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…).
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.