3 thoughts on grief

Four years ago I was learning what it feels like to wake up in a world without a dad.  I was learning about the deceptive strange ease of the first few days after loss.

Four years ago I wrote that I felt like I was “in a master class on grief”.  I read those words now with a fair amount of pity for ‘past me’Oh sweet girl. You were in a toddler class on grief.  Fast forward four years, and I still have so much to learn about grief; it’s a slippery animal, always shifting on me.  But I’ve learned a little more than I knew then:

#1: Grief is not an obstacle to healing. It is the road to healing

Not only is there no real way around grief, but if you can find a way around it – trust me – you don’t want to take it.  Suppressing or avoiding grief will lead to emotional damage in your soul that will sabotage intimacy with God and others.

If loss is like a wound, then grief is the process of rinsing out that wound.  It may hurt less to just sew your broken body back together or just stick a ‘gospel’ bandaid over it, but if the wound is not cleaned out before it is closed it will lead to trouble.  But it’s tempting to do that, because the cleaning process is painful. Sometimes the wound even has to be torn open a little further to be cleaned properly.

Emotional wounds that aren’t cleaned through grief tend to fester until amputation is the only option.  And those who amputate wounded limbs may move through life with less pain and less ‘unstable’ emotions, but they will also move through life without the capacity for the emotional vulnerability that makes intimacy with God and others possible.  Without that intimacy our relationship with God will be reduced to a respectful business agreement – or maybe even worshipful submission – but it will lack a deep emotional surrender and satisfaction.

#2: Grief is shy, yet intrusive.

In some ways, emotions are shy.  Don’t get me wrong. They can be intrusive. They can show up in the most annoying and unexpected and inappropriate times, (commercials, movies, meetings at work…).

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But, the strange thing is, if you turn your attention to them and actually want to hear from them, they seem to bury deeper inside of you. Emotions – especially the deep and painful and vulnerable ones – need a lot of space to come out.  Grief will not always happen when you have some place to be in an hour.  True sorrow is the kind of ‘out-of-control’ experience that will not be scheduled.

When the emotions intrude – don’t surpress them.  When they seem to hide, set aside some serious time and space for them.  Don’t demand. Don’t try to conjure them up.  Just give them room to breathe.

#3: No grief is the same.

When I lost my dad I shared a tiny office with my pal Annie, who lost her own dad around the same time. Some days, the two of us would turn around in our chairs and push that door shut and sit with tears pouring down our cheeks. Some days I would lay on the rug in the floor of that office and stare up at the wall as Annie would tell me stories of her dad.  Some days, I would flee from meetings because I felt like I was about to start screaming and Annie would just find me and sit beside me and say “I know” and I would know that she did.  But one thing Annie and I learned through that season was that losing a father is not the same as losing your father.  There is no generic ‘father’ mold. Annie and I lost specific and unique and very different men.

When I sat with my sisters in a my dad’s memorial service I realized that even when you lose the same man, grief is different. No human relationship is the same. No loss is the same.

What I didn’t realize then was that even all of my losses wouldn’t be the same.  When a few short years would find me facing a dark December, I remember thinking – alright fabs, you know how to do this.  You know what it will feel like. You know what will be hard.  You have done grief.

But I had no idea what I was dealing with. My grief was utterly different from what I had felt before.  It made me feel like I had never experienced loss before. I wonder sometimes if every single loss will be that way: sharper and fresher making me feel like I have never done this before.

I’m sure I’ll find out long before I feel ready to know.

3 thoughts on “3 thoughts on grief

  1. This was very helpful for me. After the loss of my mother our family, my siblings and I have spiraled unrelentingly out of control to one degree or another. But while reading it triggered something that the article didn’t directly address.

    We can grieve the loss of the living and while not the same it is just as powerful and perhaps more exhausting. One of the unfortunate victims of my mothers passing was/is my son, who said of her; “She was the only person that I ever felt really loved me.” A few months after she went to join her Savior he fell apart, and today he sits in jail facing two serious felony counts for a crime he unwittingly committed on the anniversary of her passing. While visiting her graveside that morning, without my knowledge he was being booked and held without bond.

    I have grieved almost inconsolably since. I long for the child, the young man I knew. For the first time in his life I can’t be there, I can’t fix this, I’m powerless. I wake up every morning after wrestling all night with the pillow and this reality is right there shouting at me.

    I’ve got to walk through this grief and you’ve helped me see that… thank you.

    1. Tim, thanks for sharing your experiences and feelings. Two years ago, I had no choice but to leave my father whose alcoholism and emotional abuse were close to destroying me. Not only did he refuse to get help, he blamed me (and everyone else, too). I’ve never known a more hard-hearted person, yet I had also thought him to be the most tender-hearted. I was so secure in His love- him being my only present parent and also a “man of God.”

      I think people thought that being physically separated from him should have cured all my suffering. But no, I entered a complicated grief– a description that hardly touches my sorrow and confusion. The suffering has been horrendous and lonely. I truly believed that God Himself had left me as grief held me in it’s death grip– coupled with fear that He was surely angry with me for the depths that I was suffering. There was no comfort. Only sustained panic, sleepless nights, dark days and darker nights.

      However, testimonies like yours, articles like this, friends who offered encouragement and more– I now see as God’s comfort to me. I love the first point of this post:

      #1: Grief is not an obstacle to healing. It is the road to healing (meaning that we can be patient with ourselves one step at a time)

      It was helpful for me to even realize that I was in fact grieving– a hard thing to grasp since no one had physically died. Thank you for pointing out that we can grieve the loss of the living just as intensely.

      Another thought that has really encouraged me is that there are some things we never “get over”. We get “through them” but never over them. I guess this is getting into the stage of acceptance.

      Blessings to you & yours.

  2. Thank you for your profound observations on grief, Fabienne. They really helped me contemplate my own experience in the past year. I found a link to your blog through a John Piper FB post.

    I lost my dad in 2007, my mom in November 2014, and my sister’s husband to suicide in August 2014. It’s been a tough few months for me. Sometimes a wave of grief will wash over me at the meat case in the grocery store or while I’m driving somewhere. The fits of sobbing are less frequent now, but no less intense.

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