In Grief, Social Work

Written By: Mariano Hinojosa 

Almost all of us have experienced the death of a family member or a close friend.  The resulting grief is often almost unbearable.  The loss is unbelievable and the words offered to console, fail.

I don’t know anybody who is comfortable reading about one’s personal grief, so if the subject makes you feel uneasy, please put this article down.

Different Ways to Cope

However, if you wish to continue reading, let’s start with the premise that different people cope with grief in different ways. I suggest that one way you might consider channeling your bereaved emotions is through a hands-on project.  Something that lets you turn your negative feelings into something concrete and beautiful.  Such a project can be therapeutic and can help you manage stress and anxiety.

Searching for a Project

There are many different projects you could take on.  One common example is to plant a tree.  You could devote a warm Saturday morning to digging a hole and planting a sapling.  You can dedicate this new life to the memory of your deceased loved one.

Creative expression can also be invaluable.  For example, writing a poem to honor your loved one, composing a song or maybe it means painting or drawing a picture.

These projects can all be helpful for improving your mental and emotional health and for giving you a constructive outlet for grief.  There is no wrong answer here.  I am offering these projects for you to start thinking about as you navigate your healing journey.

Mindful Moments

There’s a Rolodex of moments from my life that remain in my mind and my heart.  Snapshots of a conversation, an event, or of hearing news that was so completely unexpected that it rocked me to my core.  Some moments are hard to relive, and others like this one, I gratefully recall.

Story of a Sweet Student

It was during the first month of school that I met a 6-year-old student, who was a sweet little girl.  The student was in my wife’s new class for gifted first graders.  I had volunteered to help the students with an art project.  While the little girl busied herself carving a bar of soap, she asked some questions about her teacher.  First, she wanted to know why the teacher’s hair was white.  I told her that Mrs. Hinojosa’s hair was white because she spent a lot of time worrying about her students.  Then the student asked why her teacher’s face had so many wrinkles.  I answered that her teacher got a wrinkle every time her students made her smile.

A few days later, as the girl’s mother drove her to school on a foggy morning, a driver crossed over into their lane and hit them head-on.  I was at work when my wife called and asked me to go to the hospital.   My wife needed to know the girl’s condition.  When I entered the emergency room, I was met by a doctor who gave me the news that she had died.

The parents of the class were summoned and my wife had the difficult duty of reporting the upsetting news, while mothers and fathers held their children.

I never met the other driver.  After he appeared in court for his sentencing, I learned that he was 22 years old and had been driving without a license because of a previous DUI.

From Bitterness to Forgiveness

I met with the girl’s parents a few weeks later.  Her father was still grieving.  I asked him if he had met the other driver.  Her father said that they met shortly after the accident and that he had forgiven him.  Her father then explained, “Grief is not something you get over.  It’s something you get through.   Grief is like a cut you might get on your body.  If it is a clean wound, it will heal itself eventually.  But if you allow bitterness, unforgiveness, and anger in, it may never heal completely.  I’ve been asked time and again how I could forgive the man who ended my daughter’s life.  Some people think of forgiveness as letting someone go guilt-free. I disagree.”

I came away with an understanding that forgiveness can lift a heavy burden.  Instead of living a life enslaved to bitterness and misery, this father could more freely remember his little girl; all the joy that she brought into his life and the sweetness of six beautiful years he had with her.

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