Shock, Grief and Self-Care

If you find yourself ruminating on your loss or consumed by worry thoughts, it may be time to spend some quiet time with those painful thoughts and fe...

Shock, Grief and Self-Care News Post
6 min read
Shock, Grief and Self-Care 
As I am sitting with this loss, I am realizing Christmas Eve was the last time I’d see the lights dim and sing Silent Night in the church where I was christened, confirmed, married, my father’s ashes interred, my nieces and nephews were christened, my son was christened, and my grandmother blessed before being laid to rest. 
Flooding my memory are all those times I was told as a wiggly child to sit still, to be quiet, to stop squirming, to stop lying down on the kneelers, to stop jumping up and down on the kneelers, to stop kicking the back of the pew in front of me and stand still and cross my arms at the altar rail because I couldn’t ingest the body and blood of Christ until I was old enough to appreciate its significance and importance. 
As an emerging adolescent, I couldn’t wait to go up to communion and show off this new rocking boxy oversized plaid blazer and this above the knee black suede skirt and these new hot pink and neon green braces.  
Then there is the time Bishop Charles Jenkins when he was still Reverend at St. Luke’s gave a sermon around rejoicing in the imperfections of the holiday season and described a family whose father took a chainsaw to the top of their Christmas tree to make it fit the room. 
That holly jolly chainsaw massacre covered haphazardly with twinkling lights and dangling with king-cake babies hot glued to fake straw in walnut shells with the lopsided angel clinging to the top by a wing and a prayer was none other was our Christmas tree.  
Mom thought it was hysterically funny that Father Jenkins mentioned it in his sermon, Dad not so much.   
Then there is high school. If I’m lucky to make it home by curfew, I’m winning the lottery if I’m up, dressed, and making it on time for the 9:00 am service.  
Those stained-glass windows illustrating scenes in the Bible whose colors reflected enough light to capture the live wire attention of my developing ADHD brain. 
One of the scenes from those stained-glass windows inspired a poem I wrote for a poetry contest in high school from the perspective of Judas Iscariot entitled What Have I Done? The same day we read our submissions to the class the principal called my mom to be sure I wasn’t planning on hanging myself. If they were so literal to take me for the reincarnation of the suicidal sell out apostle, I wonder what happened to the girl who wrote about an abortion. If it’s a phone call to my mom for being likened to Judas Iscariot, I hope she had it easier as Mary Magdalene. 
Then there is college, as one of the few admitted Episcopalians on the predominantly Southern Baptist campus of Louisiana College (which is sadly no more), I was hard pressed to find a church in central Louisiana that gave me the same sense of connection I have always had at St. Luke’s. The same is true in my search for a church when I lived in New Orleans before moving back to Baton Rouge. Even when I lived in London for a semester, St. Paul’s in all its glory couldn’t hold a candle to the people and sense of belonging I got with my St. Luke’s. 
I admit it is a bit unorthodox to have a bishop, a reverend and a deacon performing a different role at one’s wedding. Then again, I suppose it all comes down to the relationships we have with one another. 
I admit for someone with this much nostalgia for a church, my attendance on Sunday mornings is pitiful. 
But when I go, I am surrounded by familiar faces and happy memories. I see Becky Williams’s curls and warm-hearted smile, Brookie’s effervescence, Mr. Denker’s friendly grin across the room in a crowded Pope Hall, and Mrs. Denker pausing to exchange pleasantries as she goes about her task. 
I am so thankful I moved back to Baton Rouge and returned to St. Luke’s as a married woman. Now most people might worry about what their college friends might tell the guy they want to marry, but it’s actually long-time members of the congregation who have watched you grow up who have the best stories about you.   
Mr. and Mrs. Denker have known me since I was in kindergarten with their oldest daughter. Sharon Edmon has watched me grow up wearing smocked dresses with black patent mary janes and a bowl hair-cut, through the awkward pre-pubescent and adolescent years with acne, terrible haircuts, braces, oversized blazers and suede miniskirts. Brookie Allphin-Smith has caught me making funny faces with her kids when we were all supposed to be heads bowed saying the Lord’s Prayer.  
Our relationships and recognizing each other’s faces foster familiarity. With familiarity there is a sense of belonging and connection. Connection makes a community. We are the collectively grieving as the community of St. Luke’s.   
Yes, our church building as we know it, is gone and yes we are grieving.  
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with nearly twenty years of experience I’ve learned you have to allow yourself the space and time to be sad. The more you avoid grieving the worse it gets. It may even express itself in other behaviors such as drinking too much, or being irritable and lashing out at loved ones. I have a lot of respect for grief. Acknowledging, realizing, and accepting one’s loss is a necessary step in the process of rebuilding. Grief is also a bridge to hope and possibility. You’ll know you have been grieving because you will feel the pain of your loss and begin to see yourself moving forward. Allowing yourself to feel the shock, horror, disbelief and grief, allows you to access your hopes for the future and imagine yourself adapting to your new-found circumstances instead of continuing to wallow in the loss and helplessness. Avoiding the pain of grieving only prolongs feelings of helplessness. 
If you find yourself ruminating on your loss or consumed by worry thoughts, it may be time to spend some quiet time with those painful thoughts and feelings. Let the wave of grief hit you. It may wash over you or it may feel like a sucker punch to the stomach. The realization that this past Christmas Eve was the last time I’m going to sing Silent Night in that building hit me so hard it took my breath away. And then it passes.  
Grief is a process. Grieving is not a one and done kind of thing. Thoughts and feelings about our loss will still come up, but the intensity of the feelings lessens over time if we can allow ourselves to sit with whatever is coming up for us in that moment.  
Some questions to ask yourself to help you begin to put words to the feelings of disbelief and loss are: What is it like for me to sit with this shock and disbelief? What do I miss the most about my church? What are my biggest fears and concerns around this? 
Please be kind to yourself and patient with yourself as you move through this time. You may want to be mindful of your alcohol intake. While it can take the edge off in the short term, consuming it frequently can foster more feelings of helplessness because alcohol is a depressant. Eating fortifying foods can help you maintain your stamina and give you the energy you need to deal with stress. Getting plenty of sleep can help you feel well rested which helps you feel more confident in your ability to deal with stress and intense emotions. Going for a walk can help alleviate distress around ruminating thoughts. Exercise also releases endorphins which are our feel-good hormones. Take a deep breath and let it out. And if that feels good, do it again.  
We are going to get through this.  
With love, 
Juliet Catrett 

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