For those grieving, tears are nothing to fret about, said Pastor Larry Green.
“Tears are rivers that wash the soul,” said Green, who serves as chaplain for Hospice of South Texas. “When you allow your tears to flow, though they are coming out of the waterwells of your eyes, they are springing up from the corners of your soul. It’s purifying you and ... releasing the hurt.”
During his years of service as a spiritual and of end-of-life counselor at the hospice, Green said he has worked with thousands of dying people. Earlier this week, he gave a guest lecture to a class for physical therapist assistants at Victoria College about how to cope with death and those gripped with grief.
“You can’t walk their journey for them, but you can walk with them,” he said.
Tammy Mikulik, academic clinical coordinator of education for the program, said she invited Green after several students found themselves overwhelmed by the experience of losing patients.
“Even if it’s not our patients who are passing, their family members pass,” said Mikulik, adding, “Knowing how to talk to that person is just as important.”
During his hour-and-a-half talk, Green brought the dozen students to tears and laughter, but he also passed down a keen understanding of the mechanisms behind grieving the loss of a loved one.
While death may be indiscriminate and unavoidable, processing grief is unique to the individual.
“Everybody deals with grief on a different time frame,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said, for anyone dealing with grief, release is essential.
“There are times when we need to release that energy because what we are doing by keeping it in is allowing it to build,” Green said to the students. “Then you’ll drive past Dairy Queen and, nothing having to do with nothing, you’ll start crying and you won’t know why.”
After all, he said, when people don’t deal with grief, grief ends up dealing with them.
“It’s like a boxer. A boxer can get hit and fall and a little later it just didn’t click yet, ‘Hey, you’re supposed to be on the ground. ‘Oh, I am?’ Boom,” said Green, imitating the sound of a person hitting the floor. “Grief will overwhelm you.”
But he also admitted sometimes all that can be done is to place one foot in front of the other and simply survive another day until the pain is healed.
Taking a lesson from the fictional cartoon character Charlie Brown, Green made a distinction between good grief and bad grief.
“Good grief is when you allow yourself to grieve,” he said, adding, “Bad grief will block your progress.”
Depression and sadness, he said, can be signs of good grief, while bad grief can result in a person finding themselves trapped by the abuse of alcohol and other drugs, missing work for months and other problems indicative of a failure to heal.
Pulling his shirt sleeve back, Green pointed to two deeply etched scars on his shoulder as examples.
“With grief on its own with proper information, it will quit being a cut that bleeds, that hurts, that wakes you up, that requires drinking, that requires you talking to someone,” he said. “You’ll wake up one day, and all on its own there’s no more pain.”
Green personally experienced that painfully slow healing process after his father died. On the morning of his father’s death anniversary, Green woke up, began his day and that night realized he had forgotten the significance of the day.
He admitted to beating himself up over the lapse in memory, but he also recalled the relief in realizing his grief had healed.
“The reason I didn’t think about it was it wasn’t a cut anymore,” he said. “It was a scar.”
Although Green admits he still cries sometimes when thinking about his father, he has moved on.
“I might hurt, but it’s not like it used to be,” he said. “Now, when I get sad, it’s not because he’s gone. It makes me know he was here.”