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PrayerStarters To Help You Heal After Loss
By Elizabeth Stalling
Abbey PressCopyright © 1999 Elizabeth Stalling
All rights reserved.
Making Small Beginnings
"Great peace is found in little busy-ness."
"Nothing will ever be the same; that's the nature of loss. What you loved and were familiar with is not part of your life anymore. While facing the reality of 'nothing ever being the same,' go on to claim the rest of that reality: Things are different. With time, very different will be somewhat different—and with a little more time, somewhat different will become fully familiar and normal."
—Kass Dotterweich, Grieving as a Woman
Think of a small prayer or gesture or ritual you can perform—something very personal and private and small. Maybe it's a Christian Sign of the Cross, or a short "Be with me, Lord," utterance. Or—perhaps it's a small religious object or sacred symbol to touch or grasp. These are the small prayers that get us on the way to healing. A small bow of the head may be appropriate as you pray:
You, Lord Jesus, started out your life small—a humble, lowly, "stable-boy." Help me to re-start my life with small, "baby steps." Here are some healing "first steps" I can take right now, with you at my side:
______________ ______________ ______________
"Get out your calendar and write down just how you plan to spend every Saturday and Sunday for the next month."
—Dr. Joyce Brothers
One philosopher has said that all we need are three things in life: Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to. When we have suffered a loss, it seems that all three of these basic life requirements are taken away from us—or severely threatened. It's hard to remember that one of the "someones to love" is God. And that Someone continues to love us today, and will through every tomorrow.
It's time to take stock of what is left. Try to count the things that, with God's help, you can still do, the people you can still love (whether living or dead), the good things you can still look forward to. Name just a few of them here, and conclude with a simple prayer below:
______________ ______________ ______________
______________ ______________ ______________
Lord, you told us not to worry about tomorrow—to be like the birds of the air who have no concern about tomorrow. But, in truth, Lord, I'm more worried about today than tomorrow. Surround me, today, with your love. Help me, hold me, and see me through.
"Without friends the world is but a wilderness There is no man that imparteth his joys to his friends, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth griefs to his friends, but he grieveth the less."
Sometimes we need to hang on to someone else's strength, someone else's hope, someone else's peace or hope—while ours is under siege. Do it. Courage, strength, hope, faith, peace, and even sanity ... they all come and go. Borrow them from someone else's supply until your own comes back to you.
There are rich reserves of all of these life necessities, if we but reach out for them.
Make an honest list of the people who have helped you the most thus far, and just what it was that really made the difference. "Sometimes the presence is all," goes a wise saying. Who are the people who have been most present to and for you? Write their names:
______________ ______________ ______________
Say the following prayer: Lord, you said "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4) Well, I am mourning and in need of the comfort of friends, neighbors, co-workers, family, strangers—and you. May these good people—and you—be my comfort and my strength.
The Circle Will Be Unbroken
"Restoration is promised. That is the first and basic truth to hold onto. It doesn't take away the grief ... but it does make it more endurable. The truth is that we will be reunited. My mother is in heaven now, and she is with my little brother who died. She lost him only for a time, and even though it was a long, sorrowful time, they are together again."
—David Knight, Catholic priest-author
"Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you."
Writer Leonard Foley reminds grievers that, "Within your love is a greater love. Beyond this world is another world. So do not get lost ... and do not lose hope, either, at the bedside of your dying child, or in the multitude of insane tragedies your life may suffer. Look up! There is another world!"
Take a trip to the cemetery where loved ones are buried. Ask yourself what you believe about "Where are they now?" Ask God to bless the souls of all who have gone before us—and to strengthen our faith in the incomparable good that is to come for all who wait in hope and faith.
Honor the Memory
"You will not be cured, but ... one day—an idea that will horrify you now—this intolerable misfortune will become a blessed memory of a being who will never again leave you."
Yes, it can be painful to remember, but the very thought of forgetting someone we have loved so dearly is even more painful. So this is the time to remember, and to cherish the memories. The aim of our grief work is not to erase memories, but to make the painful memories less controlling. At the same time, preserving our good memories is part of the sacred trust left to us. We commit to cherish the shared love with which we have been so blessed. We pray that we may come to discover that we don't necessarily have to see what we love in order to know it is safe in our hearts.
It was Shakespeare who penned the beautiful thought: "But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restored and sorrows end."
Perhaps the relationship you had with the one who has died was just this powerful and beautiful. If so, you will have many occasions to draw from your treasury of rich, life-giving memories. Keep in mind that it is just such a rich relationship that our loving God seeks with you, too. Take a moment to "think on God," and pray for the kind of loving relationship with God who can truly sustain you.
What Did I Do to Deserve This?
"It isn't raining on you; it's just raining."
Sometimes we feel so hurt that we wonder if God isn't singling us out for pain, or specially targeting us because of something we did or did not do. We wonder just what we may have done wrong to deserve such suffering—or what our lost loved one did to "deserve" to suffer and die. In life we soon enough find out that what is fair and just, and what really happens, can be very, very different indeed. But God can stay with us through it all—if we stay with God.
As you try to think about God's view of our lives here on planet Earth, it's easy to conclude that "God must want us to suffer." But there are a host of great religious thinkers and teachers who tell us that God suffers with us; God grieves with us.
Meditate for a few moments on the following: Could it be that God is so close to you—embracing you, surrounding you, holding you in the hollow of loving hands—that you cannot see God? Is what you hear not only your own weeping—but God crying intimately, indiscernibly with you?
"I am writing myself into well-being."
—From a personal journal
Writing—or telling people "how it was" and "how it is"—can be the best of therapies.
Writing Down Your Bones is the name of a popular book. It's about expressing one's essential, core feelings—one's very self, what's deep in the marrow of hurt. Expressing the hurt, writing it down, getting it out, is essential. It need not be literary or "publishable" material; the spellings and the grammar and the phraseology don't matter. It's time to get out the feelings.
Express honest feelings with these short prayers:
Dear Lord, I want to tell you just what's on my mind. These are the thoughts and words I need to say to you—some of them perhaps not so sweet and lovely. But I want to "Write Down My Bones" to you about what I am going through. You are my loving God, my loving friend, and I know you can take them! Here goes: ________________________________________________
Dear Lord, if I were to imagine the words you want to be saying to me right now, they might include the following: ______________________________________________
Praying Your Emptiness
"So I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, 'When shall I rise?' But the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn."
"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then will I know fully, even as I have been fully known."
—I Corinthians 13:12
Make this a day to be honest about your loss and your feelings of emptiness and hurt. As you pray the following prayer, leave one small part of yourself open to new light and life—and the return, someday, of joy.
Dear God: No one told me I could hurt this much. I now know my life can never be the same again. Can it still be okay? You promised it would be when you said, "I have come that you may have life—and have it to the full." I'm not feeling very full right now; I'm feeling very empty. Show me the way to go from here. I don't even want a "full" life right now. I just want a life.
"Hold on to hope that, in one form or another, the sparkle will one day return."
– Karen Katafiasz
Getting through the holidays after experiencing a loss is a special challenge—and "celebrating" the holidays may seem like an impossibility. The key, now, is to do the holidays in a way that is right for you. Making prayer a bigger-than-usual part of the season may be one of the best responses. After all, you are probably feeling that only a miracle can get you through all this. And God does the best miracles. Ask for a simple miracle, in fervent prayer.
Meditate on these verses from a poem from Alfred Lord Tennyson. As you experience the grief the poet expresses, also ask God to help you experience a miracle of peace and calm in the midst of grief.
Again at Christmas did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
The silent snow posses'd the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas eve.
The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
No wing of wind the region swept,
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.
The Courage to Heal
"When you pass through the waters I will be with you: and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
These familiar words from the Old Testament can be a testament to our courage—the personal courage it will take to weather the storm of loss. It's time now to remember that being courageous does not mean being unafraid; it means going ahead and doing what we must do despite all the fear in the world.
To pray for courage is to pray to "have heart"—to have the heart to get out of bed in the morning; to have the heart to be good to yourself when you're feeling your lowest; to have enough heart to still believe in love and happiness and joy after experiencing the depths of sadness and hurt ... and heartlessness.
Lord, God, today I pray for heart. I pray to have the courage to love myself and life enough to do the following: ______________________________________________
For those I love and those who love me: _____________
For myself: __________________________________________
For you, God: ________________________________________
"Bereavement is a wound. It's like being very, very badly hurt."
—Lynn Caine, Widow
Healing from loss is like healing from radical surgery. After all, a part of you has been ripped away. Just as the body needs special treatment to recuperate, so your broken heart needs special care to mend.
Consider your grieving time as an emotional convalescence. Go easy on yourself; take time off from "life as usual." Since grieving is hard on both body and soul, make sure you're eating healthy and getting as much rest as possible. Be a patient patient: grieving takes time.
Ask the Divine Healer for guidance on these questions:
What "medicine" might ease your pain? What people, places, or activities have been healing for you in the past?
Would it help to consult a "doctor of the soul," such as a clergyperson or other spiritual guide?
Do you need to undertake any special "therapy"— like attending a Widow and Widowers group—to help you get back into circulation?
What "Get Well" gifts might lift your spirits? Maybe you need to send yourself flowers (!) or ask a friend to bake you her famous lasagna.
"I hear you stumbling for words. Relax. There are no words.... You don't have to give me answers, for I will learn to live without them. You don't have to pretend my loved one never existed, thinking I will forget if you do. Let me speak his name, and you speak it, too. He is always there, that one I love so deeply, always part of who I am. If you take that from me, I will be less than who I am."
—Jacqueline L. Rogers, I Want to Help But I Don't Know How
Well-meaning people want to help but sometimes say the wrong things: "It's a blessing she went so quickly ..." "He's better off now ..." "You can always have another baby ..." "It's God's will." Or they may pretend nothing has happened. It's okay to tell them gently and honestly what you need (or don't need) from them.
God helps those who help themselves ... and those who accept help from others. You have prayed to God for comfort: your friends and family are God's answer to your prayer. Let them be God's arms to hold you, God's ears to listen to your sorrows, God's heart to simply be with you.
Call up someone who has offered help and tell that person what you need. Don't forget practical needs. Let someone bring you food or understanding, housecleaning relief or the relief of tea and tears. God wants to comfort you through the goodness of the people around you.
The Ripple Effect
"Mourn not just for the loss of what was but also for what will never be."
—Karen Katafiasz, Grief Therapy
Losing someone close is not a one-fell-swoop blow. After the numbness wears off, after the shockwave of sadness knocks us to our knees, we come to another sobering realization: the hits just keep on coming— loss ... after loss ... after loss....
When someone close dies, it triggers a chain reaction. Not only is that person gone, but our shared dreams and goals are gone as well. The plans we had—never to happen. The hopes and possibilities— gone. The future we envisioned—not to be.
Just as we need to grieve the loss of our loved one, we also need to grieve the "secondary" losses. And in order to grieve them, we must first identify them. On separate slips of paper, write down the other losses resulting from your loved one's death.
Over the next few weeks, pray over each loss. Use the prayer of tears, the prayer of ranting and raving, the prayer of speechless sorrow ... let the Spirit lead you. Then give each loss to God. You may want to symbolically let go by burning each slip of paper and letting the smoke rise to heaven.
"Around you, life appears as usual. Yet nothing is the same. You eat, work, sleep—but you don't necessarily do them well.... All the while, living seems devoid of purpose. There is something terribly, terribly wrong."
—Karen Katafiasz, Finding Your Way Through Grief
Your life has been tossed in the air, shattered and scattered into a million pieces. Somehow you go through the motions of living, but it's difficult to function. After all, what's the point? The most painful feelings you have ever experienced whirl inside you, a vortex of pain, sadness, anger, confusion. Meanwhile—and this is the greatest absurdity of all—everything around you runs just as it ever did: business as usual, the world still turns, life goes on. You must be going crazy.
Excerpted from PrayerStarters To Help You Heal After Loss by Elizabeth Stalling. Copyright © 1999 Elizabeth Stalling. Excerpted by permission of Abbey Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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