"There is no standard route in grief. As the wisest grievers I know have told me, 'There is nowhere you can be but in it.'" -- J. Dana Trent
Whether you're in the midst of losing someone you love or remembering one you've lost this All Saint's Day, author and former hospital chaplain Dana Trent offers these tips to help you cope in your season of grief, from her new book Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life
Acknowledging and Grieving Your Loss
Grief is a natural part of being in deep relationship and connection with others. Grief honors the threads of intimacy that weave us together as humans. Here are some steps in processing the grief.
Step 1: Acknowledge the loss.
It took me years to acknowledge—aloud—that I had experienced a lot of loss. I hadn’t realized the impact being a "death chaplain" had had on me, as well as the deaths of so many relatives, followed by Mom’s. My work as a chaplain informed the ways in which I grieved all significant losses—including my parents. I had the tendency to go into “chaplain mode,” which meant helping, doing, caregiving, and providing crisis management—rather than seeing myself as the one who needed the help. Because I was busy acting on others’ behalf or holding their loss, I didn’t do much with my own. It wasn’t until after Mom died that I acknowledged that I had, indeed, suffered a significant, life-changing loss.
Step 2: Acknowledge that grief comes in waves.
Grieving is not linear, though it can be cumulative. It’s often triggered in unexpected ways—ordinary objects, memories, traffic intersections, songs, photos. When it arrives, grief can feel like an enormous wave crashing over us. It often feels as if it might swallow us whole amid a sea that feels fiercer than our ability to cope. Acknowledge these waves when they arrive, but know that they are not rip tides. They will not pull us into an ocean from which we cannot escape. We will not drown; we will not be lost at sea. We merely have to ride them out as they make their journey to shore.
Step 3: Stay in the grief; don’t minimize the loss; seek support.
Since grief is overwhelming, it can feel as if we are going to drown. Seek support—both professional and in close friends or family—to learn how to breath, tread water, float, and even paddle through the waves.
Chaplains, clergy, and hospice staff are all excellent resources to help you in navigating grief and adopting meaningful rituals on your journey. No two grief trains are alike; if you don’t like a ritual, don’t do it. If you like one ritual and want to do it repeatedly—do it. There are no rules. This is your grief train.
J. Dana Trent is a former hospital chaplain, ordained Baptist minister, and the author of the new release, Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life. She is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and professor of World Religions and Critical Thinking at Wake Tech Community College. Dana's work has been featured on Time.com, Religion News Service, Religion Dispatches, as well as in Sojourners and The Christian Century . Dana is also the award-winning author of books on wholistic wellness and multi-faith spiritual practices: One Breath at a Time: A Skeptic’s Guide to Christian Meditation, For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community , and Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk.