Grief is frustrating. Its borders are fluid and changing, rendering it difficult to define. It’s experienced in as many ways as there are people on the earth. Certainly, humans do seem to navigate certain stages of grief, such as denial, anger, bargaining, as identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, but even in this, it’s rarely in defined succession or order. It’s more of an overlapping—concentric circle—retracing of steps—all at once—not at all kind of gong show.
The instigators of grief are many. Whether it’s the loss of a person, a job, an ideal, a dream or our health, loss in any form causes humans to experience feelings of disbelief, anger, hopelessness and pain.
During my own seasons of grief, the things that have healed me the most are God and people. And when I say healing, I don’t necessarily mean miraculous rescue and the total removal of pain. Sadly, in the absence of unhealthy numbing, that kind of escape is not really a thing for humans. I refer more to the provision of solace for my soul, a safe place for my pain and a supply of physical, spiritual and emotional support.
God doesn’t promise that we won’t go through hard things. We live in this world and we are not immune to the human experience. What he does promise is that he will be with us no matter what:
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.” (NIV Is. 43.2)
Though we may feel the impact of raging waters and blazing fires, we are not overcome. Even when a loved one is sick. Even when a relationship implodes. Even in bankruptcy. Even in the face of infertility. Even in loneliness. Even when dealing with addiction. Even in depression. Even in job loss. Even in betrayal. Even in the regular struggle that is life. He gives comfort and solace in the midst of all of these hard things; a peace that goes beyond our understanding and doesn’t even make sense in light of what is happening or not happening.
God IS in the midst of grief. God IS in the midst. God IS.
As for people, what is needed the most, especially initially, are the ones who simply let you feel what you’re feeling. They don’t try to coax you from your darkness or tell you that everything will be okay or that God’s going to work everything together for your good; *I know that he is (*to be read through gritted teeth), but in this moment, I’m going to need you to shut your face with any and all trite bandaids and platitudes (No offence. Love you!). For me, the most healing comes through the people who are willing to crawl into my darkness and sit with me there. The ones who admit that they don’t know what to say or how to help, but assure me they are with me; that I’m not alone and they’re not going anywhere.
My mom was one of the people who entered the darkness with me during one of my most grief-filled times. The details are personal and not only mine to share, but I can tell you this. I’ve lost people close to me to death; I’ve missed them so terribly and felt the aching loss of knowing I’d never see them again, but this grief was different. With death, it’s a heart wound that, with time, will heal. Eventually. But this was a wound that could never fully heal because it was constantly being re-opened. All I could do (all I can do) was (is) keep it clean and freshly bandaged.
For the better part of a year, when I couldn’t bear to be alone, I’d pack a bag and arrive on my mom’s door step. First, she would wrap her arms around me. Then, she’d wrap me up in a blanket and seat me in a rocking chair in her kitchen. She would always pray for me and often, she’d mix me a drink. I would rock and weep. And I would rage and reel with the extreme disparity between life before and life after.
Though I’ve never been in a severe accident that has left me broken physically, I have certainly been in “accidents” that have left me every bit as broken, emotionally and spiritually. A conversation with my sister during her own season of extreme loss initiated the way in which I now understand grief.
Grief is like a wave, or waves, that crash over us. I’m not referring to pleasant whitecaps, lapping at our toes in the sand. There is no sunshine and there are no beach towels or smiling faces in this scene. I’m talking about the huge curl you may or may not see coming from a long way off; the wave that takes your breath away and makes you prickle with fear. The wave that leaves you wondering whether to try and stay afloat or run for your life. But you cannot rise above it and it cannot be outrun.
It’s not a lack of faith or trust in God to feel the fear and cry out when such a wave threatens to tumble us. There’s no pretending it’s all okay or denying that you feel like you might drown. There is nothing to be done…but stand.
When the waves of grief, fear, discouragement, hopelessness, frustration and physical pain crash over us, we plant our feet, steady our legs, hang on tight and hold our ground.
There are seasons for advancing and being victorious and there are seasons for just standing (which, arguably, takes as much or more faith and courage). Trusting is all that is required. Like waves do, the grief will crash hard…and then it will recede. And you’ll still be standing.
The Psalms are one of my favourite parts of the Bible because I love authenticity. David is brutally honest about how things are and how he feels, but after the vent, he always lands on: but THIS is who YOU are, God. This is what YOU say about my situation. You are good. You do all things well. I trust you.
Instead of running from the waves trying to crash over you, and living in constant fear that they will, turn and plant your feet. Now, brace your legs. Steady yourself and lean in. Let them crash! The waves will recede and you will still be standing.