Feel your feelings. I don’t know who first said these words. It would be interesting to overhear that original conversation. I wonder if it was said to someone who was grieving. I wonder if it was said in almost the middle of December when so much of the rest of the world was planning parties and wrapping presents. I wonder what the one who first received these words felt when hearing it - I wonder what that person said in response. I wonder…
It’s not as easy as it may seem, `feeling your feelings.’ There’s a vulnerability with that. There’s an exposure with that. There is a sense that once the feelings start, once the tears begin to flow, there may be no stopping them. And how is one supposed to feel when feeling that?
And yet, I honestly believe that this encouragement is our best hope.
There have been times in my life when I chose not to feel my feelings. Instead of feeling anything, I stuffed them down inside as far as I could stuff them. Does anybody else remember that old Simon and Garfunkel song, I am a Rock? Hours of listening to that one…”and a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.” I remember wearing a groove in that old 45.
Grief can be one of our most transformative teachers. With grief we learn over and over again about holding on and letting go. With grief we learn to treasure loved ones and cherish time. With grief we learn deep in our souls to come to understand what deeply matters to us, above all else.
There can be a jumbling of emotions with grief. All those things that Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross taught us years ago are woven together: anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – and back again. They are not a check list, that we can experience once and move on. It can be so surprising and disappointing when we say to ourselves, “OK I know now. I understand” (read: `done with denial’) and then something else comes along and we find ourselves right back there again. This jumbling of emotions can be exhausting and unsettling.
Feel your feelings.
When we have the courage and the opportunity to step back just a bit and see what is happening from a different angle, perhaps we will come to better understand. Perhaps we can more deeply understand more about ourselves and of our experience.
I wonder if it was the same person who said, “Feelings aren’t bad, they just are.” Wouldn’t surprise me. Over time these words have brought me a great deal of comfort. “They just are,” takes away the judgement. Not good or bad, feelings just are.
So, in these growing darker nights, don’t forget to light a candle. In these drawing closer to Christmas-days, don’t forget that there are folks around you who care deeply, and would most likely do whatever it is you would ask of them (go for a walk, or a cup of coffee or to a movie). In these missing-them-so-very-much days, don’t forget the promise of Emmanuel. God is with us. Has been all along.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan (now a freshman at Guilford College) and Sam at sophomore at DHS in Decatur, GA.