Living with Grief

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed


The picture is four by seven and we five siblings lean into each other, smiling. The funeral home is crowded with friends and family. The rich walnut wood work goes unnoticed. We are smothered in grief. Everyone loved my mother. It seemed as if everyone she had ever known was there. I felt numb and floaty.

er told me that grief felt so like fear

You may be reading and thinking my mom died recently. She didn’t. It has over twenty years. January 8th is her birthday. Every year I go through the same cycle. I begin the year with gusto, lists, a word, getting back to good habits and BAM, grief hits me out of nowhere and knocks the breath out of me. Grief sneaks up on you just when you think it has left. I have a few melancholy moments over Christmas when the scents, the music and putting up the tree triggers a memory, like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail.

It sometimes takes me a day or two to recognize grief. It is not a stranger to me, but sometimes I don’t want to recognize it. I want it to stay a stranger in the shadows and leave me alone. My body aches. I weep at weird times. I’m an introvert, so I isolate. Because I’m adult and have some experience, although my epiphany may be delayed I recognize grief and call it out by name.

God gives us peace for this unfathomable pain.

But, peace is not an antidote for the pain, it is more likened to an antiseptic to keep the wound from festering, but the wound is still there, fresh and deep.

It’s okay to angry with God.

He can take it. Just don’t stay stuck there and let bitterness eat you up.  I remember when my mama’s death was so painful and fresh. I couldn’t figure out how to go on or why people were out shopping, eating, and just living when there was such a gaping void in my life.

The church tells us to rejoice that our loved one is in heaven and no longer suffering. That is true. However, we are the ones that have suffered loss. Don’t let anyone discount that. The pain is real. The void is there. What we humans must do is cope with the pain. Live with the pain. Remember the person. The time with her. The lessons taught. Celebrate the life that she lived. Don’t copy it completely per say. Find the guts to live the life the way you were meant to. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Grief must not be brushed aside. It must be practiced.

In the book a Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken, practices grief through writing letters to his wife and listening to her favorite music. My mother-in-law wrote letters to her mother to practice grief.

Grief is different for each individual, but ignored only turns into bitterness or depression. We must practice grief, tell our story to an empathetic listener and often work through doing the things that person loved to do.

I participate in many of the traditions that my mother taught me. At first they are painful to the point of ugly crying, but after a season, they become a comfort.

Grief can give physical symptoms as well as emotional. Grief can knock the breath out of you. It’s not a one time event, its a process that must be practiced. Don’t shy away from grief. Practice it according to your personality. Do the things your loved one loved even if that means crying all the way through the process. Tears are cleansing. Healing is a job. Don’t be hard on yourself. Allow the feelings to wash over you and process them in your way- journal, listen to music, see a counselor, hike, paint, bake, whatever it is, do it with your whole heart and your whole heart will be on the road to healing.

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Look at Life with Fresh Eyes

Sometimes life throws us for loop.

  • The death of a love one
  • Financial collapse
  • A child gone astray
  • A new diagnosis

Yep. We can just humming along, feeling blessed. Walking on cloud nine. We’re doing exactly what God asked us to do and it’s working! Then smack, like a giant wave we get bowled over. See that word I used above? FEELINGS. Then we FEEL differently. Depressed. Despondent. We don’t want to go on. Depending on the severity of the situation, that’s pretty normal. Those sorts of feelings tell us something is not right.

When my mother died, I couldn’t fathom why the world kept spinning. People kept going about their lives, shopping, eating out, going to work and worst of all, smiling. How could people smile? Laugh?  Then when my step-father, Bud died, it was the same. The problem was, my new kiddos had arrived the week before he “went on to glory” as he called it. I now had a houseful of seven children, four fresh from an orphanage in Poland. My grief and their habit of fear (survival mode) could have had disastrous consequences.

I had something happen yesterday that brought all of these memories back to the surface. It’s not my story, so I won’t tell it. Suffice it to say, I watched someone die. I did everything I could to help this not happen. It didn’t work. My prayers were not answered in the way I wanted them to be. The whole event sent me spiraling into dark places. (Please say a prayer for this family, you don’t need to know the name, God does).

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What can do we do when we get stuck feeling something? When a trigger takes us back or circumstances keep us down?

  1. Tell your story. Ever wonder why counselors ask lots of questions and spend a lot of time listening? It’s because telling our stories brings healing. Find someone you trust and tell them your story. Ask them to pray with you. If your issues are serious, this may take weeks or months, maybe years. Don’t give up. You’re worth it. Work for your healing.
  2. Don’t isolate yourself. When bad things happen, we want to hunker down in our little bunkers and leave the world behind. Don’t. Just don’t. I’m all for a little time alone, but a habit of isolation just breeds more of whatever you are feeling- depression, despair or despondency. Go out and do something with friends. If you have a few minutes of crying during your outing, it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. Try to keep your normal routine as much as possible. When Bud died, my nephew Josiah said that God sent me my new kids cause he knew I would need them. I had to get up every morning and make food, homeschool and run my household. I even had to smile.
  3. Look at life with fresh eyes. Amerey did a live on this on The Whole House Facebook page. She and her family rented a beach house for a week. When they arrived, they were disappointed that the ‘rustic charm’ was more rustic than charming. Their little girls didn’t notice the dirt or the ‘rustic’. They loved the beach house and didn’t want to come home. Sometimes we need to see live through the eyes of a child. During the season after the deaths of my mother and Bud, I laughed at my children’s jokes. I watched their puppet plays and smiled. I watched my newbies experience things for the first time, Christmas, birthdays and riding a bike. I had to look with fresh eyes.

Whatever you are going through right now, remember, this is not the end. It’s just a page in your story. Whether it’s a diagnosis, the loss of a job, a new baby keeping you up all night or the death of the loved one, this too shall pass. There is one thing that is a constant in our lives, that’s change. Things change. While you are in the midst of all of it, don’t let despair rule. It’s okay to feel these things, but don’t let them boss you around. Schedule time to grieve. Write down what you are feeling. Work on your healing. I’ll leave you with this:

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message

Not Forsaking Fellowship- Three Word Wednesday

You know that feeling you get when you lie back in a hammock and watch the clouds go by? It’s a calming and restorative effect similar spending time with family and friends.

When I am battle-weary from life’s curve balls and I have prayed and cried and felt empty, when I want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over me head and scream, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” When I want to isolate, God insulates me with friends and family. He surrounds me with the fellowship of the family of faith. Some fingerprints of fellowship evidence in my life these past few weeks:

  • Texts from friends after the death of my dear aunt
  • My son cooking me dinner of chicken nuggets after a long day going back and forth to the nursing home
  • Hunter staying home with me and pampering me with my favorite candy and hanging a hammock for me to rest and grieve in
  • The blessing of Aunt Sharon, sister-Anne and I being present, holding on to Aunt Michelle as she breathed her last and let go of this blue-green sphere to sail home to glory.
  • A wedding the day after with friends and family celebrating the start of a new life together. While I still hold on to death in one hand, I hold to hope and life with another.
  • Nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters and grandkids on the trampoline
  • Conversations with relatives who empathize

 And let us consider and give [d]attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love andhelpful deeds and noble activities,

 Not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people, but admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.- Hebrews 10: 24, 25

When we are told not to forsake the fellowship, let us not mistake the message. It doesn’t mean you have to be in a church building. We are the church. We are the body. We fellowship when we celebrate together around an altar or a campfire. We sing around a bedside of one who is leaving this earth in the cool of a nursing home. We encourage one another while it is still today. We don’t wait for Sunday in a pew. Don’t hunker down in the pit, hoping things will get better. Expect they will and if your circumstances don’t improve, expect God to show up in the midst of them. Expect Him to send burden bearers across your path. Expect fellowship to bind up your wounds and medicate those infections that isolate. Expect the insulation of the Holy Spirit to wrap around you cold-weather worn heart and watch it spring forth to new life.

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