Grief is like that…it surprises us

I was a blubbering wreck – which surprised me.

We were attending a funeral, and my heart ached for the family. But that did not explain my over-reaction.

As I searched in the bottom of my handbag for tissues and got Chris to find his handkerchief, I tried to figure out what the problem was. A quick run through the calendar in my head reminded me: It was the same week as the baby we had lost would have had their birthday.

I realised that my reaction was explainable, and that the emotions that were overwhelming me were really my own grief. So I was able to acknowledge that my feelings were valid, and put them on hold to deal with them later. I cleaned myself up, and at last, offered my condolences to the family.

Grief is like that.

It surprises us with emotions that seemingly bubble up out of nowhere.

Sometimes there are obvious triggers: we see something that reminds us of our loved ones; we meet someone who knew our loved one, and we race home to phone them, only to realise…they’re no longer on the other end of the phone. We watch a movie, a television programme, or even an advert, and the tears begin to roll down our cheeks – for no good reason that we can instantly identify. But if we pause for a moment to think about it, we may recognise it as grief.

But anniversaries are another matter.

Some anniversaries are obvious: Birthdays and Christmas, wedding anniversaries, and the anniversary of the death of our loved one are examples of occasions where we know we will miss our loved ones terribly. Others around us usually understand, and we are easily excused.

But other anniversaries are much more personal and private. Some we want to remember; the first time we met, the first time we held hands, the time we went on a trip somewhere special. Sometimes anniversaries are not even about grieving for a person, but an event that happened, or something we had hoped and planned for that never happened. Some other anniversaries we don’t wish to remember but still live on secretly in our hearts. 

Being aware that anniversaries that we don’t consciously think about may pop up and surprise us can help to reassure us that we are not going insane. Somehow, our subconscious is reminding us that this matters to us.

We can acknowledge our grief

We can acknowledge our grief—which is easier to do if they are pleasant memories—or we can try to lock it away. But if we continue to hide grief deeply within us it can breed like a cancer and cause us to be bitter and angry, poisoning our thoughts and attitudes on the inside even though we may smile on the outside.

Finding someone we can trust to help us acknowledge our grief is so worthwhile; a dear friend, a Pastor, Life-Line or a counsellor.  Often we anticipate that the pain of our past coming to the surface is going to be worse than hiding it away.  But instead, many people find that what before was a deep, dark, lonely secret, brings them hope, joy and healing when it is unlocked and released. It’s as though they’re able to fill a big, deep hole with all sorts of good. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have the memories anymore—it’s just that they are no longer such a burden.

Some people find it helpful to use a perpetual or birthday calendar and pencil in occasions that might be significant. This enables us not only to acknowledge our grief, but warns us—and those with whom we live—to expect turbulence. Instead of cancelling all appointments, we can look at this in the same way as the pilot of a plane navigates around and through stormy weather—being prepared for a bumpy patch and fastening seat-belts, but hopefully getting through without too many bruises.

If we care for people who are grieving,

we can take the initiative to acknowledge their grief. If we’re aware of an anniversary, we can send a card or flowers or take them out for dinner, or to a movie or something else special. On the anniversary of grandpa’s birthday, perhaps grandma would like a way to celebrate. If there’s no anniversary that we’re aware of, how about going out with them for a cuppa or a walk ‘just because’? There’s no lonelier place when you’re grieving than thinking you’re the only one in the world who is.

When we are aware that grief affects us all

in so many different and surprising ways, we can be more compassionate and understanding of people with whom we live and work. If we understand that many of the people who may shock or even disgust us are possibly dealing with a constant source of issues over which to grieve, we can grow acceptance. We can recognise that they need our love—not our judgement.

A number of years ago, our family collected all of the Christmas cards we received and placed them into a basket on our kitchen table. Every morning, we would pull out a card, pray for the sender and send them a note just to say we’d prayed for them that day. One day I received a phone-call from a dear aunt.

‘How did you know?’ she asked me.

‘Know what?’ I asked. She went on to explain that the note we had sent to her had arrived on the anniversary of her husband’s death and how precious the note was to her. We put that one down to being a God-incidence.

Anniversaries and memories are significant parts of our lives. They remind us of all the people and events which have made us who we are. How we deal with them will influence who we are to become.

*Published as ‘When the storms strike’ in The Lutheran, April 2014.


STOP, THINK, ACT: The ABCs of what to do next

I used to give a STOP, THINK, ACT handout to parents.  Initially it was so they could remind kids to STOP, THINK then ACT before rushing into things inevitably got them into trouble.

Later, I tweaked it a little to incorporate feelings. I learnt that before any child can think clearly,  they need to be able to acknowledge what they’re feeling.

Many of the dads came up to me several weeks after their handout  made it onto the fridge in their home.

‘You know that “STOP. FEEL & THINK. ACT” thing you gave us for the kids? It works for me too. It reminds me to stop before I yell or smack. Thanks!’


The more I deal with parents, the more I discover that parenting kids involves learning about ourselves in the process.

So, here’s the adultified version of the ABC’s of Stop, Think, Act.


How do we continue with life when so many things around us are too horrible to contemplate – but they don’t actually affect us?
When dozens are massacred in a place we know of; When shots are fired at a house on the next block; When lives have been shattered through motor vehicle accidents; When someone else is diagnosed with cancer; When arbitrary decisions made by people who should know better affect families who deserve better; When jobs and the economy are unstable.

We can climb into our shells and pretend the world doesn’t exist.

Or we can:





Before you do anything else, especially if it’s going to lead you or someone else into trouble, STOP – long enough to take a breath.


What are your feelings?

Are they coming from now?  Are they protecting you and telling you to run for your life or to seek shelter or care for others?

Then fight or flee, or tend and find others to be with. 

Or are they coming from the past? Are they protecting you – or are they paralysing you in panic, causing the child in you to fear something you have never been helped to deal with?  Then make an appointment with yourself to sort through them when you’re out of the current situation. But NOT right now.

But What to do now? Think and PLAN

Identify what is outside of your control. Be aware of it, but hand it over to someone bigger, stronger, wiser or kind for the moment. Pray. Dig down deep and dump it in a place where you can pick it up and be helped to deal with it later.

Worrying about something outside of your control cripples you from doing what you CAN do.

Concentrate on what is within YOUR control?

What CAN you do?


ABCs of what you CAN do:

  • A – Acknowledge – ‘All I can do is all I can do, and all I can do is enough’
  • B – Breathe
  • C – Create something beautiful or useful
  • D – Donate your time, talent or treasure
  • E – Encourage others with your words, your presence, your attitude, your actions
  • F – Find help to deal with those emotions from the past

You may not make a big difference in the whole scheme of things,

But you can make an enormous difference in the life of another.


Put your plans into action. Take tiny steps forward into doing something positive. And you’ll take your thoughts under control in the process.


Volunteer in a local op-shop; or Meals-on-Wheels; in a hospital or nursing home; mow a lawn or weed a garden; take immigrants/students for driving practice;  sell sausages for charities at your local hardware store; take a dog for a walk; hang up washing or sort clothes for an overwhelmed mum or dad; hold a baby; bake a cake with a teenager; cook a meal for a neighbour; listen to kids reading in school; sweep up in a Men’s Shed; grow fruit & vegetables for a Grow Free cart; work in a community garden; join a choir; teach a child to play an instrument; make costumes or props for a school concert; edit a newsletter; write to your politician or newspaper; join a quilting group …

Please add your ideas in the comments section below.


As adults we have the ability to determine what is within and outside of our control. Stop. Feel & Acknowledge, Think & Plan helps us to remember that we CAN take control of the next moment.

Inspired by: Ephesians 5:15-17

‘Live life then, with a due sense of responsibilitiy, not as people who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do. 

Make the best use of your time, despite the evils of these days. Don’t be vague, but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of the Lord.’  Phillips