Friday, January 15, 2016

on grief ... for if you're waiting in the dark

Let's face it, waiting is just hard. And if the waiting feels dark, and scary, and impossible, it's harder than if you are waiting with the sort of happy anticipation of better things right around the corner.

Waiting in grief is perhaps the hardest kind of painful. And the darkest and scariest and impossible-seeming cloud is looming large over your head.

I write a lot about grief here, and usually it has been about those suffering and lamenting the final earthly loss of a loved one. Impossible grief.

But there are plenty of other kinds of grief. And dark, scary places. Places where we grieve the loss of the future, the being-trapped-in-the-present, the ending of once-wonderful relationships, the longing of things hoped for, the absence of which leaves you feeling hopeless. Sometimes overwhelmed. Often in the dark. Wondering whether the hope will ever return, wondering why it feels like God has turned a deaf ear and moved away.

These are real-life, reality-based, legitimate kinds of grief. There is loss. Any loss can be accompanied by this kind of darkness, and this feeling of alone-ness, and this perception that we are living solitary. These kinds of losses often seem too private to share. Maybe because of shame, guilt, wrong thinking, believing lies, listening to our inner critic.

And here's a truth: sometimes grief has to be a solitary journey. For a time, for pieces of time, for lengths of time.

But here's another truth: unless we can find people, Jesus with hands and feet kinds of people, the ones who love us during (and maybe in spite of) that dark scary place, we will likely suffer more intensely. We need each other all.the.time, but especially when the burden seems too much to bear.

The Bible tells us of the difference between a burden and a load. We each have our own load, a backpack that belongs solely to us, that we are meant to take responsibility for, that we are not to foist upon others. It's important to know what belongs to us, what is not meant to be shared.

But here's the thing.

Burdens are absolutely meant to be shared, for they are too heavy to carry alone. We need to know that Jesus has offered to not only share but carry that burden. We must believe, also, that there are people, real life come-as-you-are people, loving you even in the dark people, that are meant to help us share our burdens. The burden of things like grief. The things that weigh so heavy that our very bodies feel unable to carry it alone.

When these burdens are shared, something sort of amazing happens. Those burdens feel lighter, hope can blossom in the dark, and comfort that has seemed gone forever is recovered. When we weep with those who weep, there will be a time when we can rejoice with them when they rejoice.

Rejoicing comes in the morning, when the dark is lifted and the sun has risen and even if it's still cloudy and gloomy the sun does indeed rise.

Let's be burden-sharers. Let's not be afraid to be honest in our pain, and let's be willing to help carry that which is impossible for our friends to carry alone. Let's remember that joy and grief are not mutually exclusive, and even in the pain there can be rejoicing. Let's gently be reminders that the sun will come up. And that whether the day is gloomy or bright, light dispels darkness.

We are meant to be light. Let's wait patiently and lovingly in the dark places with our dear ones, and let's be the ones to gently point out the light when it peeks over the horizon.

Gently. Because they can't always see what we see. But whether seen or unseen, it is there, and the light of day allows us to see the full-ness of the burdens they carry, and we can shoulder some of that for them and with them and keep walking them toward the sunrise. At whatever pace they are walking. Don't run ahead of them. Don't blind them. They need you present right where they are. But we must not lose sight of the morning that is coming, the daylight that will return, and the time when we can again rejoice with them.

And if you're the griever, let someone in. Open the door to let in the ones who can lovingly share your burden. And realize, please know, that those are the ones who can reveal light to you even in the darkest of times.

Love one another. No matter whether it's a season that is as black as the night or as bright as the day, whether it's a cloudy gloomy day or a sunshiny day, we are to love. And love will give a glimmer of hope. We can give a piece of ourselves, can't we? We can choose to enter into the dark with the one who feels hopeless, knowing that as we share the burden we can help them to see that the door is not locked forever, and joy will come in the morning.

Are you living in a dark hopeless place? Can you choose to let the safe people in?

Is a loved one in a pit where the door seems locked? Will you open the door and join them?

Love. Share. Weep. And believe in the joy that will come.

Much love to the grievers,

Thursday, January 7, 2016

on grief ... the day after THE day

I intended to write this post yesterday. January 6, 2016. The one-year anniversary of the day Emilie died.

But I just couldn't do it. Instead, I spent time with Elaine, Emilie's mama, and spent time being sad. Remembering the journey of this last year.

Time has flown by and crept by all at once. A year seems inconceivable, but sometimes one single minute feels impossible.

I have learned so so much this year, but I would give it all back in a heartbeat if it could change the circumstances through which I learned.

Since I can't, I thought I'd recap some of the most important things I know now that I didn't before January 6, 2015.

  • I personally have experienced grief. Even though I didn't lose my daughter, the tears run down my cheeks often for the loss of this brave girl, and the pain in her mama's heart. Elaine tells me often that my tears matter.
  • A sense of humor is not inappropriate. Elaine and I shared much laughter before Emilie died, and we still crack each other up. Lightheartedness does not take away from the grieving process.
  • The minutes are the most precious. When we are together on Wednesday mornings the minutes fly by but they are important because we are real with each other on the most basic level, and whether we're laughing or crying or listening or sharing sacred silence, our relationship deepens every.single.week.
  • Sometimes the waves crash in from out of nowhere. A placid sea turns dark and churning when a squall erupts. Squalls are unpredictable and sometimes unexplainable and they catch you off guard and the grief comes in heavy and quick. 
  • Sometimes you know the waves are coming. Birth dates, death dates, holidays. Those days, grief is expected but even though you know they are approaching, waves are still waves and they crash in.
  • Finding a common interest (ok, maybe obsession) has been really fun. We are now adult color-ers, and we've started making cards out of what we color, and there is beauty.
  • Nothing looks the same anymore. I have been forever and fundamentally changed. I hold on to moments and let myself feel deeply and have compassion like I've never had before. I don't try to manage circumstances but instead let them take their course, dependent on Jesus to light just the next step on my path. There's something very freeing there, even though I do still peer ahead into the darkness.
Oh, so much more. My heart hurt, desperately it hurt, yesterday. It feels bruised today. I can't fathom the agony in the hearts of Emilie's family and friends. My sadness is for them, and my wish for them today is peace in the storm.

My wish for myself is that I would continue to grow in compassion for the hurt that's all around me, and that I will gently and carefully hold the hearts of those who are lamenting. 

It is a costly privilege to walk side by side with someone who is in the throes of grief, but don't be afraid. You will be refilled, probably by that person. You will offer much and probably feel like you have received more. Your presence, quiet and true, will be a comfort. 

We are meant to share burdens, those heavy heavy burdens that are too much for one person to bear. That means I share out my own even as I am sharing in another's. Brokenness is ok, for it is all around us and we are needy and that's ok too. That is real, and it matters and we are in this together after all.

And we long for the day that the clouds part. Come Lord Jesus.

Amen and amen,
Author's note:
This is the fifth post in an ongoing conversation about grief. The first four can be found here:

what planet are you living on?
it's ok to eat a box of donuts
down the road
when it doesn't look like you expect it to