There are many ways to refer to mourning. There are the waves of grief, the stages, the levels and the layers. It’s a cycle. It’s a process. It creates a pot of tear soup. Analogies may fail, and everyone is different, but this is how it has felt to me…
Sometimes grief feels like two steps forward but one step back. Logic calls this one step at a time. My heart calls it backward motion. One moment I feel healed, and the next I am a blubbering mess. One day I am accomplishing all-the-things, and the next I can hardly rip myself out of bed.
Sometimes I am proud of myself. One day I was expressing to a friend how frustrated I was at how long grief was taking. She graciously recommended that I make a list of every positive action or change I had made since my loss. I looked at my list with tears and amazement at what I had accomplished. I was immediately thankful for my support system, pleased with the life I had made, and by what God had done in me.
Sometimes I just don’t care. I don’t know what to tell you. Some days I just don’t feel much at all. Usually my body goes on autopilot, or it’s like sleepwalking, and I may or may not remember what happens during that time. Whether I catch myself or not, I can be present in a room without really being there. And I don’t care.
Sometimes I am happy. To say that I love my life now, does not in any way negate the different happiness I had before the death of my loved one. And I do love my life right now. I know full well that life is precious and want to thoroughly enjoy the people and beauty in it. Happy feelings are not the absence of grief, but the choosing to live anyway.
Sometimes I am sad. It happens much less frequently than it used to, but some days I wake up and feel an enormous sense of loss. At times it’s triggered by a disorienting dream about the one who died. Most of the time there is not an explanation other than that I am just sad. Some days it lasts only a few minutes, while on other days it stays, and I go to bed still sad. And sadness can hit at different times throughout the day, sometimes lasting a long time while at others being only a momentary brush-away-able thought. Some days it permeates everything else. Other times, it hides just below the surface and most people will never know unless I tell them.
Sometimes grief keeps me from sleeping. I try to make my body as tired as possible so that I don’t lay there alone… but my body has its own ideas. When I’m sleeping it’s fitful, with dreams. So I wake up. And sleep is allusive until I just start the day.
Sometimes I sleep soundly. Many nights, my body is so ready for sleep that I fall into it as soon as my head hits the pillow. On nights that I fall asleep feeling loved, with my mind resting on God’s promises and peace, it’s a calm sleep. On the morning following them, I wake up to feel refreshed!
Sometimes I am thankful! I grew up in community. I have had the blessing of being surrounded by many loving people throughout my life, and I have always appreciated them. Yet, I did not feel more encouraged and built up than after Eric died and my people rallied around me – they still do. Furthermore, God has shown his faithfulness in incredible ways that I might never have seen had I not experienced both love and loss.
Sometimes grief is isolating. Grief as a result of loss slows down or stops time for the people who are intimately involved with it. My loss impacted me deeply, but I noticed that the lives of other people – while they were very sad for me, for themselves, and for others – kept moving. They continued on with responsibilities, activities, concerns, and other life changes. They did not forget me, but their attentions were pulled in other directions. I felt left behind. I was still so weighed down by my own brokenness, that I could not come out of it to catch up to, rejoice or mourn with anyone else. Two years after Eric’s death, new waves of grief pull me back with the tide, and it takes a while to get back to my people.
Sometimes I feel lonely. Especially in the darkness of the night or in the very early morning, when I’m still awake or awake again, my aloneness is undeniable. Before marriage, the whole bed was mine. It didn’t (usually) feel lonely, because I was in it and it was mine. After my husband died, one whole side of the bed looked and felt like a canyon of emptiness. I was not more alone than I had been pre-marriage, but I felt that way because I had known a loving, intimate relationship.
Sometimes grief feels like a classroom. Grieving myself taught me compassion for others who struggle with hard things. Sure, I felt sad for people, but I honestly thought I had a lot of the answers: just read that book, sleep this many hours, don’t eat that, stop fighting. But life doesn’t work that way. I thought I knew it on some level, but I didn’t realize that there aren’t timelines on these kinds of things. There aren’t straight paths and clear checkpoints. You don’t just get over it. Hard things knock people down indiscriminately, and the uniqueness of each person determines that their healing will look different. The difference between sympathy and compassion, I’m learning, is that with the first you’re simply sad for someone. With the second, you extend grace, understanding, and love.
Sometimes I get mad. There are lots of reasons that my irritations skyrocket… my mind gets too full of sadness so other noises feel like interruptions; something concerning my loss is unfair; someone does or says something that hurts me; I get “triggered;” etc. Whether I choose to react or not is my choice, but the “HOLY COW I’M ANGRY” feelings come on suddenly and tend to get worse when I’m actively grieving.
Sometimes I want to write. There has been probably nothing that I have done that has helped my heart heal more than writing things down. The memories, the feelings, the crazy thoughts, the frustrations… all of it. At first, I began writing to Eric all of the things I wanted to say to him but no longer could. Now I write to Jesus, like a prayer journal, and I write to others who have also faced great loss. I hope when I write to encourage others with my own grief journey.
Sometimes I want to hide. There have been full weeks that I was so overwhelmed with incoming messages, little red notifications, and new social media posts, that I simply shut off my phone. There are a few people in my life who I’ll tell when I won’t be replying to communication, but for the rest of the world I try to disappear.
Sometimes grief ushers in joy. Great sorrow makes a way for incredible joy. If I don’t spend time in the valley, the heights of the mountains will not feel as wonderful. Even though you’ll hear me say repeatedly that “grief sucks,” it’s also important to realize that the struggle is making something stronger, and lovelier; It’s a good thing.
Grief comes in waves. And it’s ever changing. There are no rules, there are no rights and wrongs for how to feel or deal with it. There is only the simple fact that you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it; you’ve got to go through it.