On August 4, 2008 my mom died at the age of 59. This is my story of grief in the months following her death.
I choose to tell you this story because grief is widely misunderstood in our culture particularly among Christians. We want it to be quick and easy. Done after the funeral and the provided meals and the sympathy cards. We want to make it better so we say things like, “She’s in a better place” or “God must have just wanted her home.” We think life just goes on for those closely related to the situation just as it does for the average funeral attender.
Just yesterday, almost a year later, I sat in my truck outside the gym listening to a song… weeping. For me, that was a good thing.
Everyone has a different experience with grief. Your relationship to the deceased is a factor. Did you lose your mom, your friend, your spouse, or your child? Every situation is different and every person grieves differently. In college and seminary I took several classes related to the grief process. The text books say it works like this: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Seems very clean and predictable.
My experience is much different than that process. I don’t ever remember being in denial. I think my pastoral work around dying people gave me experience enough to see what was coming. I don’t remember bargaining. For me grief has been more like this: Anger, Anger, Anger, Depression, Anger, Anger, Anger, Depression, Acceptance.
Grief is weird. I have literally had days where I felt unexplainable exhaustion. Only half way through the day did I clue in on where this extremely “blue” feeling was coming from. My friend Omar summed it up well just the other day. “It feels like you are in prison and you have used your last phone call. There is no more communication.” That is a depressing feeling. Oddly, you can be busy about your day not even thinking of the loss and the exhaustion of depression can blindside you. In November I felt that way all day one day. I could not figure it out. When I got home I told Angie about the feeling. I thought something was physically wrong. She reminded me it was Mom’s birthday. Like a program running in the background of a computer, depression snuck up on me that day.
I have been angry, the kind where you just feel ticked off for no apparent reason. As I have processed this I have discovered a couple of things about myself. I have honestly been angry at God. I know and have faith enough to believe He could have saved her earthly life in a miraculous way. I prayed for it, fasted for it, and asked for it all the while adding the obedient phrase, “but your will be done.” However, there was no miraculous disappearance of the brain tumor. In fact the more I prayed the bigger and uglier the situation got. When I am honest I have to say, “that ticked me off.” I also learned I did not really mean it when I prayed, “but your will be done.” I meant, “but your will be done as long as it is the same as my will.”
I also have been angry because my mom is missing out on a lot this year, at least from my vantage point. Maddie accepted Christ and will be baptized soon. Eden is in that fun 2 year old age that mom loves and Hailey is simply growing up quickly. I wrote a book this year that will release any day now. I would love to write her a note and hand her a copy. Two weeks ago I was driving from a meeting with my publisher in Loveland, Colorado back to the airport in Denver. I picked up my phone and dialed “M” for mom. I put it down as quickly as I picked it up.
Although grief seems weird, it is a natural thing. A process full of emotions designed by God to help us cope with heartache and loss. It is actually a gift. Somewhere along the way someone shared some great advice with me. If you ever find yourself grieving you might find this helpful:
1) Grieve slowly. You don’t have to rush it. When you feel angry recognize it and deal with it. (Exercise, pray, talk it out.) When you feel depressed, acknowledge it. You are not losing your mind, you are grieving.
2) Don’t take to heart the things well intentioned people say in a poor way. People don’t know what to say or how to say it. Just take it as love and concern and move on.
3) Talk and write about it. This has been very helpful to me. Processing grief is important. The best way to do that is talk about how you feel and why you feel it.
4) Find a group. I tell everyone to find a grief share group but I have chosen to walk this one with friends and family. My friends and family have been patient with me and lifted me up often. Community is a must when you are grieving.
5) Grieve with hope. I know where Mom is and in a way, for her sake, I would not want her to come back. As Christ followers, we grieve and we hurt, but we do it with hope. This may be whacked out theology but every now and then when I pray, I ask Jesus to give my mom a hug from me. I think He does it. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)