I see you. I watch your eyes widen, and your lips purse as a pronounced red blush spreads across your face. You can’t just walk away as that would be rude, and you don’t have anything further to ask because there is, quite frankly, nothing more to say. And so you shift uncomfortably from right foot to the left searching desperately for an escape from this discomfort.
I can see how my grief makes you uneasy in this festive season. You move as if it is contagious. And when I mention it, you hush my voice pushing me to move toward a much more affable place because the quicker I grieve, the easier it will be for you to go on pretending that nothing happened. I am sorry that my grief is an inconvenience.
My life is clumsy and complex. My grief is equally so. My kind of grief makes people uncomfortable, and I get it. It is difficult to place the loss of a former spouse into a neatly tied up bow, and if you have never been down a similar road, you cannot conceptualize this sort of grief. And so it quite handily sets me apart.
Three years into this journey I am learning that there is no roadmap for grief. It is no longer a clamorous nagging pain. It is quieter now like a prickly sweater that often chafes my skin without the provision of warmth. I work. I parent. I love. I live productively. I laugh, and I make do. But something happened, and this is not about your comfort. Some days I am clear and purposeful, and other days I am weary and anxious. Nothing is small or easy anymore because anxiety is the constant companion of grief.
When life is forcefully altered, our sense of control is ripped away, and we feel helpless. With each profoundly traumatic blow comes a heightened sense of vulnerability, a chronic realization that bad things can and do happen. Anxiety is a natural expression of grief, and on this expedition, tender callouses and twisted ankles are slow to heal. It is chaotic. You lose control; you lose perspective, and you lose the ability to protect yourself and those you love. The greater the love, the broader the chaos.
Parental grief is chaotic. Children suffer in their way and in their own time. My grief is amplified by the painful experiences of my children. I carry their sorrow like a cumbersome backpack that I cannot leave on the side of the road. And as they tiptoe through the minefields of transition, I long for the rootedness that serves their security and soothes their ache.
Grief is a necessary part of human life. It accompanies the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job or a pet, and there are no unique postures, times or limitations that restrict its impact. Grief is a dark, fascinating secret with the power to split its human targets wide open. But even in the face of collateral damage, there are gifts. The collateral of loss is emotional pain, but there is also, if we temper our hearts and pursue the significance of things, abundant spiritual gain.
The future isn’t what I had imagined it would be. And though I reflect openly on where this journey has taken me past and present, my focus on what’s to come is limited. To look ahead is uncomfortable. The future is uncertain.
I get it. I understand that my grief provokes you to turn away. It has changed me. It has made me a misfit of sorts. It has made me someone else. But whether you can see it or not, the God of the universe is at work in the mess. And through all of the brokenness and anxiety, the collateral damage and discomfort, the love of God steadies the ship. And through every lonely night and every difficult moment the grace of God sustains. So we hang on, because redemption is coming, comfortable or not.