of guilt, I'm suggesting that you give yourself grace. If you can't give yourself a pass for everything, then let a few things pass without judgment. No one is perfect. The most successful people make mistakes.
One of the most difficult things for the bereaved to do is to relinquish the past. As long as you are anchored to the past, fear will dominate your choices. Fear will drive every decision you make and this is a dangerous way to exist. There are many healthy things (i.e., exercise, therapy) that you can do to cope with loss, so if you haven't tried giving yourself a pass, I'm asking that you consider this as well.
Grace evaporates fear. And fear is often what lines the hearts and minds of the bereaved.
Give yourself grace.
Kristin Meekhof is a licensed master's level social worker, co-author of "A Widow's Guide to Healing" and panelist at the 2017 Harvard Medical School conference for health care professionals.