I was talking to my Sunday School teacher today via email. (He’s one of the best SS teachers around.) He was letting me know he was praying for me and our family still. I’m betting he was a tad concerned for me because I was a mess at church yesterday. As we were discussing what grief is like, I had this analogy come to me that I thought was rather beautiful (if I do say so myself) and very accurate. And I thought, “Oh! I need to blog about this!”
Most of us have heard about the stages of grief. I think there’s denial, anger, depression…and I can’t remember the others. So far I’ve definitely experienced those three. I remember at the funeral I kept telling people, “This is wrong. We are not supposed to be here. My brother is NOT supposed to be in that casket.” The day after the funeral I went back to the grave and just stood there, staring at it, trying to make it sink in. But it wouldn’t. That’s denial. For me anyway.
The next day at church, anger hit me full force. I wasn’t mad at Rusty. I was mad at God, not so much for allowing Rusty to die, but for allowing all the other stuff to happen that made it that much harder. (We had a couple of people show up acting like complete idiots at the funeral, among other things.)I was angry for a lot of reasons. My pastor talked to me that morning, and I said everything one should probably not say to one’s pastor: “I’m angry at God; I’m angry at all the stupid people that come out of the woodwork during something like this; I don’t care if my anger hurts them. And, just to top it all off: I can’t pray.” He was very loving, but also helped me understand why you can’t stay in that place of anger. You have to choose to move from it.
Then there was depression. My least favorite stage. At least with anger you feel something. With depression, you just feel numb, listless, you don’t care about anything. In the past, I had to be on medicine for depression, and so I recognized that stage as soon as I got there. I didn’t care what I looked like. I didn’t care about getting the kids school work done. I just didn’t care about anything. And I couldn’t cry. That was the worst part. I wanted to cry, and I knew I needed to, but I couldn’t. It was like a dam was holding back the tears.
But what I’m discovering is that they’re not stages that are set in order. And just because I was angry 2 weeks ago doesn’t mean I’m done with it. In fact, yesterday I had to deal with anger all over again. Just because I seem to be doing well this week does not mean I’m on the uphill path from now on. No, what I have discovered is that grief comes in waves.
The initial wave hits you at the moment of impact. For me, the moment my mom’s words sunk in over the phone “Rusty’s dead.” was my moment of impact. For a moment, it loomed up in front of me, very large and terrifying, and then it crashed down over me and all around me, engulfing everything near and dear to me. In those first few days, that initial wave was all-consuming. I couldn’t find my footing in the aftermath of that wave. If it had not been for the support of our friends and church families in those first days, we would not have been able to keep our heads above water.
The waves right after that all hit you with a cold, sharp impact that can take your breath away. But then, the waters ebb. The waves seem to stop. You’re still standing in waist-deep water that you have to slog through, but at least you’re able to gain your footing. You can take a deep breath. Maybe you’re going to make it after all.
But now, 4 weeks later (gosh, can it really already be 4 weeks? How is that possible?), what I’m learning is that the waves still come. Sometimes they come one right after another. Sometimes they are spread out. Some of the waves are small and gently wash over you – you feel it’s presence, but it’s almost a comforting grief. (There’s an oxymoron. But really, if you’ve lost a loved one, in those moments of acceptance of what’s happened, you want to be sad. They are worth grieving over, and knowing that you’re still feeling that is, in a way, comforting. It’s sort of like a reassurance of the bond you had with them.)Other waves are strong and hit hard, knocking you off your feet all over again.
Anything can trigger these waves – whether it’s a memory of the one you’ve lost, or suddenly realizing a particular dream has died with that person, or even just a disappointment that has nothing at all to do with your loss. From last Thursday through Sunday, I was having a succession of those hard waves that knock you off your feet. By Sunday, I was a wreck and cried more that day than any other day since Rusty died, I think. Then today, just as suddenly, those waves have subsided, and I’m trying to slog through just the “regular” grief.
But here’s what I know. My Jesus has authority over these waves. He will not let them consume me when they wash over me. In fact, if I let Him, He may even teach me how to walk on them.