Grieving Forward..My Honest Account

1:21 PMHeather

This past Saturday, I was so blessed to attend a day long ladies event at my church.  After hibernating for nearly 3 weeks in illness induced isolation, it was awesome to just be in the company of friends.  We launched into worship, and I was in a great mood.  But, the minute the words flashed on the screen to "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," I was overcome and tears formed.  Tears for the pain endured and still being endured, and tears of joy for the sweet comfort that song brings me because of all it represents.  It reminds me that I'm a survivor.

At that moment, my heart felt burdened and crushed, as I knew a sorority sister was walking down her own road of anguish, watching her father battle cancer.  Just as mine did all those years ago.  To say that the Holy Spirit laid her and her family on my heart would be putting it too mildly.  More like slammed me to the ground emotionally with the heaviness of their battle.  So, I sat down, wiped my tears, and quickly messaged her to remind her that I was praying.  

You see, that song is just one of those triggers for me that makes it feel as though it just happened.  If you've lost a loved one, you know that startling reality when a scent, song, or something you see interrupts your otherwise normal day to remind you of the sad reality.  Great is thy faithfulness reminds me of Lamentations 3:22-25.  My promise, my hope, and my sanity during the darkest days of my life.  God's mercies are new every day.  Because of His great love we will not be consumed.  

I can't even remember how I found that little passage in Lamentations.  But, as a freshman at Baylor during my dad's last months, I felt helpless.  Those verses spoke to me.  They were what I would pray every single morning for my dad.  "Lord, for TODAY, for whatever Dad is facing today--be it chemo or the after effects or another blood transfusion--give him mercy for it.  Let him not be consumed by what he's facing."  They were desperate prayers from a desperate daughter of a dying man.  A daughter who was facing unchartered territory.  None of my friends had lost a parents at the ripe age of 18.  

And after Dad died, those Lamentations verses got personal.  They were literally a life preserver on many, many days when I didn't want to get out of bed.  

So, you can see how that song is full of meaning and significance and hope and pain.  Today, I feel led to be raw with you here, bloggy friends.  Mostly for my sweet sister in Christ who is burying her Daddy tomorrow.  But, I know that unfortunately, all too many of you have walked that path that I started down nearly 23 years ago.  Here is my heart.  My honest account and raw emotions. And, with it goes my prayer for hope to each of you who are taking a grief journey.

The first few days after Dad died are somehow a blur and yet vivid at the same time.  I can remember in great detail watching the blood pressure monitor stay at 0 as the nurses made the pronouncement and my Dad took his last breath on earth and his first step into heaven.  I can remember the shock and numbness, and driving home from the hospital in a complete fog, like being outside of myself.  I can remember thinking that the shock must be God's gift to get you through the surreal task of saying goodbye to your loved one.  I can remember being angry, too.  Because as I drove around town to purchase the music for my Daddy's funeral, everyone around me was just going on with life.  As if nothing had happened.  How could they?  Couldn't they read it on my face?  Wasn't it obvious that my world had just crumbled?  I had a sense of wanting everyone to know and stop and mark the sadness with me.  Strangers and friends alike.

I'd say it took a good few weeks to begin to realize the finality of it all.  And to realize how incredibly awkward people are when it comes to grief and loss.  Well meaning people who intend to offer comfort.  And say really stupid things like, two weeks after the funeral--"I hope that things are getting back to normal."  Normal?  Offensive.  There will never be normal again.  Or other well meaning friends who simply couldn't carry the weight of it.  So they detoured my every attempt to talk about my father.  I was hungry for someone to dive into memories with me and help keep them alive since he no longer was.  But they simply couldn't.  I understood, yet also wanted to slap them (I said I'd be honest) and clear my throat to pronounce, "Excuse me!  Sorry the death of MY father is too much for YOU to handle!"   

That sense of being the girl whose father died, like some scarlet letter, clung to me for a very, very long time.  My friends never did get much better about it.  And, to be perfectly frank, as grief often does, it left me to my own devices essentially.  Not to dishonor anyone, but family members were so wrapped in their own pain that there was no room for mine.  Or me.  This was my rock bottom.  Feeling utterly alone in the world.  Feeling misunderstood.  Feeling a lack of hope.  Feeling like I was drowning in my sorrow.  

So, I began to write letters to God.  Long and lengthy letters where I poured out my sadness and lack of hope and utter despair.  And where, eventually, I got up the guts to pour out my anger.  That took me a while.  Good ole church going girl had never stepped across the threshold to tell God off.  But, I finally did.  Distinctly remember that moment.  It was a turning point.  And, I felt him whisper to my spirit, "See there?  I knew it all along.  Now that you'll own up to it and get real, we can begin to get somewhere."  I have to say that in my own grief journey, I really never turned from God.  It was more like running at him full force perhaps in hopes of tackling him in my anger.  

Being such a faithful and loving Abba, God saw fit to reach into my life during that season and give me a little Jesus with skin on.  His name was Chris.  And, he was so super cute.  But, I didn't want a relationship.  Who had room for dating with all that pain to wrestle through?  Chris agreed.  Ha!  Famous last words.  So, there I was.  Feeling broken and unloveable and rejected by those who couldn't walk through the darkness with me.  And there he was.  This amazing boy who couldn't seem to get enough of me.  I decided he was either a martyr or he was crazy or miracle of all miracles, he really did care.  And he really could handle it.  

I can say now with certainty that in that first year, I was clinically depressed.  But, no one in my life called it out so that help could come.  And even my college pastor who had been counseling me began to avoid my calls.  I felt as though the burden was just too much for anyone.  Including me.  But, I didn't have a choice.  I finally found comfort in new friendships with a couple of friends who had also lost a parent.  Like we had our own little freaks of grief thing going.  It was good to cry and whine with someone who I knew totally got it. Someone else who wanted to spit nails every time a friend complained about their dad not sending them more money or their mom being unreasonable.  We'd joke about how we nearly bit through our tongues to keep from saying, "Well, at least you HAVE a dad!"

I missed my dad terribly.  I clung to memories of him.  I delighted when anyone would allow me to dive in there and tell stories about him.  It kept him with me in some way.  I also clung to the Lord.  In those incredibly long letters to God, written for hours at the Baylor library when I was supposed to be studying.  And, I clung to the promise of Lamentations 3:22-25.  Lord, new mercies for this day.  Just this one. That's all I can face.  One foot in front of another.  

In time, a new normal was gradually built, without a blue print or even a notice that it had happened, until I realized suddenly that the pain wasn't quite so suffocating.  I realized it one Sunday when I heard the words of parents whose son had just died.  They said that even when they hit rock bottom, it was Solid Rock with Christ.  Yes.  That's a good way to say it.  I've hit rock bottom.  And I'm still here.  And, wow.  God really never did leave me.  He was there all along.  So was that new boy with whom I'd become inseparable.  A bond formed in that dating relationship from carrying the heavy load of grieving.  A bond that blesses me to this day.  A bond that became a strong foundation for our marriage.  Because that man of mine is still so intuitive to the underlying grief that peppers my life that when a song comes on or anything else that might provoke my pain, he squeezes my hand and looks at me as if to say, "I know.  I know this was your dad's favorite song.  And it makes you miss him.  And that's okay."

I learned in my grief journey to have grace on myself.  To just go with it.  Not so easy for a Type A planner.  But, that was one word of wisdom given to me the night before Dad died.  A friend of his said that I will always miss my dad.  And, all throughout my life, I'd have moments when it would feel like I had just lost him all over again.  When I graduated college.  When he wasn't there to walk me down the aisle.  When I birthed the grandchildren he'd never know.  In those moments, he said, don't beat yourself up.  It's natural.  Because someone you loved is gone and not where you'd pictured they would be.  So make peace with that.  Allow myself to grief.  Don't be surprised by that unwelcome visit from the unannounced feeling of sadness.  Because I had been so blessed with such an amazing dad, I'd always miss him.  Eventually, it wouldn't feel so overwhelming.  

He was completely right.  I was able to sit back and tell myself that this was not a phase.  This was not something to get through for some undetermined amount of time and then check off my list.  No, this grief was something to come to terms with.  To learn to live with. To come to a place of acceptance. That I would always mark a place for my dad in those moments he should have been there.  Because he deserved such recognition.  Eventually, the bitterness and the anger and the injustice of it all would melt and mellow.  And, I'd find myself in a place of bittersweetness.  Where I could say with a smile as I cried that I had a great dad.  And, I miss him still.  But, it's not such a heavy burden anymore.  It's more like a familiar companion that I've come to terms with.

That is how it is now.  It took a while.  You never get over such a loss.  You simply learn how to see God's mercies for each day's troubles.  You learn to co-exist with the pain of the empty chair at your table.  You build new memories and new routines and new normals.  They bring you comfort as they gradually take the place of the old normal.  And the stab of pain at those moments where he should have been there become more like a dull throb.  I can laugh again about silly things he said.  I can smile to myself when I hear myself repeat something to my children that he would say to me.  And my kids roll their eyes just I had rolled mine.  I can feel a sense of hope instead of injustice when I look at these three precious treasures who somehow embody the legacy of the grandpa they never knew.   And I can feel a sense of peace, a genuine sense of peace, when my daughter says, "Mommy, I can't wait to meet your daddy in heaven.  I think it's so sad you don't have a daddy anymore."  Through my teary eyes, I can say with peace and joy and hope for what's to come. 

"Yes, sweetie.  Won't that be a great moment?  When we can be all together again.  Forever."  

Grieving.  No journey I'd ever wish on anyone.  But, may I tell you that you can indeed grief forward.  Cry and wail and gnash your teeth.  And tell yourself at the end of each day that you survived yet another day.  Remind yourself that the day will come that the surviving will begin to exist with sense of thriving.  In a new way.  But, you had courage to grieve forward.  One step at a time.     

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