A simple description of grief and one woman's journey of learning how to live after loss.
Potential triggers: none.
Grief is shy, in the beginning. Shock broods in silence over the unfolding of events, like a wary general awaiting the war. Disjointed fragments of memory clash against the present as metal on metal, their clanging dissonance announcing the imminent arrival of battle. A wearisome contest ensues, the unreconcilable past forges ahead to take by force the precedence of the moment, stirring up a haze of confusion. But the present is not easily taken. Though we have been shaken to the core, there are still bills to pay, clothes to wash and mouths to feed. Each minute is a struggle with no end in sight.
As the initial round of adrenaline wears off, denial gallantly marches into the fray seeking parley and wielding a banner of stability. His mission is to erect some semblance of normal against the pale backdrop of this new world post-tragedy. A delicate truce is formed, and the dust begins to settle. At last, a person pieces together a schedule and returns to spinning with the rest to the world, but it is then that grief begins to whimper from the corner.
At first, one tends to be oblivious such soft sounds, having become so accustomed to the raucous din of trauma and the surge of activity following such events. But life mellows (if one doesn’t encounter or manufacture more chaos) and eases into a new rhythm, even if the sound is displeasing. As awareness gnaws at the edges of consciousness, the heart grapples in a valley of decision. The thinking mind says, “There is something here I need to acknowledge, a scary but necessary part of me needing validation.” The survival mind says, “We just barely made it through that – YOU HEAR NOTHING.”
It is easy to continue living in a shade of normalcy while grief cowers in the corner. There are a few bold moments when her cries pierce the center of the room, unable to be squelched entirely. But far too often we survive the immediate tussle and banish her, again, to darkness.
The world goes on. Six months later others have forgotten the date, forgotten the impact, forgotten to remember what you felt… and still feel. “It’s time to move on.” Maybe it’s not said so succinctly—but maybe it is. Maybe that’s just the weight of expectation speaking. Move on. But to where, and how? And in some cases, why? Our raison dêtre seems to have joined the long list of recent casualties. We can’t just stand here forever, frozen in time. The needs of the present are calling; we weren’t the only survivors. So, what do we do?
“Fake it ‘til you make it.” Less of a mantra and more of a prophesy… or perhaps a curse. We try. We try to drag the old into the new, all the while hoping that the noises from the corner fade with time. Sometimes they do. And sometimes we only imagine they do. God and the world gaze on as we try and try and try until we find no more try left, realizing this version of life is just a shadow. We come to place where we have spent our strength resisting grief, and collapse in the dirt, defeated. Then the one thing we feared comes traipsing out of the corner wiping her face of sniffles. She plops herself beside us and drapes her arm over our slumped shoulder. Yet like a friend, she whispers, “It hurts. But it’s going to be ok.”
There, encompassed by grief, our world skids to a stop, the façade of normalcy disintegrates, and all the weight of those impossible expectations are rendered impotent. We see ourselves for what we are – broken, hurt, angry, useless and unable to mend a heart rended. But it is here the reality of the loss begins to seep into to the soul and we accept what was. The death that happened externally begins to happen internally, and we begin to let go. We must accept that life has changed, forever. There is no old to bring into the new. We let the past pass out of the present, as well as who we knew ourselves to be, and room is made for the new.
I don’t understand. You don’t understand. These things remain unchanged, yet love is not seeded in the mind, but grows from the fertile soil of the heart. He is worthy. And He loves us. This truth is not dependent on circumstance. The questions don’t necessarily evaporate nor is pain always assuaged, but He is God. And we are not… and neither is the suffocating pain that threatens to undo us.
We begin to discover the substance of faith and bravely face the questions.
"I believe in God."
"I believe in a good God."
"Yes, I believe in a good God that loves His children at all times."
But do I believe it right now, in this vortex of answerless questions and gutting pain? Do I believe in a good God that loves me in this moment where my cries reverberate off the walls of this hollow shell of a life, seemingly powerless to penetrate heaven, much less my Father’s ear?
And if I believe He hears, how do interpret the sun rising on my unchanged circumstance for another day?
“Why did You let this happen?”
Accusation, pain, anger, desperation, genuine seeking – a chorus of voices utter this phrase. We are cast about in the throes of ambiguity, looking for a response, or perhaps even an apology. Understanding may temper the mind, but it cannot heal a broken heart. Weak, hostile words yield to silence as grief takes our arm gently. In one hand, we take the jagged, raw edge of loss and in the other, we cling to naked faith in a good, kind, loving Father. Though the two seem to feud as opposing forces, honesty and truth meld into a central anchor, forbidding the tearing of the heart any further. Grief remains a true friend as we give ourselves to resting in His hand, trusting and waiting, turning the mind back to the simplicity of daily life. And we sense this may be a long road, but it is a worthy one.
Not too many days from now we will find beauty in the first snow, and a humble joy bubbling up in anticipation of seeing a dear friend. Relieved of the burden of doubt, we find a lighter step has invited dance into the home and a song has returned. We will see that in darkness, the pain has been cleaving a new capacity for life, for love and for the Lord. We will know in a deep, unshaken place that though tragedy was allowed to come to us by our Father, that He didn’t cause it. His heart has been ever for us, taking that which might have destroyed us and fashioning it into some wonderful, new thing around the corner.
“In all their distress, He too was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. In His love and compassion He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
– Isaiah 63:9