Grief teaches you there’s room for
both - the pain and the joy, one not negating the other, but rather existing simultaneously
I first met grief on September 12, 2011. It came like a thief in the night, stealing away a lot of what I thought I knew of the world. It evasively greeted me in that dreadful phone call in which my Dad blurted out in despair and sorrow, “Lauren’s dead.” There was no tip-toeing around grief in a moment like this. I fell head first into uncharted territory with cries of agony, accompanied by shouts of denial, “NO! NO. Please, God, no.”
Short thereafter, the moving van of grief promptly pulled up to my curb and began unloading box, after box, after box — without my permission and despite my denial. Boxes of what I could have done, boxes of what she could have done, boxes of images, memories, and a future without her, were all unloaded onto my weary, tattered soul.
What do you do with all of the boxes when you simply can’t store them all away?
I quickly learned that grief wasn’t going anywhere and pretending like it didn’t exist wasn’t a viable option unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life numbing my pain in some way. I knew that in order to make it to the other side of this tragedy, I would have to eventually face the grief and process through it. So, I begrudgingly began opening up the boxes.
At first I treated grief like an unwelcome and unwanted visitor: You will not disrupt my life. You will not control me. You will not become a part of me. I will tell you when and where and how you can exist in my life. Except it didn’t listen. Lesson number one: grief is wild, erratic, and unpredictable. It will wash over you in a moment’s notice and leave you wrecked. Like in a movie theater, or a meeting at work, or in a simple conversation about current events with your friends (all personal examples, by the way). You can’t prevent it, and you can’t plan for it.
After just one of these unplanned visits with grief I decided that I had to learn how to get along with grief; how to live with it, and embrace it as a part of me — lesson number two. What’s interesting, though, is that slowly over time I noticed that grief really had my best interest at heart. Grief forced me to acknowledge that my emotions were valid and real, and that instead of shoving those boxes of emotions away, grief reminded me that true healing was only going to come from unpacking each and every box. Lesson number three was what enabled me to confront each box, and that lesson was this: it’s ok to not be ok. And I was not ok for a really long time. Which leads me to lesson number four: grief and healing take time.
A year after my sister passed away, I felt this unspoken, yet alluded to pressure that a year was enough time to grieve and that after those 365 days were up a person should be ready to move on, ready to put the pictures away, ready to stop with the tears, and ready to get back out there and embrace life. Except I wasn’t. It was about 2 1/2 years before a desire for life returned. Since being immersed in the community of grievers, I have heard a wide variety of time frames for this; 1 year, 5 years, 10 years. Which brings me to lesson number five; everybody grieves different, so it’s imperative that all expectations on yourself or the loved one who’s grieving, are thrown out. I understand that you don’t want to see your loved one hurting (especially if that “loved one” is you), but loss hurts. And forcing someone to move on before they are ready is truthfully only going to hurt them more. So, let your loved one not be ok. Let them be depressed. Let them stay in bed, drop responsibilities, and skip social gatherings. Love them through it, don’t force them out of it. I guess this entire paragraph is lesson number six.
About four months after losing my dear sister, I was sitting on my couch in despair. I was tired, worn out, and in the greatest need of healing, but I thought if I accepted healing that would mean I was moving on and I wasn’t ready to do that. So, I sat there, and began to talk honestly with God. I told Him that I was mad and angry and that I wanted my sister back. I told Him I didn’t understand. I told Him that everything hurt so bad. I questioned His ways, and I demanded answers. I pleaded, shouted, and wept. And then eventually, after pouring out every last feeling that was within me, I remember saying through broken cries, “Ok…Ok, God…I don’t understand her death, but I know that I want your healing…I know that I want something good to come from this…will you heal me?” And He did.
I think a lot of people resist God in loss, and I get it. It’s difficult to make sense of a good God, who would allow us to experience such pain. But, what people often times mistake is thinking that God is the source of our pain. What I found in my experience through grief was the exact opposite. The very moment I invited God into my pain, was the very first moment since my sister passed away that I felt something good, something healing, something comforting.
Since that tragic day in September, God has done what He’s always promised to do: to bring good from every situation (Romans 8:28), and while His good brings comfort and joy to my scarred soul, it won’t ever negate the pain. And that’s ok. Grief teaches you there’s room for both---the pain and the joy, one not negating the other, but rather existing simultaneously. And that’s exactly where I find myself today, in joy and pain, receiving His redemptive good, all the while aching for the day when I’ll see Lauren’s face again.