Well, this is a terribly depressing topic. I went back and forth on whether or not to include it, but I heard a song today that made me realize I had to write about this subject.
Grief is something we all face in our lives. And its something we can't really, truly understand until we've faced it. And its something most people don't spend a lot of time processing out loud. I don't know if I can either, but I'm determined to give it a try.
Sometimes its a loss that is expected. My grandmother (paternal) died after a long battle with cancer when I was a 12 or 13. We knew it was coming. We were relieved that she was no longer suffering. But we still cried. We still grieved the loss of her in our lives.
My grandfather (maternal) was killed in a car accident when I was 10. That was a shock to my family. A reeling, breathtaking, unfathomable shock. I will always remember walking in from the backyard to find my mom laying flat on her back in the floor, her hands over her face, sobs seeping from between her fingers, tears running down into her hair.
Everyone says there are stages of grief. I can't remember what they all are, but I know anger is in there, and denial, and acceptance is the last one listed. I know this, because somehow in my mind I just assumed that once you'd gone through all the steps...grieving was over.
Boy, was I wrong.
Losing a grandparent is hard, and I can only imagine how hard losing a parent is. Losing my 26 year old sister...breathtaking, unfathomable shock.
The Real Story about grief is...it takes a while to really sink in. At first, there is sadness and tears and pain and loss...but there is a significant amount of numbness too. The adrenaline is pumping, because you are suddenly having to think about funeral arrangements and accommodations for out of town family members. There is quite a bit of distraction which keeps the numbness from wearing off or the adrenaline from dying down.
But after the funeral is over, and after people stop bringing meals, and all your family members go home...
That is when grief sets in. The soul ache, the deep, dark pit of pain and loss, the hurt so all-consuming that you can feel it in your bones. You can't eat, you can't sleep. When you do eat, it goes straight through you and makes you sick, when you do sleep you dream about your lost loved one and wake up sobbing in the middle of the night.
Every single moment you can remember with the one you loved and lost replays in your mind. Every unkind word or deed causes you to feel nauseous. Every moment you were less than interested in them carries a surge of regret - regret that you were so blasé in your time with them, regret that you can never get a do-over, regret that you didn't hold them close and never let them go.
The searing loss and pain are also marked by unexpected things. The children take care of their parents. My mom did it for her mom after the car wreck that killed my grandfather. I did it for my mom when Joy died, and my sweet little daughter, only 8 at the time, cared for me. She would sit beside me and hold my hand while I cried. She would run to turn off the radio if a song came on that might remind me of my sadness and/or my sister, and (unbeknownst to me at the time) she would crawl out of her bed late at night after I was asleep, and sit beside her daddy on the couch, crying out her own tears of loss and pain that she kept back from me because she didn't want to add to mine.
Also unexpected was the fact that acceptance of my grief didn't, in any way, mark the end. Truly, that was the beginning. Because accepting it meant I had to figure out a way to live with it...
You lose a part of yourself when you lose someone you love. Because the part of you that they brought out...can't be brought out by anyone else. You are now missing a piece of who you are, literally. The closer you were to that person, the bigger the piece you lost. And it's gut-wrenching...and that never goes away.
And I guess that's one really shocking REAL fact about grief, and the one nobody wants to tell you, because there doesn't seem to be any hope in it.
Grief doesn't end, once it's started.
I'm 3 years and 2 months into my life since I lost my sister, into trying to be the new person I am without the part of me that died with her, and I still have moments, and days, when I cry a lot, and I miss her, and I can't stop wishing and regretting and hurting.
There are fewer days like that than there were at first. But I still have them. I made a greeting card last week that was something she would have loved. As soon as I finished it, I thought "I have to send this to Joy." And then...the reality. The ache. The strength sapping remembrance.
So the reason I didn't want to share the real story about grief is because it seems, at first, like a DOWNER beyond compare.
There are more real facts. They aren't fact you can really understand until you have lived them. But if you've never experienced a deep loss, I want you to read this, and I want you to store it away in your heart, because someday...someday you will need to know.
You will never feel God more clearly than you do in your deep pain. You will know Him more intimately than you ever have before. You will find comfort in His presence. You will be held.
And, you will turn and rail at Him...and lash out in anger at Him...accuse Him of making a mistake...doubt His goodness...
And He will still be there.
You will be so tired of feeling pain that you will shut your emotions down, and you won't be able to feel anything at all...
And He will still be there.
And when a long, painful, battle scarred road stands behind you, and you know there is still more of the journey to live through...you will be able to say to the person who is still numb with shock...
"Never once will you ever walk alone."
"You don't have to feel Him. But He is still there."
"It's okay to be angry. He isn't afraid of your pain. He's there with you in it."
"He is with you in this moment. You have enough grace for right now, and that is its own miracle."
He is faithful.
He is good.
He is true.
The Real Story about grief...it's where you find Him. He's in the weakest, hardest, darkest moments of our lives. And in His mercy, He holds us. And in His grace, He blesses others through our pain. And in His love, He heals our pain so that it's bearable.
I have several songs that I have listened to on my own grief journey. If you need some reminders, listen to them. If you are filing things away for when you do need them, add these to your list.
"Sovereign" (Chris Tomlin)
"Beauty Will Rise" (Steven Curtis Chapman)
"Never Once" (Matt Redman)
"Arms That Hold The Universe" (Fee)
"Faithful" (Steven Curtis Chapman)
"In Christ Alone" (Avalon Hymns)
There is hope in grief. There are promises so faithful that we can drop our anchors in them. There are Arms mightier than anything we can ever face. There is a story that is eternal, and our journey is only part of it. There is more to this life...after this life.
And so, The Real Story about grief has two parts:
It doesn't end once it starts...until it ends