It’s old news that my mother passed away eighty days ago. It’s old news that my father died when I was eleven. Four years have come and gone since we lost my godfather. A year has now passed since I miscarried. My last grandparent died in 2006. Those are some of the major losses I’ve endured. Sad news, but old news.
It’s old news that I’ve sobbed in bathrooms, zoned out at red lights, teared up at songs and projected the anger about it all onto my husband and children. I’ve blogged about it here, written articles about grief all over the internet, described the pain in status updates. Sad news, but old news.
Much of the writing I’ve done has been the mourning talking. It is legitimate grief- deep and substantial. It is a void- an emptiness that has literally taken my breath away. I’ve felt a need to share it all- to help others who suffer with loss and to help myself. I’ve read dozens of grief books, scoured websites, studied my Bible and taken counsel from friends and my grief therapist- and then told the world what I’ve discovered. Raw and relevant. My pain, your pain, our pain.
Behind the scenes, I’ve struggled to get out of the bed, wallowed in my sadness, refused to wear makeup or “real” pants without elastic waistbands because I was too bereaved to care. I’ve paced my house at 3am in a state of panic and anxiety, declined invitations, put off decorating for the holidays, avoided any reason to smile or move on with my life.
I thought my lack of caring-my lack of joy- was all attributed to that dark and depressing grief. Much of it was- much of it is- but much of my stagnant recovery is due to self-pity.
Instead of focusing on the blessings in my life, I’ve focused primarily on the heartache. Why are both of my parents dead? How will I get through the next 30, 40, 50 years without them? Why won’t my husband understand how deeply this has affected me and say exactly what I need him to say to comfort me every single second of every single day? I have absorbed the “orphan” word into my very being, saying it over and over in my head. This is so unfair. Woe is me. Woe. Woe. Woe.
Yesterday as I was lying in the bed at half past noon, with no desire to remove myself from the warmth of my comforter because facing the day would merely consist of hours upon hours of focusing on my pain, I had enough. I had enough of this grieving BS. I got out of bed, went to my bathroom mirror, looked at my snotty and puffy face, and I had a long talk with myself.
“Susannah, you’ve experienced some tough things, but why are you letting it define you? Why are you letting it consume your every thought? Why aren’t you clinging to the hope and peace that can be found through it all? You should rejoice that your mother is with the Lord- with her family and your father. Rejoice because she’s happier than she ever was here on earth. Rejoice because your last conversation with her has been forgiven and forgotten. Rejoice because you have a wonderful, faithful husband and beautiful children. Rejoice because you still have so much to happily and abundantly live for. This death and sorrow is old news. He came so that all things could be made new. There’s a time to weep, and a time to rejoice. A time to mourn and a time to dance. You’ve cried enough. You’ve mourned enough.”
(And then I danced to “Footloose”. Kidding.)
So I made the decision to quit relying on my “woe is me” feelings and rejoice instead. Oh, I didn’t “feel” like rejoicing at all, but I made a real conscious effort to quit wallowing in sadness and self-pity and be happy anyway.
And let me tell you, yesterday was the best day I’ve had in the last eighty.
Because you don’t have to “feel” happy to “be” happy.
When I picked my children up from school, I was showered and wearing eye shadow and “real” pants with a zipper. Instead of being downtrodden while listening to my daughter’s after-school story because I couldn’t share it with my mother, I eagerly laughed with her. I cheerfully talked to others in the salon as my son had his hair cut. When the thought, “Mama is dead” ran through my mind (as I’m sure it always will) I didn’t excuse myself to the bathroom to break down. Instead, I smiled and answered myself with, “Yeah, and she’s in Heaven dancing at the feet of Jesus.”
When my husband came home from work, I didn’t fall into his arms and cry because the day had been too much for me to bear. I greeted him with a smile- the smile of that woman he hasn’t seen in months- the woman he fell in love with 15 years ago.
I made the choice not to drown in the darkness but to bathe in the light.
I’m not saying mourning isn’t real or that grief can’t paralyze your spirit and make you numb. I’ve legitimately experienced that many times in my life. I’m not saying to suppress the emotions that come with losing loved ones. You should embrace those waves of grief as they come.
But don’t get stuck riding the wave.
Don’t let the loss define you. Don’t accept sadness and despair as your default emotions. Don’t get so accustomed to the pain that you make no real effort to move forward. Don’t let self-pity replace healthy grief.
I know I’ve still got a long road to travel. I know there will be days, hours, minutes of legitimate grieving, especially around the holidays. I know it will hit me like a Mack truck of bricks when my mother isn’t sitting at the Christmas table. I know those moments will come because I’ll never quit missing my parents, and I’ll accept them as they come.
And then I’ll move on.
I’m going to really try to enjoy the calm instead of looking over my shoulder for the next tidal wave of sorrow to hit.
My father is dead. And my godfather. And my sweet, precious mother. I’ll never hear their voices again this side of Heaven, but that’s okay. I had a miscarriage, but that’s okay, too. It’s got to be okay because I can’t do anything to change it. All of my pain and sorrow has been part of a divine plan, and I’m going to rejoice in it all. I’m no longer going to barricade myself in my closet and relive the hurt over and over again. I have to accept that this is my life. I’ve got to quit hanging onto the self-pity and allow the Lord to restore me. I’ve got to make the time I have left here as joyful and positive as possible for myself, my husband and my children.
You do too.
Because grief is a journey. It’s not a place to stay.
I know where they are. I know where they all are. Thank Jesus I’ll be reunited with them some day.
And that is reason enough to rejoice.
On that glorious day when you call me Home,
I’ll bow before your mighty throne.
Not because of anything I’ve done,
Only by the blood of Your Holy Son.
When granted permission to enter those gates,
Tears of joy will stream down my face.
Lord, let my mother be the first I see,
When I step upon those golden streets.
Finally reunited face to face,
She’ll take me in a warm embrace.
Let my father be the next in line,
We’ll laugh and smile, his hand in mine.
Then my grandparents will be there, all four,
And an aunt I’ve never met before.
The child they are all anxious for me to meet,
The child I only carried for weeks.
No more mourning, no more grief,
When we are reunited forever on golden streets.
Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again, and you will rejoice. No one will take away your joy.
John 16: 22