My Own Grief Story

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)

  One thought on “My Own Grief Story

  1. Jim
    October 20, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Brian (and all you others),
    You have done such a great job of expressing what this loss feels like. It’s horrible for us Christians who’ve been left behind by by one of our loved ones who has gone to heaven before us. (I lost my wife of 29 years about three years ago.)
    I can’t imagine how it is for those who have no such hope.
    Thanks so much for taking time to write this stuff down. Thanks too, for mentioning that the fact that those stages don’t fit everybody.
    Jim

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  2. Heather
    September 5, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Brian,
    Your blog is so poignant! My friend who recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s sent this to me, as I am still grieving the loss of my father after a year from a brain tumor. The loss is so vast, and yes, our dear Christian friends, though well meaning, haven’t a clue the depth of the pain or how different we each grieve. My grief is so very different, you see, as I lost my husband 9 years earlier to stomach cancer, leaving me to raise three very young children. The pain is so much greater, as he passed away on our son’s 5th birthday. I find myself shutting down each year as this anniversary if you will approaches. This year it will be 10 years. It seems unreal, that he has been gone that long. With the loss of Daddy still so raw and fresh.. your words hit the proverbial nail on the head. You adequately express what I feel so often in my grief journey.

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  3. Janet Caldwell
    September 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Brian,
    Thanks for sharing from your heart. I lost my Mom in May of 2008. I lived 3 hours away from her, but we were very close. I still hear her leaving me a message on my answering machine “Janet, this is your Mom”. she was 84. I had recently had surgery and it was the first Mothers day in many years that I had missed spending with her. She fell the next night and was rushed to the hospital. I talked to her everyday and when we realized she was not doing well, my husband decided to drive me to see her. She died before I got there. I was angry. I wanted to see her one more time, to tell her how much she meant to me and what she taught me. I too, still have days of grieving and I, too, say to God all the time–Hey God, tell my Mom hi and that I love her, and I believe he does.

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  4. Kathy
    August 26, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Hi Brian:

    What a powerful blog and I could relate to every word. I lost my mom a little over 9 months ago to pancreatic cancer. My grieving so far has been mainly anger and depression with a lot of guilt mixed in. I knew the Lord could save my mom and I prayed for Him to do so, if that was His will. I prayed and prayed, asking God to please give my mom more time, especially for my kids. She died 349 days after she was diagnosed.

    My daughter doesn’t remember her grandmother and knows her only from pictures. Fortunately, my son has memories of lots of good times he had with his grandparents. But my mom is gone, and I’m still having trouble accepting this. The end was bad for her and there is no way I’d want her to have to live that again. A friend said to me just yesterday that maybe God needed my mom back again. I know she meant well. My response was yeah, but I need her too, and also thought so does my dad, and my kids. I get angry about what my mom is missing in my kids’s lives. She loved being a grandmother, she loved them so much.

    Sorry, I’m rambling. My mom’s death is still very fresh, hurts a lot, even though I know she is in a better place. No more cancer, no more pain. I started a blog on the loss of a parent, as writing is my way of dealing with things, and a way of keeping my mom’s memory alive. I’d also like to help others, if I can. Take a look if you’d like (http://peace4me521.wordpress.com/).

    Thank you for sharing your views on grief. I’m sure I’ll read this blog again. It really hit home for me.

    Take care,

    Kathy

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  5. August 21, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Brian-

    You are right about participating in a GriefShare group – it can be of a great help. There are lots of GriefShare groups out there and the GriefShare website has a search engine to help locate the nearest one. It is at: http://www.griefshare.org.

    Blessings

    Steve

    Like

  6. Mortuza Biswas
    August 20, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Brin Haynes-

    I have been reading your pages, and learning about your experiences of grief! many times I mailing you, no response, that’s Ok. I just learned a moment ago that, your Mother has been passed way a year ago!

    Here in Bangladesh, our cultures and customs are different, we must take care our parents as well. my parents call every after 2 days, and ask, their needs, as a son, I need to hear their things, and solved these, as much as possible for me.

    How ever, is it an opportunity that, I could hear their problems, and gives my hands to helps for them a little bit.

    Thanks for such a story!

    Mortuza Biswas
    Bangladesh.

    Like

  7. August 13, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for writing this. My grandma passed away last month, suddenly, and though she was a believer, it is still hard on us all. I sent your post to my mom and she said you hit it on the head. Thank you for being transparent with us.

    Misty

    Like

  8. Gina Kearley
    August 13, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    I just lost my mother suddenly on July 8th. My daughter, Misty Newsome, emailed your story to me. I was touched and blessed. I have missed her so much. The calls, the visits to dad with her not there are not the easiest. I know we will be together again, but I too have been angry and depressed. I am working through it with a wonderful husband and a lovely christian family. Thank you for your story.

    Like

  9. July 31, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Brian,
    I lost my dad four years ago this month (I write about it in my first entry on my blog). I miss my dad everyday, and I think I will until I see him again with the Lord. I appreciate your willingness to be real.

    Like

  10. Jordan Burger
    July 31, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    G’day Brian,

    WOW that is so moving, I think I felt my self weeping/tearing up while reading about your pain! Although I havn’t had to “grieve” yet (I say that because I have had people I’ve known Die but they wern’t that close to me) but I know that very soon one of my grandparents will pass and this will really help me prepare and get through it!

    God Bless you mate!!!!

    Like

  11. Allyson Stephens
    July 30, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Bryan, I really appreciate your honesty about your grief. I can honestly say it is the first thing I’ve read that didn’t make me mad at the writer. I hate the stages of grief and every booklet someone gives me has those in it and they just don’t help right now. They seem cold and impersonal. I’m sure you know about my dad’s recent passing. I was a daddy’s girl and made sure everyone knew it. I miss him terribly and the events of his death attempt to overwhelm me. The advice you passed along is so perfect and I welcome it at a time when the wound is fresh and as everyone around me moves on, I’m just beginning to allow myself to grieve. Thank you again!

    Like

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