My lessons of Grief So Far
6 years ago I began a new journey as a widow through the valley of the shadow of death. I have learned a great deal about grief and death since then and I know I have a long way to go in that journey, but here are some of my thoughts so far.
Death is an enemy. Death causes an emotional concussion; the symptoms of emotional trauma and the symptoms of a brain injury are very similar. Further, trauma from a broken heart can cause damage to the physical heart. Grief does subside eventually and the body heals but it takes time and the process is never finished; you don’t “get over it” and the schedule of sorrow is subjective. Grief may not end but it does adapt. I say adapt rather than evolve, because I refuse to let the enemy allow me to disown traces of my former life. I am learning to move forward transformatively and not break away from a decomposing past. Every year as the days of this season approach I have come to realize that the prelude and the aftermath are like a giant crescendo to the day and are very isolating. It is then that people often ask if I am okay; while I am, I also am not and often don’t know why! I lie and say I am fine. It’s easier.
On a side note: While commanded to remember the Lord’s death (by way of communion) and while I cannot ever forget Jim’s birthday in heaven on Nov. 5, 2010, I choose to celebrate Jim’s life on the anniversary of his earthly birth on Nov. 8, 1955 instead. Not gonna celebrate the enemy!
There will always be tears and loneliness with loss. I have learned that my path is unique. There is not a one-size-fits-all. The feelings, the sorrow and the mourning that I have experienced are different than anyone else. There are similarities to others who are grieving but there are NO steps to make it stop. There are no magic formulas to take away the sting of death and its accompanying loneliness. Of course there are ways to soothe and dull the ache but, for better or worse, I chose not to dilute the rawness and anguish of the trauma of Jim’s death. Rather than moving on, overcoming and leaving grief behind, I have learned that it is actually a new way of living as loss (of any kind) reminds me that change is the constant of the universe. Life is shaped by loss and everything changes, even when we want it to stand still. We lose possessions, games, physical capabilities, relationships, people we love and the key is to remember that eventually we will all lose everything in this life; It is actually how we learn to deal with those losses that makes all the difference. (Lord, please help me to never be a “sore loser”).
God has nothing but perfect timing. He works all things together for good. I have discovered that grief can serve a purpose. The crap of this life impacts everyone and it can be stepped in or it can be repurposed to grow a garden. I have given my life over to something bigger than myself. Gal. 2:20 says that I have been crucified with Christ and it is now all about Christ living in me!
Joy is a choice but it is available for the journey. I have learned, in ways I would not have thought possible, that this life is short and the next one is not. It is a paradigm shift; Learning to have a different perspective has changed everything. I live more in the present. I find it easier to have a thankful heart. My story of resilience is actually a reflection of the only story ever told. Henri Nouwen notes this very idea as he reflects on the story of Christ – his advent, his suffering, his death and his rebirth. Death is not the end and grief does not have the last word in my story. Eternal and abundant life because of God’s incomprehensible grace WINS!
I have learned that God is faithful. He has never abandoned me and he has continued to meet all of my needs. Ps. 56:8 says that God has kept count of my tossings and has put my tears in a bottle. He has entered my grief and has reassured me daily that all is not lost. Yes, my life has suffering but it encourages hope in a loving God for everyone else who suffers (which is everyone) and those whose stories have fallen apart.
There is provision. Hope is like manna. It is daily. You cannot store it up, but God will replenish it tomorrow. Even more, everything in my life is designed to push me to dependence on my heavenly Father.I find it extraordinary that I can surrender control (which is an illusion anyway) to an Almighty personal God who loves me and whose grace is more than sufficient. I have learned to look for God in new ways and to respond as God continues to call me into adventure in the journey with a resounding “yes”!, knowing that it is an opportunity to be the person God intended me to become. And as trite as it sounds, God does work all things together for good…
A grief shared is a grief halved. There is comfort in community. Though we miss Jim, it helps to talk about our memories and stories because it keeps His memory alive. Most of our remembrances are happy anyway. Prov. 10:7 says that the memory of the righteous is a blessing. I did not realize it in the early days but some friends who were widows ahead of me, further down the journey, were extremely helpful in comforting me. 2 Cor. 1:3,4 says we are comforted so we can comfort others. I did not know it until then in such a personal way but I experienced God’s grace and love as revealed in those women. And I know that I have also been allowed to walk with others as I have grown and matured in the experience.
As I reflect on the events 6 years ago, I look forward to eternity when there will be no more sorrow and grief. And I long for home. Maranatha.