I fear calling this feeling “grief,” as that often makes someone think you have lost someone. You have lost, but it doesn’t always have to be a person. You can experience grief after losing a life, yes, but there is also the grief of closure: the moment when you realize something has come to a close. You can try running back, but similar to the loss of a person, you would be pumping the body for something it can no longer give. You are left in the wake, forced to remember. There is also the grief of disappointment. This can come after a significant other rejects your feelings or a job you did not get. You get a taste of this feeling when your name is not called in a raffle or the contestant you enjoy on a reality show gets eliminated. You get slammed with this feeling when you do not get elected an aspired position, or your craft does not win first prize.
No matter the form of grief, the moment it begins is a moment when you realize you are alive. You realize that you are human and finite, and the things around you are just as so. There is a moment of anxiety and a lump forms in your throat as you realize you have little to no control of the things around. You begin to assign blame in desperation. “Maybe if the trip had been longer, I could’ve felt that joy more.”
“Maybe if I had presented myself better I would’ve gotten the job.”
“Maybe if he wasn’t so charming, she would’ve gone for me.”
“Maybe if I had been there in time, I could’ve stopped the gun from firing.”
The world of “maybe” “should” and “ought” fill the mind along with other disguised chaos until we must hit something, walk somewhere, take part in an activity, or consume what is around us to the point where the feelings and thoughts are no longer prominent.
Friends offer assistance in many different ways. Some sit with you, and do not say a word. Some bring food, gifts, or mow your lawn. Some fight for you in ways you never know, falling to their knees in prayer on behalf of you. Some may come to your side because they believe they have the answers, or out of human empathetic obligation. However, there are a select few that place themselves by your side because they have no other tool other than the past experience of being broken themselves.
Although the words “God has a plan,” “this doesn’t define you,” or “at least you have the memories,” sometimes fade away with the noise of the world, there comes a realization: the realization that God has not yet been consulted.
You begin to cry out before the Father with a fresh audacity. No longer are the words eloquent and premeditated, but they are more real than many of the recitals we call prayer. There are the sobs and screams that reach deeper than any words. There is the posture of defeat, laying on the cold ground, staring up at the ceiling in silence until the motivation to go on is found. There are the words of anger, the vulgarities that surely the God of the Universe can handle. Frustration seeps in as nothing you say is enough. Eventually you get tired of trying. Normal life must resume.
You are in a normal place, but your interaction with the world is far from normal. Your steps are slower, the breathing heavier. The human body has never weighed so much. Everything you pick up you feel a strange connection with. It’s almost as if every object now has a soul, and if you do not pick it up carefully and gingerly, it will break too. This lens seems to only be available when grieving. Once your heart sinks and your throat closes, the door to this room opens, and the world around you becomes a movie you are no longer a part of.
Moments of hope come. Certain people, experiences, and information yank you back into the world of the living. For a moment, a brief moment, you are reminded that time moves on without our “say-so.” This experience comes with a whole new set of conflicts. “I’m not allowed to feel hopeful or at peace. I need to feel guilty. I can’t get over it this quickly. There are others hurting, why should I be spared?”
Yet, when you return to the world of grey, it may feel that this is the way things will now be, and you need to accept it. “How could the world ever possibly be the same? How can I look in the mirror and acknowledge that this indeed has come to pass. I must keep fighting what I am feeling. If this is to escape, I will claw and hold on for as long as I can.”
The thought of letting the emotions take their course and surrendering to things greater than you does not seem like an option. That would require letting go of our idea of control, of course. We can’t lose that. So we fight to retain what we perceive to be a handle on things, while time and Christ work hand in hand behind our back, doing the real work.
This does not mean it is over. Even if we believe we are processing it all, our fear and desperation run around like children, unbeknownst to us, burying bits and pieces in the sand. We go on completely unaware. Then, one day, a magnet is brought over the sand, and all these bits and pieces fly up out of the sediment, reminding us of what we have lost. These moments are painful, humiliating, and terrifying. They break the illusion that we have moved on.
There is something encouraging about this. Everytime the magnet hovers over the sand, we find new bits and pieces, and grow closer to being able to take full inventory. From here it is much easier to decide what to hold onto, and what to let go of. How can we let go of something we do not know is even there? I don’t know if there is a point where a perfect inventory can be taken. If there is, I have not found it. But it is these moments that make us realize how essential time in silence, prayer, brotherhood/sisterhood, and pushing our limits can be. We only have so much room within us, and it takes but a day for dust to turn to boxes.
After the magnets have passed, the inventory is analyzed, and the rawness of the lenses of grief have been placed back in their case, something profound begins to happen. Truly it is one of my favorite things about the human race and one of the greatest testaments of resilience and the power of love: people invest all over again. You go on more experiences, even though they will one day be over. You apply for more positions, even though you will get rejected for many of them. You love someone else, knowing one day they might be gone. Because at this point you have felt grief, but you have also felt what it means to love and to care, and the latter is worth the cost of the former. This is what leads us to try again, and this is what led God to give up His son on the cross. The love was worth it. The love is worth it.
It doesn’t take away the pain. It doesn’t remove the sinking of grief. But there is something powerful about taking part in a cycle undergone by all those before you and those with you now. Even animals feel the grief and love that we endure. Let the cycle take its course. There are renewable resources in this world, but they must fulfill one purpose before they might undergo another. There is no set day for when one ends and when one begins. If you find a pattern, let me know. Although grief is no longer a stranger, I still don’t quite enjoy the company.
So, hold those you desire to hold. Or better yet, allow yourself to be held. This can be a very humbling thing. Having a heart of flesh is vulnerable, but necessary to lean our dependence into the Father. It allows us a certain freedom, as we know we are spoken for. Feel that which you’ve been given to feel. Rest often. Do not let obligation dictate your next steps, but let God stand by you, holding your hand until you can sit up, and slowly holding you up as you begin to learn to walk again.
As we walk, we may even realize that there was an unknown beauty in that pain. There was an intimacy in the grief. There was power in the broken. Maybe those moments are indeed the realest ones we have. What a beautiful thing to be a part of. What a beautiful thing it is to be human. Live it well.