December 19, 2017

I don't know what to feel

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” Matthew 5:12

When someone suffers a great loss—no matter what the circumstances— they go through a grief cycle. Sometimes they follow the cycle just as it is explained in many books, but most people go through these cycles in waves that sometimes feel strange, or make them feel guilty for not being “normal”.

I want to talk about a part of the grief cycle that is always hard to admit. Mainly because it is a defense we want to shun. Relief.

When I sat on the couch the night of Emmett’s death—and those detectives finally finished telling me stories of infidelity and murder—my front door shut. My instincts told me to cry out in sadness, yell out in anger, curl up in humiliation . . . but if I am going to be completely honest with myself, my first wave wasn’t fear or pain or humiliation . . . it was relief—relief that I wasn’t crazy. You see. When your spouse is having an affair, they spend a lot of time in hiding—from you. You feel alone, and you feel abandoned . . . usually never understanding why. All the while blaming yourself for not being enough. Spending most of your time trying to change who you think it is your spouse no longer desires.

So my first moment of peace was relief that I wasn’t crazy. In that moment, I felt grateful to know that there was something really wrong . . . that all those months I had spent feeling—and being told—I was crazy . . . were part of his hiding. All those months I began to hate myself for not being someone else. All those months I had searched—like any normal crazy person—for answers that I never found. There really had been something wrong. I wasn't crazy!!!

I can’t say that wave of relief lasted long—or didn’t haunt me for years as evidence as a reason I should hate the girl he left that night. But it did come. And it was real. And what I wish I could go back and tell that girl—who felt relieved in a moment where the world would tell her she should feel sad—is. . . it’s ok. It was real, because the pain of the affair had hurt for a long time, even though she had no clue. And it’s ok that for that first split second—she felt grateful to know the truth. The truth can set you free—and in that moment, it set me free from a version of crazy I had believed I had become.

So sometimes—especially when a moment of trauma is so complex—we have to give ourselves a break, and allow grief to find a voice. Sadness isn’t always the first wave to come. And that has to be ok. If we want to heal, we cannot shun the real feelings . . . even if they feel very strange.

Maybe your child has suffered since the day they born, and you have carried the emotional, financial, and psychological toll of raising a child with special needs through years of heart ache and tears. Maybe your loved one has been stuck in the chains of addiction and you are finally given an answer to divorce. Maybe you spent the last four years taking care of a spouse with cancer—and as they took that last breath—you felt the weight of the burden lift . . . and for a split second felt relieved to have such a taxing calling end.

Whatever your journey was or is . . . there are going to be a lot of emotions that come when you suffer a loss. Don’t give up on the girl or boy who doesn’t feel them in the order the grief books told you—you would. Your timetable isn’t something anyone has written in a book . . . it is yours.

It is a course that you get to navigate with God. So whatever you are grieving . . . a loss that ended with death, a marriage that ended in divorce—or something else that has come to a point that you have to say goodbye. Grief is real.

Sometimes after a traumatic event—or a major loss—when the holidays or special occasions come around, we feel like we don’t know how to enjoy them. We get stuck between what we think we should be feeling and what we want to feel. So this year . . . if you are scared to find joy this Christmas because your story has felt broken and you find yourself trying to shun any emotion that isn’t utter despair—how about you give yourself a day off from grieving and just let light surround you. Not because you don’t have a million reasons to hurt, but because you might still have some reasons to feel excitement, happiness, peace . . . and even little glimmers of joy.

You are still here. You are still worthy of grace. You are still capable of feeling love. So smile today. Not because it is easy, but because you are worth it.

Loss does not define you. Yes it does change you, it teaches you, and some days it still hurts. But life keeps moving forward. You deserve happiness. And it is still possible. So today, rejoice and be exceedingly glad for all the things you still have—and simply, just for you.


Carole Parkin said...

I felt the relief you talk about when my Mother finally passed away. I had been one of her primary care takers and supports through the 4 years since my Dad died, and she had gone through a brain tumor, and also much trauma after my Dad's unexpected death. She then had a stroke and spent 2 months trying to recover, but was not able to eat. I was relieved not only for her to be out of pain and with my Dad again, but for a breather as I had been running myself ragged in the juggling act of helping/supporting her and also being what my family needed. When I mentioned this one loved one thought it was odd, but she had not been in the same position I was. It is ok. I still loved her so much, but I was tired.

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