I’ve been revisiting grief… that crappy friend that I wish I never had. You know what I’m talking about. Dealing with grief is like that one friend you secretly wish you never had but still shows up and tells inappropriate jokes at a party or asks you such grand requests that “no” doesn’t seem a strong enough reply. When it shows up, somehow it is in charge even though it is sporadically in and out of your life. A complete narcissist, grief is… especially as it smacked me across the face weeks ago.
As I was looking through old pictures, I saw my loved one and my heart hurt. It made me ponder, again, grief.
My grandma would revisit old pictures over and over again. She would pull out old pictures and decide she got the name on the back wrong and scratch through it and write a new one (her previous name was always the correct one, she would forget that new generations look a lot like the ones before them). My late aunt and my grandma’s sister’s names are interchanged on a lot of pictures. Grandma’s photo albums were proudly displayed all over her tiny apartment and I often would pick them up and browse through them, learning about family who died ages ago or family who lived far away. I learned so much about my family through those little photo albums of my Grandma Rose’s. She didn’t have many possessions but she had all of those albums and her abundant love for her family, scattered across the country, showed in those albums.
Anyway, this particular picture was staring at me and I grieved… but what is this emotion that comes with grief? Bittersweet is the only thing I can come up with. Photos captured in time are of a sweet memory but also bitter because those memories will never be played out again. Bittersweet.
…Dealing with grief
I wonder further, why is grief a bitter feeling especially when we know that death is only temporary? Why is it so hard for us to wrap our brains around the truth that our earthly life is just a drop in the bucket of our eternal existence?
When my Grandma Rose died, it hurt deep because for years good and decent memories were not made. I was mad for a variety of reasons, one of which was her inability to move past her depression, the depression that stole her physical health as well as her mind. Some would say her life, her existence past any quality of life, was serving a purpose for others and they could be correct. Yet, when you’re a loved one living it out it is difficult. It is not easy to “deal” with extended last days, months and years.
Maybe that’s what grief is a lot about… desiring more good time.
For those people whose quality of life has disappeared, it wouldn’t matter if you got those last minutes to say good-bye. I mean, honestly… with my Grandma and her dementia, she wouldn’t remember any sweet sentimentals I told her in her last hours, but you can bet I was telling them to her on her deathbed anyway.
On the other hand, having those last moments does something to a person. The first time I got to experience it was with one of my mom’s good friends many years ago. I was in my mid-twenties. She laid in ICU and we were allowed to go back in pairs. She knew, and we all knew, that she wouldn’t make it out this time (one of many hospital stays for this fiery friend). My mom stood at the foot of her friend’s hospital bed, stricken with grief and just prayed. I took Beverly’s hand, held it for a long time, I told her how much I loved her and how much she had influenced me. She wasn’t able to talk but she smiled, squeezed my hand and one small tear formed in the corner of her eye and fell down the side of her face. THAT moment dealing with death has done more for me than any of the others that have followed. She was coherent and responsive even if the only thing she could do was to squeeze my hand. I got to tell her things, and I am confident she heard and understood them, and she would take them with her beyond death – that’s a very sweet memory. In this faded memory, I don’t remember the contraptions all over her body and I cannot hear the beeping of all of the machines or the ventilator but what I DO see and feel is her sweet smile, that tear and the touch of her hand. That’s it.
Despite having a chemical imbalance that needed addressing as a teenager, I think in my suicidal year I did have something right. Heaven is so much better than this place. The very first post I ever wrote was about my dream about heaven, a few years after my grandma’s death. So, if we can put grief in its correct context, it’s merely a temporary feeling as we sort through our loneliness and realization that a loved one is no longer on earth. Death is simply a milestone to the next and final GREAT thing in our lives. Truly.
We may spend time in anger and sadness as we grapple with the confusion about why God allows things to happen the way he does. Maybe death happened to someone too young. Maybe it happened when someone was completely healthy. Maybe the process was long and grueling. Maybe the loss of the person leaves a huge void not only in a family but in a community. Unfortunately, we’ll have no answers here on earth regarding His reasons but it’s imperative that we feel those feels and process them. If we sweep grief under the rug it will just come out later in bigger and bolder ways, craving attention.
Unfortunately for us middle-agers who still have our parents with us, the unknowing of the future can send us into an anxiety-filled frenzy. To be boldly honest, that’s where I’ve been for a few weeks. Despite the upheaval and transformation my life has seen these past few years, anxiety (outside of job-related anxiety) was not a common staple in my life… until recently. And I blame grief.
It doesn’t seem to matter how deep my faith is, and man has it grown these past few years, grief can still attempt to send me on a trajectory. As a creative, I am sometimes drawn to the melancholy. I know I’m not alone and I deeply know it’s not healthy.
Liz Gilbert wrote about it in “Big Magic.” She wrote about somewhere along the line creatives got this silly notion that they produce their best work when they are in dark places. Creatives are sometimes drawn to the dark.
Or maybe we just aren’t afraid of it and know, deep to our core know, that the best way to deal with dark is to walk through it – with our light. 🙂 … Which means we allow that uneasy feeling to wash over us. We allow the grief to change and soften our hearts. We run to God with our tear streaked faces and ask for comfort.
We don’t hide in our books, we don’t hide in the comfort of people (although we do allow the comfort, to experience the love of God in others), we don’t hide in bottles or pills or work or shopping, we also don’t hide in our pencils and paints – we don’t hide in our sorrow but instead we work with and through the grief.
I cannot count on one single hand how many middle-agers in my life who are dealing with this kind of thing with their parents. So many of us are stepping into new roles, buying new shoes and filling them up. We are sandwiched between parenting our littles and learning how to parent our parents without dishonoring or disrespecting them. It’s a tightrope walk, that’s for certain, and for some of us highly uncomfortable.
For me, personally, I have aged so much in a few years. This is a good thing. But, putting on these new shoes, they just aren’t comfortable or even flashy. For my great aunt’s funeral, I had on a cute skirt and grabbed some high heels. Two steps with them and my ankle was very angry with me as the heel kept slipping up and down. Back into the box they went, wardrobe change, and my trusty dress boots went on (as they always will). These new shoes feel like the backwards shoe – parenting your parents feels very backwards.
So, friends, I am sorry for those of you who are in this boat with me. It’s the worst boat… seriously. It’s damn ugly, smells like fishing tackle, and the water we are on is not at all calm. We keep throwing buckets of water made from our tears out of the boat, ensuring we don’t drown in our anxiety, frustration and grief. Which reminds me of an EXCELLENT boat story…
In all but one of the gospels there exists the story of Jesus taking his disciples to “the other side” in a boat. After a long day of preaching, they get in a boat and head to the other side (I have always found it very interesting that no one in the crowd loaded up in boats to chase after Jesus because, at this point, he was becoming well known). Two of the gospels say, “other side of the lake” and Matthew says, “the other side.” I find Matthew’s terminology quite interesting.
What awaited on the other side was an exorcism (maybe the crowd was afraid to go to the dark place they knew Jesus was headed). There was a possessed man on the other side who lived among the tombs, naked. He was unable to be restrained. It’s an excellent exorcism story, but the boat…
As Jesus and the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee to Gadarenes (today known as Golan Heights) there was a massive storm at sea. What was Jesus doing? Sleeping. Satan himself didn’t want the son of God to come over and save this man. Their boat was filling up with water because of the waves crashing over the side. There was Jesus, snoozing away. He must be a heavier sleeper than my husband.
Well, obviously the disciples were frightened and woke Jesus up for His help. Jesus awoke, rebuked the wind and quieted the sea. He then said, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:40). Have you ever been in a storm near a body of water? Do the waves and wind immediately stop? No, they don’t… but Jesus commanded it so and it obeyed.
My point? Fear, timidity, anxiety… these things are not of God (1 Timothy 1:7). These are NOT gifts of the spirit. What did Jesus prove to us? That we have power against the dark. We needn’t be terrified. He also made a connection between fear and faith. If our fear is strong, our faith is not. If our faith is strong then our fear is not. You cannot have both.
So… as we face these life changes and issues and growing pains in our lives, let us not first run to our friends or books or google or even our therapists. Not that one or all of these things couldn’t benefit us in some way but FIRST we need to grow our faith. Making our faith stronger will rebuke any scary thing just as the numerous supernatural acts of the apostles. For those of us performing our own exorcisms of sorts, driving the dark one out of areas of our lives, we DO have the power to do this. We needn’t be shackled by fear, depression, anxiety, perfectionism, people-pleasing and achievement. Let us be filled with awe and amazement at the power our Lord possessed AND passed down to us so we no longer remain in bondage.