Grieving in real life

January 22, 2013

Too much. That's what the end of 2012 felt like. Everything, everyone, felt like too much. I allotted myself a month to formally grieve and didn't even fully disengage for that month of time and attempted to pick up where I left off 30 days later and do I need to tell you where this story is going? I hit a wall. Hard. I tried to give too much too soon and reached the true end of myself. Sometimes you have to reach the end, the wall, before you do what you needed to do from the beginning. To be quiet. To be gentle. To be messy.

That's where I've been, and how my blog has been, too. As Cheryl Strayed writes in Wild, grief doesn't have a face. It's quiet. It's messy.

In the middle of this quiet, messy time, I'm learning a few things. I'd love to share them with you.

Grief is not a linear equation.

I thought that I'd wake up every day and feel a little bit better than the day before. That simply hasn't been true. It has been more true since I took a step back and created space for my emotions, but there are still days where I feel completely derailed, undone, bereft.

If you're grieving right now, I'm here to tell you: It's okay to feel like you aren't making progress.

Beauty is important.

This is true all the time, but beauty becomes like oxygen when you're drowning in sorrow. There are few things that inspire gratitude and demonstrate grace like beauty.

If you're grieving right now, I'm here to tell you: Pursue beauty. Keep your eyes open and look for it everywhere, because it is everywhere and it's there specifically for you.

The feelings have to go somewhere.

I thought I could choose to be situationally "normal" and "okay" whenever I wanted. That I could turn the feelings off and on like a light switch. In reality, it was more like bending a garden hose. The water was still on even if nothing was coming out of the end of the hose. When the hose was straightened out — when I was alone — everything came gushing out — forcefully, dramatically. In other words, the feelings didn't go away; they were just doubled up later. I went to social engagements and dinner parties, being my usual cheerful, friendly self — and then I spent the following morning curled up on the couch because I couldn't stop crying. I traded being okay sometimes for being completely, inconsolably messed up other times. After experiencing three of these emotional swings in one week, I was done. I decided to just be a little bit messed up all the time. This is a much more sustainable way to live.

If you're grieving right now, I'm here to tell you: People will surprise you with how much grace they have for your messed-up-ness. Extend that same grace to yourself.

No matter how deep and true your faith, grief makes you wonder if you will ever feel happy or whole again.

I will never forget the day that I had lunch with my husband and he shared with me that, in the months after his dad died five years ago, he wondered if he would ever be happy again. There was immense freedom for me in his honesty. He articulated the feeling that I was too ashamed to admit. Until that point, I couldn't tell anyone that I felt like there would be a void, an empty place inside, for the rest of my life. I thought it was inappropriate for a person of faith to think these things. But, of course, that simply isn't true.

If you're grieving right now, I'm here to tell you: Distress and brokenness are not the opposite of faith. When David wrote psalms about flooding his bed with tears, about tears being his food, about streams of tears flowing from his eyes, he didn't end with but it's okay and I'm okay. He ended with God has heard my prayer and hope in God, for I shall again praise him — almost like a reminder to himself that you will get through this, even when it feels like you won't. God is listening. Don't give up hope even when it feels hopeless.

Grief impairs you in unexpected ways.

Maybe this shouldn't have surprised me, but grief has been like a magnifying glass for my weaknesses. It has been a good (and humbling) reminder that all the things I thought I fixed in myself are still works in progress and are still my base tendency. With my emotions so raw, I lost my ability to ask for things, I found communication burdensome, and I was (am) paralyzed with indecision because I only want to please and never want to inconvenience anyone. To add insult to injury, I've also been finding many of my stronger suits just as challenging — things like multitasking and finding balance.

If you're grieving right now, I'm here to tell you: You are still you. It's okay to feel like you've lost yourself when the things you put your identity in no longer come easily. I can't tell you for certain whether those things will come easily again later; this could be a time of transition, and you may be forever changed. But what I can tell you is that everything you were is being transformed — right now, in real time — into what you will be.

I am blessed to be a blessing.

Maybe not yet. Maybe right now, I'm still just blessed to be blessed by others. But someday, someone will need comfort, will need another person to walk through grief with them, and I will get to be that person. God never intended suffering or sickness or grief, but he can always use it.

If you're grieving right now, I'm here to tell you: God never wants the hurt to be the end of the story.

We spend a lot of time worrying about things that will never happen. The things that actually change your life are the things you never see coming.

It sounds cliche, but this is one of my biggest takeaways from these last few months and from 2012 as a whole. One of the items that appears on my life list every single year is be more flexible. In 2012, be more flexible was joined by my theme word of surrender. Yet neither one is on my list for 2013 because I've finally figured out that surrender is the source of flexibility in my life. It's easy to be flexible when I'm not worrying about things that won't happen. And since I have no idea what will happen, I have no idea what I should be worried about, so I have no choice but to release worry. I never thought of myself as an anxious person, but I've realized that anxiety takes many forms. Control, fear of others' opinions, perfectionism, and pride are just a few of its manifestations in my life.

If you're grieving right now, I'm here to share Jeremiah 17 with you: "A tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and it is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Grief can feel like a time of drought, but do you want to hear the good news? The stream alongside you continues regardless. The things over which you have no control will sustain you. I'm finding immense peace and rest in that. I hope you do too.