Friday, March 25, 2016

What One Grieving Friend Wants You to Know

Ok.  Another dark and gloomy post.  Sort of.  Halfway.  We'll see soon, I guess.  I never really know what is going to make it's way out of these fingers once they hit the keyboard.  So on we go.

Grief is lonely.  It's one of those intensely personal, intensely overwhelming things that seems at times like it has no end.  And often it doesn't.  In the last five years I have experienced several different forms of loss and grief.

Almost a year and a half ago I lost a baby.  That loss has shaped me profoundly.  We named him/her Avery.  Lost at almost 11 weeks on New Years Day, I was completely and utterly shattered.  To love someone that you've never met, and then to lose them before your eyes are ever able to behold their beauty… it's unfathomable.  The physical and emotional toll was heavy, and painful, and dark.

And I thought I was alone.

Until I wrote a blog post about losing my sweet Avery, and the comments started pouring in.  I think by the time they finally died down there were about 100 comments.  The vast majority from friends that had also lost babies.  The vast majority of those were losses I never even knew about.  Suffered and mourned in silence.  And I started to feel a new sense of loss.  I had a new reason to grieve.  Because when we lose someone we love, especially if it could be construed that we had a hand in it, there is shame there that we don't want to feel.

Now, hear me, that shame is a lie.  That shame is the devil trying to isolate you.  To get you to stay silent.  To let yourself feel the weight of that burden alone.  Because here's the thing- when we speak out about our grief and our losses, sometimes it frees others to do the same.  Sometimes it opens the door for someone who has been desperate for support to reach out for it and share their burdens.  Because grief is an extraordinarily heavy load to bear.  And as Christians, we are called to share in the suffering of others, taking some of the weight if we can, provide love, compassion, and support.  So losing my baby and opening up about it made me painfully aware of how difficult it is for people to ask for help, support, and for others to mourn with them.  Ironically, in doing so myself, I found it freed a few others to do the same.

Today I am experiencing a new kind of loss, and an incredibly dark form of grief.  Sharing the loss of my baby was hard.  It felt like a risk.  Sharing the loss of my marriage has been awful.  The shame I feel from being left by my husband, of his complete and utter refusal to love me when it was hard, to fight for me and our marriage, and to love me unconditionally like he vowed to the day we became one… the shame of that is crushing.  The shame of being left, the embarrassment, the feeling of worthlessness on top of the blackest grief I've ever felt is almost too much to bear.

If you've read any of this blog you'll probably see that I don't have much of a filter.  I'm a sharer.  I believe that when we go through stuff, it's ok to talk about it.  Maybe someone else is going through something similar and they just need to hear that they aren't alone at the exact moment when they are thinking about ending it all.  Maybe someone needs to hear what another person is going through to find the strength to deal with abuse, or adultery, or addiction.  Who knows?  That's the point- I don't know.  But I do know that writing helps me process and heal, so maybe it will speak to someone else one day.  That being said, sharing this part of my life has been incredibly difficult.

I feel like I'm a failure.  I'm grieving the loss of my best friend and the man I thought was the love of my life, I'm grieving the loss of stability for my children, I'm grieving the beautiful dreams I had when I said yes to his marriage proposal, I'm grieving the brokenness my kids will come to see as normal…

It's an endless sea of grief.

Part of the reason I have had a hard time putting things into words is because of the emotional abuse I've realized I've been being conditioned with over the past few years.  The complete and total negation of my feelings, struggles, and fears.  The belittling of my heart.  The accusations of lying about the circumstances.  The constant gas-lighting and blame shifting for everything from his affair, to how he was incapable of seeing my depression for what it was instead of taking it as a personal assault.  When you are being told by the person you used to trust most that you are "pathetic" for needing the support of your friends and community around you, and God forbid, help as you try to begin to navigate the incredibly isolating and exhausting reality of your new situation, it can be hard not to internalize and accept that accusation.  That condemnation.  And when that is not an out-of-the-ordinary comment or type of comment, it becomes very easy to want to stay silent.  But silent I will not stay.

So on to my point.  What your grieving friend (aka me, but parts of this probably apply to the other grieving friends around you) wants you to know.

Loss is so freaking messy.  I know there are people out there that handle loss with incredible grace and dignity.  I'm finding that I'm not really one of them.  I know that makes me hard to be around.  I know that those raw and difficult emotions are uncomfortable.  I know you don't know what to say.  I know you want to make it better, to diminish the pain, to make sense of the loss.

But you can't.  It doesn't make sense.  Loss so rarely does.  And it's ok if you don't know what to say.  Frankly, sometimes the most comforting things friends have said to me in the past six months are not things that I'd typically classify as comforting.

Go ahead and tell me that you're sorry.  I'm sorry too.  Go ahead and tell me that it really freaking sucks, and you don't understand it.  I don't either.  And it helps to hear that I'm not the only one, because some days I feel like I'm losing my mind.  That reality has somehow shifted into this warped nightmare that I can't wake up from.  It's ok to tell me that you don't know what to say.  It's ok to sit in silence next to me when words just aren't enough.  Tell me anything, really.  As long as you're not trying to "fix" it, or me.

Grieving people can be hard to be around because we don't always have the extra capacity to make the first move, make light conversation, or smile like we used to.  We know we're hard to be around.  I've never in all of my life felt like a burden the way I do right now in the midst of my pain and grief.  I have one really amazing friend who listens to everything.  And I mean everything.  She's heard so much and listened for so long, and it pains me to put any more of the weight of my grief on her.  I've told her so many times that I hate that this is all I have to talk about these days.  That this is who I am right now.  And I know it's affecting her.  But she listens.  And she checks up on me if there's radio silence for too long.  And she isn't offended by my flakiness and absent mindedness.

And I think that's what I'd like you to know.  When people ask what they can do to help, it seems hard to find an answer.  Because help is in the intangibles.  Help is calling once or twice a week to make sure a grieving friend isn't isolating themselves and crying themselves to sleep too many nights a week. Help is sitting silently next to a heartbroken friend and holding their hand because words just aren't enough.  It's still inviting them over to events that used to be "couples" type activities even if you're worried it will make them feel awkward.  It probably won't.  They'll just be thankful that you are thinking about them and that they won't have to be alone with their grief for that hour or two.  Help looks like random coffee-drop offs and play dates in the morning so your friend can take a hot shower without worrying that one of their children will somehow end up with a concussion.  Help looks like being unafraid to offer to lay hands on your friend and pray for their heart, their circumstances, and their faith.

Basically, I'm asking you not to forget your grieving friends.  Because there's a pretty good chance that we are already struggling with feelings of worthlessness, feelings of isolation, and feelings of insecurity.  I know that I'm not the bubbly, outgoing woman I once was.  I'll find her again, I know I will.  But I think I will find her that much sooner with the help of the love of people who can see through the volatility, darkness, and discomfort of grief.

Then some day, God forbid, we will stand by you in your hour of loss.  Shouldering your pain in the way that you shouldered ours.  Weeping with you out of a heart that was softened by kind words and lovingly-spoken truth.

Grief is messy, and ugly, and raw.  But the person grieving isn't.  Even when we come off a bit ugly.  A bit harsh.  A bit raw.  That's the grief speaking.  The loneliness.  The loss.  We are just people longing for comfort, and one day, God willing, we will become expert comforters.  Burden lifters.  Shiners of light.  One day you may even hear us say that the grief was worth it.  That it made our hearts bigger, more open, more giving.  One day you may hear us say that the grief that once was so dark has helped us become more like Christ.

And maybe that's what I want you to know.  That this grief won't define me.  But how I use it for good when it was born out of something meant for evil, now that just may.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."
-2 Corinthians 1:3-5

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