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6 Ways to Honor Your Pain When Grief Catches You by Surprise

When you are ambushed by it, allow yourself to “pull over,” in these six ways to honor your own pain. Your loss is worth it. Your healing is worth it. You are worth it.

Pastor and Author
Updated Oct 25, 2023
6 Ways to Honor Your Pain When Grief Catches You by Surprise

“Pull over.”

A friend called me at the perfect moment. I was driving home from work, after being unexpectedly ambushed by grief that day.

My overwhelming emotion was especially shocking because it was triggered by something lovely and kind — a coworker surprised me with a gift and some balloons, as a way to celebrate the release of my new children’s book.

Her gesture was so overwhelmingly thoughtful and unexpected...and here’s where the grief snuck up on reminded me of something my best friend, who died from breast cancer last year, would do. I inadvertently burst into tears and left my office sobbing.

That’s when I made the mistake of trying to drive home. Thankfully, that friend called me at the perfect moment. When I answered, obviously fighting back tears, she said, “Okay, stop driving. Pull over. Just sit and cry for a few moments.”

Grief ambushes us. One moment, you’re eating waffles. The next, unbeknownst to you, the scent of the maple syrup reminds you of your lost loved one, or an old memory, or a part of you that still needs healing, and suddenly you’re crying at the breakfast table.

Or, one moment you’re doing the dishes, and the next moment, you find yourself buckled over with sadness, missing the person who used to help you tidy up after dinner.

Grief is shocking in that way. Just when you think you’re moving forward, it tiptoes up on you, striking when you aren’t prepared.

While that does not actually mean you aren’t moving forward — in fact, that’s just the reality of grief and heartache, and the journey of healing — it’s nice to have something to do with all that emotion, especially when it takes you by surprise.

“Pull over.” Those words have stuck with me, representing meaningful advice for any of us in grief and heartache.

Here are six ways we can all “pull over” and honor our pain when it surprises us:

1. Pause for Your Pain

As my friend so wisely said, “Pull over.” When the ambush-y kind of grief comes, it’s typically at an inopportune moment. But allow grief to do its work.

Take a minute, like I did in the car that day, to pull over or pause from whatever you are currently doing, and allow yourself to feel the pain, cry, and even scream if you need to. There’s no shame in that.

There are, of course, moments, when you can’t pause or step away just because grief has decided to sneak in. Maybe you need to tend to a task or a person in front of you.

In that case, it’s perfectly acceptable to allow yourself to compartmentalize, finish what you need to, and “make an appointment” with your grief later.

Set aside a time later that day or week just to cry or look at a picture of your lost person and feel your feelings. Grief appointments are meaningful ways to pause and honor your pain while allowing yourself to tend to real-life demands.

2. Pry

Unexpected overwhelming emotions can be uncomfortable for some people. We tend to want to avoid or ignore that part of us. What if, instead, you showed yourself some compassionate curiosity?

What if you pried into your interior life with a little bit of kindness and interest, “Hey, heart. What’s bringing this up today? What do you need?” When grief sneaks up on us, we tend to think, “Why did this happen? I should be further along than I am! I thought I was doing better!”

The truth is, there is no timeline for grief. You will always carry it with you (though the acute sense of it might dim). When we avoid our pain, rather than pry into it, the emotions stay buried and leak out in unhealthy ways.

Stop to acknowledge your grief with tenderness. Allow yourself to get curious and discover why you feel what you feel. This goes a long way toward healing.

3. Pay Homage

Sometimes grief sneaks in to remind us that it’s time to pause and remember our loved one again or pay attention to our own pain in a meaningful way. If you are surprised by grief suddenly, take a few moments to honor your loved one or your loss in a special way.

Maybe drink their favorite fall latte or read their favorite children’s book. Write them a letter or recite a poem or prayer aloud. Stop by a shared favorite location. Listen to a meaningful song. These are small rituals, but they truly honor our pain and our lost loved ones.

4. Phone a Friend

Okay, so not many people make phone calls anymore. So, no matter how you make connections, honor your pain by reaching out for help. Call a friend. Text a family member. Leave someone you love a voice memo.

Tell someone you trust, “I am having a hard day, and I don’t want to carry it alone.” In grief, we are tempted to remain isolated, but the gift of friendship is carrying each other’s burdens and leaning on a community to help us.

If you feel alone, consider joining a grief group at a local church or finding a grief and trauma-informed therapist.

5. Practice Self-Care

Your heart, soul, and body are worth tending to, especially in the vulnerability of surprising grief. Take some time to rest, go on a walk, get some exercise, journal, take a bubble bath, and eat some healthy, hearty soup.

Whatever ways you can take care of your own emotional, mental, and physical health, will help your healing journey and build resiliency for those moments when grief sneaks up on you.

6. Pray

Scripture says, “God is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit (Psalm 34:18). It also says, “A bruised reed he will not break” (Matthew 12:20). The promise of Jesus is that we are always loved, held, and never alone in our heartache.

In God, we have a Comforter. Invite God into your pain with a simple prayer, “God, I need you to comfort me now.” You’ll be surprised, not by grief, but by how tenderly the God who loves you shows up in your pain.

Grief is an arduous and often surprising journey. When you are ambushed by it, allow yourself to “pull over,” in these six ways to honor your own pain. Your loss is worth it. Your healing is worth it. You are worth it. 

For further reading:

What Does it Look Like to Deal with Grief?

How Should a Christian Respond to Grief?

4 Ways the Bible Teaches Us to Deal with Grief

How to Deal with Grief This Autumn Season

How Long Does Grief Last?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Mindful Media

Aubrey SampsonAubrey Sampson is a pastor, author, speaker, and cohost of The Common Good on AM1160 in Chicago. You can preorder her upcoming children’s bookBig Feeling Days: A Book About Hard Things, Heavy Emotions, and Jesus’ Love, and find and follow her @aubsamp on Instagram. Go to for more. 

LISTEN: How to Grieve Well

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.

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