On Grief: First You Have to Pick the Lemons, Then You Have to Cut an Onion

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After my son died twenty-three years ago, I spent a great deal of time talking to people, listening to them, and reading their stories, all in the hopes of finding the inspiration to heal.

I heard platitudes that abound in all areas of everyday life: “Time heals all wounds.” “You’re young; you can have more children.” “When God closes one door, he opens another.” “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”

During different types of loss, I’ve heard other hackneyed phrases like, “It happened for a reason,” and “Maybe you’re better off this way.”

These clichés are around for a reason: They have been passed down for generations because they are grounded in merit, they have proven true again and again.

And yet, anyone will tell you that these expressions are not suitable for the newly bereaved, or someone who has recently experienced some type of loss.

Paradoxically, the messages can actually add to our pain in the early stages of loss.

These inspirational sound-bites cannot be appreciated until we have traversed from grief to healing, until such time we have reconciled the conflicts behind our sadness.

One of my favorite, all-purpose quotes is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

The assumption is that we can turn something sour into something sweet, that we can create something positive from something negative.

And, we can!

Absolutely.

Unequivocally.

I know this because I’ve spent more than two decades learning how we go about making lemonade from lemons.

First You Have to Pick the Lemons
Credit: mr_t_in_dc.

I’ve asked tough questions.

What ingredient is it that enables some of us -- like Jennifer Schuett and Elizabeth Smart -- to overcome extreme adversity, to move forward and live a fulfilling life, even after catastrophe that leaves others suffering a lifetime of void?

How do we overcome tragedy?

What I know for sure is that we must mourn our losses. Period.

Thanks to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her Five Stages of Grief, I also know that everyone grieves differently. Each person’s response to loss will be different, the depth of each grief stage will vary, as will the order of its elements.

Some of us will be depressed for longer periods of time, while our anger is short-lived.

Others of us will be pissed off to near-epic proportions, while our sadness is seemingly fleeting.

Regardless of how we bridge the gap between loss and healing, the process of grief exists.

It moves.

It changes.

And we adapt.

I have come to terms with my son’s death. I do not feel it holds me back in any way.

And though I have attained success with regard to the loss of my child, I have come to realize in recent years that this understanding is not a blanket accomplishment, it is not an absolute. In order for me to continue to grow as an individual, I have many more lessons to experience and to learn from, in my lifetime.

When faced with future losses, I will need to grieve.

I will need to mourn the absence of something important to me.

I will need to cry.

That, my friend, is where the onion comes in.

You see, so many of us are indoctrinated into believing we must suck it up, not cry, look for the silver lining, and make lemonade when life presents us with unfortunate or tragic circumstance.

Hogwash!

We must first mourn.

To grow, we must acknowledge what is missing from our lives, and learn to live differently than we are accustomed.

As inspiring as it is to think about turning lemons into sweet, thirst-quenching splendor, we must first pay homage to the work behind the beverage.

We must pick or purchase the lemons, wash away the dirt and grime, squeeze the juicy life out of them, then discard the seeds and thick outer layers.

So, next time life gives you lemons: cut open an onion (or two), have yourself a good ‘ole nourishing cry (or two), then begin the tedious process of making your own lovely life, your own cup of sweet, fresh lemonade.

Hugs and healing, Journeyers...

Soon…

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