There are books on grief, stages of grief and an overwhelming amount of resources for people grieving. Support groups, people who have lost in all different ways around you, and therapists who you’ve heard are so wonderful in helping others through their grief. Why then, is grief such a lonely, lonely road?
Your Own Unique Experience
As you know from last week’s blog, I believe God prepares us in advance to survive the hits we will take from the evils of the world as much as he prepares us for the degenerative nature of life on earth. But, just like you can read books and watch documentaries on climbing Mt. Everest, nothing will truly prepare you for the actual climb, the bitter cold, the dark of night, the feeling in your lungs when oxygen is hard to come by. In order to truly know it, you must experience it.
My friend LeAnne and I both lost our husbands in the exact same way. We took different paths out of it and had different experiences in it. God brought her someone to love, someone she had known many years before, and someone whose life was open to bringing her in. She would go for runs, asking God “Why? Why would you bring him to me now when I have just lost my husband?” She heard back, “Timing doesn’t matter. I brought you a gift.” She had the courage to trust God over whatever people might say.
I knew her heart. I knew her pain and the nights she lay on the floor of the closet she shared with her husband, in the fetal position, holding his shirts, sobbing. I remember the nights on her back porch as she sat in the chair, clutching her knees to her chest with tears rolling down her face asking me, “What will we do, Taya?”
Our lives were different. People judged us in different ways. People lied, acted like they knew us, our lives, our husbands and any number of things. And, people were kind, loving, supportive and felt helpless in easing our pain while still showing up for the hard times. I knew, having watched young widows before me, there was no “normal” in grief. What I didn’t know, was how many other losses there would be, or that I would be grieving them simultaneously.
There were losses of relationships and friendships forever changed. Some were changed because the expectations changed, and some were lost because expectations did not change. Reality is, grief in relationships is often unprecedented. There were people who kept their distance and I understood. There were people who wanted to fix it by telling me what I “should do”, which was odd because if I could have done things differently, I suppose I already would have. I knew they wanted to help. Sometimes I felt their need to help trumped my need for grace in the chaos of my ever-changing reality. I needed to have grace for their plight. And I wasn’t sure what I had left or what emotions would come next. I began to feel alone in a sea of change.
My kids and I lost the same man, in the same home. We lost our life the way we knew it, together. We walked the hallways, sat on the couch, ate at the dinner table and slept in the bed where he was with us such a short time before yet… it felt foreign. It felt achingly familiar as much as it felt disturbingly off. The times I stopped long enough to go to the bathroom or stop to perform a routine task, my mind seemed to have a subconscious reel playing in the background saying, “I don’t understand” and “this doesn’t make sense.” Those two sentences would repeatedly come to the forefront of my mind for months on end. It was internal chaos.
My chaos and methods of dealing with grief were uniquely mine. My son’s were his. My daughter’s were hers. We were all in the same house, all loving each other and all trying to help each other heal while shattered. Grief is a lonely road even when you are walking it with others.
Layers of Loss
The layers of grief were compounded, as we grieved alone and together. It was complex. I was also grieving the loss of the life I wanted for them. The pain of grief reared its head every time the kids did something amazing that I wanted to share with Chris. There was confusion and beauty in having their kindness and their mannerisms as the reminders of Chris...Chris who was simultaneously no longer with us, and would always be with us.
The lonely road of grief is full of unexpected stumbling blocks. There are things on the road that cannot be foreseen. You only become aware of them as they push you off course.
Unexpected Stumbling Blocks
One of those stumbling blocks for me, was a realization that I was also grieving the loss of a life I could relate to with my children. Before Chris died, as we were raising our children, I felt I could relate to my kids in some ways. Some of their experiences reminded me of my own at their age. My sister and I would go to soccer practice and go home to take a bath while my mom cooked dinner. My dad would get home to eat with us and we all shared stories of our days. When this experience repeated itself with Chris and our kids, it felt good to relate some parts of my children’s lives to parts of my own growing up years.
How could I relate to their experience now? I realized I never could again. Would I be able to parent empathetically through this? I grieved the loss of being able to relate.
I grieved the loss of patience, the loss of genuine laughter, the loss of feeling like we were so blessed to have been one of the few couples who made it not only through war, still married, and mostly with our health mostly intact. Within the coming years I would have to grieve the loss of so many other parts of life: time, dreams, the person I was (which was both good and bad), the loss of love, having a shared history with someone, our family unity, youthful hope and youth itself. Yes, I am still young and very young at heart. I also felt like I must have known what 90 felt like many times. And not just any 90 year old, but one whose life had been hard and they had been beaten to the point of not wanting to live much longer if at all. Many, many times, I felt my youth was truly gone.
What You Can Expect
There are stages of grief, and yet, they aren’t exactly in order. They are more like a kaleidoscope of emotion with life twisting and merging the colors and emotions of grief together into different mosaics. The mosaics can change unexpectedly by the second, minute or hour. The kaleidoscope adds to the loneliness of grief. What you see in your kaleidoscope is going to be different than what I see in mine, even though we both have a kaleidoscope.
Grief is a lonely road. Yes, we need people, compassion, and love of all kinds. We need someone to listen and we need to know we aren’t the only ones who have felt, and survived the depth of loss we feel. We need to know there is someone who will sit with us in whatever state we are in if we need it. And, we need to get comfortable with being the only one who experiences the shifting of the kaleidoscope just as it is, made up of all of the colors and experiences of our individual complex lives.
Over the years, at least for me, I had to get comfortable with the lonely road of grief being less heartbreaking and more a path to peace.
The more I have experienced pain and the more I have lost either actual relationships or the hopes I had for them, the more I realize this life was never about me finding a person to do every moment with. It wasn’t even about finding at least one person for every stage. It is about me seeing people with grace and seeing myself with grace. I had to let go of who I wanted to be, and the life I wanted to have in order to accept who I have become and the life I am having.
The lonely road of grief has given me a chance to know the fragility and beauty of being human. It has proven to me once and for all, there is no person who knows every color and shift in the mosaic of my life. There is however, One who has arranged every meeting with every person who saw me through, and One who was there in the darkest moments, the one who comforted me during the times of crying out, the one who held me in the pits of despair and the caves of doubt. There was one who allowed the pain to clear a space for me to see that He was always there.
The lonely road of grief has surprised me, mostly because I see it now as I do most of God’s work. It was intricate, and lovingly prepared with provisions made for every loss and stumbling block.
I learned, the lonely road of grief is hard and it is painful. It leaves you forever changed and the loss never leaves. I learned that each of our roads are similar and different, at the same time. One thing is certain, God aches with you. Your road has already been paved with understanding.
The lonely road of grief will not be rushed or shortened. It is one that demands to be traveled one step at a time. If you invite God in, you will see it can also be a road full of extraordinary love, and plans to prosper you. If you invite Him in, it will shine a light on God’s intimate understanding of your unique pain.
If you invite Him in, you will understand more clearly, as I did, how much God truly loves you in spite of it all. You will have increased faith in His presence and ability to bless you through every messy and unpredictable part of life. If you let Him, God will change your fears into faith, your pain into prospering and your broken heart into an understanding one.
If you let it, the lonely road to grief can be the surest path to God. In time, it may even be your path to letting go of the illusion of control in life, and this.... is your surest path to peace and true acceptance.