My Grief is Not Your Grief…

“It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you.”

Grief is something we all experience at one time or another. Grief because someone we love died, grief from unmet expectations in life, grief because of losing a relationship, grief from realizing the dream we had of our life isn’t going to happen, and many other reasons. But, even though we all experience grief, my grief is not your grief. Even if we are experiencing grief for the same reason, my grief is not your grief. Even so, all grieving people need you to be gentle. It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you. It was customary in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to wear a black arm band as a sign of mourning. A sign for the world to be easy with you because you had suffered a loss.

My mom died, very suddenly and unexpectedly on April 19. Just a little over a month ago. She had lived with me and my husband since November of 2019. She was in good health for 87, and was especially happy in the last month of her life. The day she died, she was happy and laughing and we had been outside enjoying the sunshine and the lovely day. We were riding in the golf cart around our property, looking at the flowers and watching the dogs and bunnies and two of our granddaughters playing. In the span of about 30-45 minutes she went from that, to being dead. I still can’t wrap my head around it. Or my heart.

Yesterday, I took my husband to the same ER that my mom died in a month ago. It was overwhelming to me to be in that same place so soon. Because of COVID restrictions when my mom was in the ER last month, I couldn’t go back to the room she was in and she died alone, then they let me see her. Now, I was in the same waiting room. I walked to my husband’s exam room and saw the room that I last saw my mom in after she died. No one knew all the anxiety and sadness I was feeling. I didn’t express it, but I felt it in every cell of my body. I was overcome with so many emotions, but no one could tell.

Today, one day later, I MISS my mom. Gut wrenching grief that feels like I’m being punched in the stomach. Maybe it’s because of all the triggers yesterday. Maybe it’s because I got mail for her today. Maybe it’s because my husband is in the hospital and I’m alone. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just want her to be here, sitting on the porch with me and laughing. It feels like the first day after she died. Like I’m starting all over again. I’m just letting myself feel it and crying it out. I’m not afraid of this terrible, painful emotion. I’m walking through it, but I hate it.

There are many books written that include the five stages of grief, as identified by Kubler and Ross. Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. Any good therapist will tell you that these are not linear. You don’t experience them in any particular order, for any particular length of time. You don’t go from one to the next, finish that one never to return to it again, and move on to the next. My experience with grief has taught me that I can experience them all in the same day.

When my dad died three years ago, you can go back in my blog and read about my feelings of being tossed in a sea of waves, then tossed up to the beach, only to find myself on sand that kept washing away leaving me unsteady. I feel that now with my mom’s death, but it’s not the same. I still had a parent left then. I’m angry often that I’m an orphan now. My parents tethered me somehow to this world, and now I feel untethered. Like an astronaut that was hooked to his ship with a line and the line breaks and he’s free floating in space. I’m angry that I didn’t know she was going to die that day, and I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. I’m sad all the time, though you can’t always tell. I’ve tried bargaining with God to have one more day with my mom, just to say goodbye. Sometimes I’m in denial, like the many times over the past two days I’ve picked up my phone to call my mom and update her on how my husband is doing. Or when I tell myself she will be at home, playing with her little dog, when I get there.

I know that my siblings loved my mom fiercely. Just as much as I did. But, I also know that my grief is not their grief. I know that it looks different in all of our lives. It doesn’t matter that we are going through the stages differently. All grief is valid grief. You can’t always tell a person’s pain from talking to them. No one in the ER realized the trauma work I was doing in my head, and the fear and anxiety I was battling.

Please be kinder than necessary to people. You never know the battles they are inwardly fighting. Don’t equate their emotional expression, or lack thereof, with their healing process. So many of my patients are doing trauma work for something that no one else knows even happened to them. Sometimes I wish I could give them a black band to wear so others would be gentle with them. Sometimes I wish I could wear a grief band so others would know how fragile I feel right now. Some kind of outward sign that says, “Please be careful with me. I’m not okay.” Assume others are fighting battles you know nothing about, and move towards them with gentleness and compassion. Those of us that are believers have a commission from God, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Something for all of us to strive for.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

So I’m loved…

“I often write about things that keep coming up in sessions. It seems like a lot of hurting people (all of us, right?) need to hear that they are precious and treasured and unconditionally loved.”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes. “Jules, I’m trying to wrap my head around that.” He said he had always known it, but never felt it. We joked about the great distance it is between our head and our heart. Literally only about 12 inches, but a great distance exists between knowing something is true in your brain, and knowing it is true in your heart. He said he has always been good at the head part, but not so great at the heart part. He admitted that working on the heart part is not historically in his comfort zone, but he’s starting to warm up to it.

What I had told him was that God loves him. Not because of anything he has done, but just because he is His. This idea of unconditional love. The idea that you are loved not for your performance, not for your behavior, not for any reason other than you are created by God and He loves you. This was mind blowing. Heart breaking in the best sense.

You don’t believe in God? Ok. He still loves you. You don’t acknowledge God? Romans 829
Ok. He still loves you. You have done a thousand terrible things? Ok. He still loves you. You struggle with your faith? Ok. He still loves you. You can’t escape it. You can’t make it go away. You can’t make Him stop.

He won’t force it on anyone. It’s there. Freely for you to have. But, it’s always your choice. Even if you don’t accept it, He still loves you.

I always told my kids, “I don’t love you because you are smart, or funny or kind, even though you are those things, I love you just because you are mine.” There is nothing my kids can do to make me stop loving them. They could reject me, disown me, stop acknowledging me, and it would break my heart. But, guess what? I would still love them. That’s my choice, not theirs.

And, if I, a simple, flawed, imperfect human can love like that, just imagine how much more God can love. How perfectly and purely and wholly God can love. It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship.

not so powerfulI often write about things that keep coming up in sessions. It seems like a lot of hurting people (all of us, right?) need to hear that they are precious and treasured and unconditionally loved. When that moves from your head to your heart…that’s powerful stuff. It’s overwhelming. To feel and know in your heart that you are loved despite your mistakes, despite your unbelief, despite…well, anything.  Sit back and immerse yourself in that love. Rest in that love and let it fill you with a peace that you are searching for. Sink into that love and find acceptance.  Snuggle into that love and stop struggling.

It’s here. It’s happening right now. You are being loved. You are being pursued. As you read this you are being treasured and prized and adored. It’s here. That’s His choice. Can you accept it? That’s your choice.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules