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Playing with Pain

January 15, 2018 

Playing with Pain

We have talked a lot about getting through the holiday season. so many people are relieved when the season is over. Mall music, radio stations and T.V. ads no longer paint audio and visual images that so easily trigger the pain of our grief. The truth is none of us have families that look like those holiday commercial families. It reminds me of those generic family prints that come in purchased picture frames and wallets. Who are these people? My family looks more like the dysfunctional Griswold family in Christmas Vacation than the sanitized families on the Hallmark Channel!

So, here we are on the other side of grief impaired holidays. Now what?

I want to suggest that there is hope; that even in our pain and grief, we can experience the brightness of a greater purpose. And here is why; Our pain isn’t meant to be wasted. I have discovered that we all metaphorically walk with a limp. There is an understanding in athletics that after the first or second game most players are playing in pain. It is the nature of the beast. Well, such is life. I once told a friend of mine that aging is simply a process of pain management. I can remember those days in my twenties when I actually got up in the morning feeling better than when I went to bed; when I didn’t need to have recovery time after an afternoon of yard work. Those who are grieving need to understand “playing in pain”. There are three facts about pain: There is no such thing about a pain-free life…There is a purpose behind your pain…Your pain can help others…Our pain isn’t meant to be wasted.

You need to hold on to the hope that your pain doesn’t have to be irrelevant. Consider this: many of the heartaches, pains and difficulties that we go through are for the benefit of other people; to help other people through the very things that we’ve been going through. This is the proof of recovery and healing: You know you’re becoming emotionally, physically, spiritually healthy when you start focusing on other people.  As we tap into the energy to help others, we move from surviving to thriving!

Your greatest help to someone will not come through your strengths but through sharing your pain and weakness. Why?  Because people are more likely helped by your pain and loss experience. In that light, we are all “Playing with pain”. I want to share five concepts that can help us play with pain and positively impact people’s lives.

Be Open with My Feelings

It’s really O.K. to tell someone you are having a rough day. The funeral is over, the family has returned home and there is no more ham and potato salad left that the neighbors brought to your house. And when you are asked how you are doing, you don’t have to fake it. It is healthy to admit that you are still, at times, angry. Your grief is what it is. We cannot be emotionally distant and impact people.

Embrace Caring People

We all know that, but we tend to want to hide our weakness and pain. Grief will often compel us to wall off people from getting close to us. One of the dangers of the pain of grief is to retreat; to enter a self-imposed solitary confinement. The reality is that we were made to live in community. We human animals need to be part of a pack, which is why I recommend a grief support group.

Tell My Story

The story of your loss can bring healing power to someone walking in your grief shoes. You might be surprised to hear someone tell you how glad they are that you had the courage to share your story.

Share What I’ve Learned 

Grief and pain can be great teachers. Sharing the lessons we’ve learned can help us discover deeper truths about ourselves as we move through the stages of grief. It is very likely that you have already walked through those valleys some people going through and they need your help.

Spread My Optimism

As the legendary New York Yankees catcher once said, “It’s not over till it’s over.” Everybody needs hope to cope. If anyone knows that life can kick the hope out from under you, it’s you. Now you have the opportunity to be a conduit of genuine, solid hope for someone who is where you have been. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “That which does not destroy me only makes me stronger.”  The Apostle Paul said, “We have been struck down, but not destroyed.” Even Elton John sang, “I’m still standing…better than I’ve ever been…”.

Somebody is desperate to know how to handle their pain and grief. You can show them how to play with pain and come out on the other side. You can experience the truth that our pain is not wasted.

Greg Webber

Director, Community Care/Aftercare

Certified Celebrant

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

Chesterfield, VA 23234

804-275-7828 (office)

804-873-0441 (cell)


The First Year of Grieving

Some people say that getting through the first year of grief is the hardest. Why is that the case? One person theorized that it’s because it is the first experience of the event without the loved one. Your brain still thinks they are supposed to be there, and it hasn’t had a chance to file the absent-loved-one-experience into a memory.

The first time you face a birthday without them, the first special anniversary, or those first holidays, everything is different. You experience a unique pang, or a flood of emotions. Someone you used to share those events with is gone, and nothing will be the same as it was before. This is a tough reality to accept. You yourself are also different because of your sorrow.

Then the calendar turns to the date that you lost them. You’ve had a year to remember those moments, feel ups and downs and to adjust to the new “normal.”

It marks a turning point. You have to decide how to move forward from there. You may even do some self reflection, question the last year and ask yourself if you need to make changes. Before someone does that, however, they have to get through that first year… but how? HOW can we move forward without someone who was such a central part of our life?

I asked some friends who had suffered the loss of a loved one if they were willing to share some of their experiences in the hopes of helping others who are in a similar situation, and they graciously agreed.

One of them shared: “My mom passed on right before Thanksgiving 20 years ago. The first couple years were the hardest, then kind of bittersweet holidays for a couple years, but fairly quickly I started to remember the good things only that time of year. I know she would want it that way.”

Another wrote, “The first year’s (moments) were the worst, but the sense of returning normalcy in the 2nd year was frequently punctured by the grief, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes overwhelmingly.

Yes the special dates are hard, but surprisingly sometimes every day events could be hard, too. For me it has been learning how to live with the loss – the new reality – in each new circumstance and experience.”

Another individual had a similar reminder about how grief can show up in unexpected ways, “Giving yourself permission to feel emotion on the anniversary dates is important especially the first year. Oddly I thought my parent’s birthdays the first year would be tough but they ended up not being as tough as mine. On theirs I felt a gratitude for their lives and accomplishments. It was a peaceful sense of a celebrating a life well lived. On mine I felt a sense of being orphaned because the two people most excited about my birth and existence were no longer there to share that with me. Alzheimer’s took that remembering several years previous but after death there was an alone feeling I never would have expected.”

One person noticed that sometimes they felt guilty celebrating a special event that happened to fall on the anniversary of the day they lost a loved one. It is normal to feel conflicted. It can be hard to celebrate when someone who was central to your life is gone.

Another shared something that brought her comfort, “The Firsts are the hardest. It doesn’t get easier as much as coping changes. We try to focus on good memories of those who have passed. We celebrate things that bring a memory. For instance, both my grandparents died the same day, 9 years apart. It also happens to be Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas). I try to make something in the kitchen as that’s what I did with them. Or we talk of silly stories. My mother pays for the church flowers in their memory at this time of year, the closest Sunday to the date as it falls. Doing these things brings comfort and remembrance.”

A dear friend who lost her son and husband on the same day, years after the loss of another son, wrote these words, “I don’t believe the loss hits you right away. You go into a kind of safe place. I was blessed to be surrounded by the community and my church family. There is so much to do when someone dies; the phone calls, the arrangements for the funeral, the cemetery, the actual funeral. I believe in my heart, having buried my 3 men, that the first few days weren’t about me. They were about the people in my life who also wanted to celebrate the life of my loved ones. For me, after everything was done, around 4 months later the enormity of my loss hit. Waking up alone in the painful silence was more silence than my spirit could handle.”

So how do you cope with the silence, with the pain? My friend stated that it helped her to choose to stay active in her church and remember the amazing legacy her loved ones left behind.

Other shared things that brought them comfort and strength, including:

  • Allowing themselves a chance to experience or express their feelings.
  • Doing something special to help remember their loved one on dates of significance
  • Focusing on the good memories
  • Staying busy
  • Spending time with people they care about
  • Attending support groups

That being said, each person experiences grief in their own unique way and on their own schedule. What is true for someone else may not be true for you.

Some observed that even though the “firsts” had a unique pang to them, they were also surprised by unexpected grief, even years later. One individual said that 19 years later it is just as hard for her as the first year. These are further proof that each grief journey is unique.

Grief is not linear. It ebbs and flows with the days and the years, but you CAN learn to cope with it.

Once you get through that first year you still grieve, but you also will be empowered with the knowledge that you can survive. Hopefully you can even thrive, making new, happy memories as you also continue to find comfort in the memory of the one you loved. You will hold them close in your heart, knowing they will always be with you as you carry on.

The new you.



Jennifer Roberts Bittner

Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870