Notes on Enduring Longlasting Grief
Hello dearest reader :)
Today I wanted to write a small note about grief.
It's March, and if you've been a longtime reader, you know that March is a difficult time for me as it is the anniversary of when a very difficult time happened in my life. I usually reshare a post I wrote a few years ago, but this year my thoughts have continued to evolve and develop, so I think it's time for a fresh perspective.
Grief is not limited to the death of a loved-one, as I may have naively thought once upon a time in a more inexperienced stage of my life.
Betrayal, divorce, estrangement, death, illness... the list goes on and on.
There is a particularly vile ingredient to the grief that follows a loss that is completely unexpected- the tragedy of having something stolen that you never expected to disappear. It latches onto your soul in a stronger way because in the wake of such grief, you not only have to collect yourself from the facts of the loss, but you also have to process the sheer absurdity of the direction life has taken you, oftentimes a direction you never saw coming.
This grief, the kind that comes from an earth-shattering loss... it leaves you in the bottom of a muddy well. At first, you try to claw your way out, breaking your nails on the stones in desperation, fighting the sinking mud beneath your feet as your voice is lost to darkness. Despite your efforts and cries, you find yourself dissolving into the walls, struggling against the inevitable until finally, you give up.
You curl over your knees, pulling your legs to your chest as you wait. In a muddy heap. For someone or something to come pull you out, praying to God your rescuer will be the impossible person who left you on the other side of forever. On the other side of that well.
But they never come.
So you learn to live in the well. Enduring the mud and the grime until one day, you realize that the light above your head is really much closer than it was yesterday and if you just grasped ahold of the ledge, you might be able to walk on higher ground again. With everyone else.
So you do.
But you're not quite the same as you were before the well, the mud still clinging to your hair and under your nails.
And that's how I picture grief--clinging to me in an almost imperceptible way that others who've been marred in a similar fashion can sometimes recognize, as if they can see the mud behind my ears and between my lashes.
Grief clings like a film to your skin because it is earth-shattering. It can shake the very foundation of our worldview and life, launching us into a tragectory we never imagined, complete uncharted territory. It's loneliness, abandonment, and pain. So much pain.
What I've learned about grief is that once you've experienced it, it's something you can never quite shake. In the seven years following my loss, my temptation has been to live almost every day waiting for the next earth-shattering loss.
And I know a lot of you can relate to this.
Because grief has a way of twisting the childlike hope within our souls until we're never the same.
Because we know. We simply just... know.
We know that anything can happen, that our lives can look completely different in a matter of days: when that diagnosis comes, or when that phone call arrives... everything can change. Grief allows you to know the horrifying truth that the earth is cruel and heartbreak is inevitable. Which is why now you find yourself looking at the blessings in your hands, turning them over and over, scrutinizing them to see which one it will be--which one will betray you? Which one will disappear? When are you going to fall apart again?
I've had difficult things happen to me that I speak about and many difficult things... tragic even... that I do not speak about. But something I've been open about is my eldest son's birth.
I kind of glossed over it, or at least tried to, in my YouTube video for monetary and ad-suitability reasons, but I legitimately felt as though I was dying that day. In fact, I begged to die. I begged to just have it all end. Because in the absolute delusion and unreality of that day, it was as though there was no way out, no one coming to help me, no way to expel the baby from my body... no way to undo what was happening.
But in a way it had almost felt inevitable. Because I'd been waiting, since that Spring season many years ago, for the next disturbing tragedy to occur. In the aftermath I almost felt surprised that something worse hadn't happened. Grateful, in a weird way, that the awful experience of that birth was limited to the set of experiences I endured and nothing more.
Grief has caused me to feel permanently scarred, disfigured even, but I've also come out stronger. I've learned how to wade through the pool, to undergo the pain, and then get up and keep going.
Because after Bodie's birth, the grisly details not forgotten, there was still a tomorrow.
There was another shower waiting for me, another clean set of clothes, and another breakfast. There were memories to be made with my new son, laughter to take hold of as a family, and things for me to learn and accomplish as a mother
For some reason, the simple foundational items of life give me the most peace when I am experiencing a wave of grief or heartache. It's not the intense heart-to-heart conversations or emotionally taxing worship music or hard-hitting theological sermons that bring me out of a slump, nor is it the exciting or beautiful moments of life like powerful sunsets or dancing in the kitchen with my husband...
To bring me through emotional lows, I do not rely on emotional highs. Rather, the beauty of the small and neutral parts of life, the flow of the day and the regular going-ons of being a homemaker... these are the things I rely upon to sustain my psyche when it all becomes too much.
The small meaningless tasks that create my world don't seem to ask anything from me: no serious emotional output or exertion. There is no "digging deep" with a friend over tea or crying to a sad music album.
The simple daily items and treats that wait for me every day... these bring an element of safety that I hold onto.
I have found that the emotional volatility of grief can be so exhausting that you simply cannot pour yourself into yet another intense coffee date with a friend or serious conversation with someone. You can't read the intense self-help books on trauma or dig up your past in your journal or even with a therapist.
But you can put on your face cream and have a coffee. You can do your makeup and write a blog after you make your children scrambled eggs. You can live in the present and in the moment and ground yourself in the simple non-threatening daily tasks. And that's okay.
This is not to say that God has not helped me through grief.
But I think we can sometimes have a narrow-minded view of God's "help" in our life. No, God did not magically fuse my wounds and take away the agony of my grief. He did not ease the pain of the tragedy or pull me from the well, even as I was crying for Him. He did not gift me the strongest desires of my heart, and he did not prevent me from experiencing pain.
But nevertheless, he helped me.
He provided me peace, just from the very knowledge of His greatness and existence. Even in the hardest times, I would always remember that there would one day be joy, peace, and happiness again. Because even if it didn't happen on this side of eternity, I knew that one day there would be joy for me, stored up and ready in Heaven, where there are no tears to cry, no tragedies to suffer, and no sins to swallow.
Eternal life and the promise of tomorrow has always been the saving grace in my life as a Believer.
So many people search for "deliverance." Deliverance from financial problems or relationship issues... deliverance from the power of sin or deliverance from hardships.
I understand the craving to be rescued from tragedy and the hope of being saved from painful circumstances. But we can forget that regardless of our life circumstances, we have already been delivered. We have been delivered from death--from eternal damnation and Hell.
It doesn't matter how much hardship I will experience on this earth because I have been promised eternal bliss and peace with Jesus in Heaven.
And that promise is one I have always returned to, regardless of my circumstances. Relying on God to bring me through, yes, but not expecting him to make things easier for me or even demanding that he will. Instead I find myself asking him to teach me what he wishes for me to learn from my hardships.
So every March gets somewhat easier for me.
I feel distanced from those memories and the sting of the loss does not shock me as much. What happened feels less absurd and more inevitable, and I truly trust that God is sovereign, knowing when he made me what I would go through, from the good to the bad, to the ugly.
I also think people try to encourage others through trauma or grief by inviting them to perform intense emotional exertions. "Let's transform our lives with a women's conference!" "Let's train for a hike on Mt. Kilimanjaro!" "Hey girl, let's pour our hearts out over lattes!" "I should listen to that really intense album and cry."
But what I've found to be the most soothing is to simply move forward. To acknowledge and recognize my feelings, but to not drown in them: to not scratch the wound, but to instead dial my life back a little, putting my brain and heart on "do not disturb" for a time, and focus on the lighter smaller and less emotionally draining parts of life.
That is how I've built a life beyond my pain, and even in a smaller way, how I recovered from the birth trauma with Bodie.
The next day in the hospital I got out of the bed and put the Morning Toast podcast on as I do every day, listening as I applied my makeup in the small mirror over the sink. Then I rocked my baby before refolding all the clothes in my hospital bag, pushing myself through the comforting tasks of homemaking, even there in the hospital.
And the motions of familiarity helped me feel safe, grounded, and almost as if nothing horrific had actually even happened to me. The simple act of carrying on helped bridge my psyche and my soul until I was able to begin processing what had happened and talk to others about it all.
I know a lot of Christian women seek content that really squeezes all the emotional juices out of life. I know because I used to be that way, especially as an angsty teen: I was dealing with a ton of personal problems, family problems, and just... you know, growing up problems, and I would find myself listening to intense worship music or dark emotional songs to really get into my feelings. I would journal and talk about my problems alllllllll the time, with my mom, my friends, and God. It felt like I was doing the "right" thing.
But I now feel like festering in our pain and emotional baggage can sometimes only make things worse. At least it did for me.
So this March I'm not taking a shovel to dig through my past. I'm not reliving those memories and I'm not opening up my heart on a charceuterie board for my Bible study or best friend to analyze.
I'm just taking things slower, grounding myself, and reminding myself of how far I've come. That even if tragedy strikes again, God will be with me, as he always has been, and I will be able to endure.
Because at the end of the day, even if God does not rescue us from grief the way we want him to, H will always give us the peace we stand in need of to simply exist-- to endure and live until things don't feel so suffocating anymore.