Garry Yeager, M.DIV, D.MIN., bereavement coordinator for Compassus – Flint, uses an intriguing analogy in understanding individual grieving.
After a loved one’s death, grieving family members frequently experience guilt about their feelings; they express love for the lost family member but worry that they aren’t grieving enough. They feel regret for handling it too well and wonder if something is wrong with them.
On a few occasions, comments have been made by others that a particular family member does not seem to be grieving. “I always thought they had a good marriage,” someone will say, as if suggesting their love was not what it appeared to be on the surface.
My answer to that involves a milk bucket and an empty soup can. Grief comes to us in a full bucket. If we let grief simply sit in the bucket, we will become physically sick. So we must begin to remove it from the bucket, a little at a time, with the soup can. This is done by experiencing and beginning to move through grief.
But what most do not understand is that the bucket of grief is not handed to us at the time of death, but rather when we first learn of the possibility of a loved one’s impending death. It is then that we start to grieve or start dipping — experiencing — grief out of the bucket.
During those pre-death days, months or years, we actually grieve with our terminally ill loved one, emptying grief out of the bucket together. So when death does come, the bucket is far from full. Sometimes it is down to the bottom of the bucket; therefore, the grief at death does not hit us as hard as it might have with no preparation time.
Often a sense of relief prevails that the patient’s struggles are over. That is not an expression of no love. Far from it. It is deep, unselfish love. Because together, in love, they day-by-day dipped most of the grief from the bucket. Now it is time to rest and move on.
The soup can will never remove all of the grief, because it cannot reach into the crevice around the bottom edge of the bucket. A little grief will remain in the bucket for years — perhaps forever — but it will not be the overwhelming kind.
Rather, it will be the gentle kind of grief that gives beauty to the loving memories that remain.
This article originally appeared in Everyday Compassion magazine. To browse full issues of the magazine, click here.