You have to grow into your grief. No one can tell you how to do it.
At first after Daniel died, I was going from one train of thought to another. Is this me? Is this what I believe? Is this what I think? Is this what grief is to me? I wasn’t sure how I was to be as a grieving Christian. Some told me to be happy that Daniel was safe in Heaven with Jesus. Did that phrase comfort me? Others said that our children are only on loan from God. Did that mean I should have realized that my other children could be gone from me at any moment, that they have a Due Back By date stamped on them?
I fluctuated between the ideas and concepts many held at my local chapter of The Compassionate Friends and those of the church. Sometimes these concepts about God were at odds: God didn’t allow Daniel to die; it was a work of the Devil. God allows bad things to happen. God has our days numbered. God has no control over when a person dies. God does not take away our suffering, but he walks with us in it.
As I tumbled into grief’s pit, all of these concepts/truths/thoughts/ponderings made me dizzy.
What did I believe? What did I need in order to make sense of Daniel’s death and get through the muddling? And the most daunting question: Who was I now?
Over the years, you grow into grief, like a new skin. At first, you don’t know where you stand or how to adjust to the “skin” until time passes—time where you’ve sufficiently grappled. During the grappling stage, your thoughts bounce around: I don’t like this new skin. I want my old life back. Where is God? What will I do? What works for me? Why is this skin so itchy? I miss my child.
It’s a time of insecurity, this early grief. But then, you slowly come into knowing who you are—who you have become, shaped by grief. You know which platitudes bug you and why they do. You understand that half of the things society says about moving on are just to make others feel comfortable in their discomfort. People are scared and trying to make sense out of your tragedy. You represent to them that not only did your child die, but that theirs can, too. Quickly, or from an illness that goes on for months. You recognize when you need to leave a function because you’re tired of superficial conversations. You do say your deceased child’s name and don’t feel the need to apologize for bringing up the dead. Or for sharing about the time he slid down the snowy bank in a recycle bin.
Over the years, you have worked hard. Now you have a time-tested grief. You own it. You know exactly what this grief is because it is part of you. You don’t settle for what others expect grief to be for you. If you want to go to the cemetery and lift balloons to Heaven, you do it. You make no excuses. You live your grief out loud in its fullest which sounds ironic and crazy, but that’s how grief has to be lived.
You know that when a school shooting happens and the news anchor says two days later, “They are still grieving,” that he doesn’t get it. Because any parent who wears the itchy skin of grief knows that using the word still is almost laughable. Still grieving after two days, really? You want to be that news anchor for a moment and tell the viewers this: These students, teachers and parents will grieve these losses for the rest of their lives. They have just begun the journey of growing into grief.
~ Alice J. Wisler is the author of a number of novels and the devotional Getting Out of Bed in the Morning (Leafwood Press). Sign up for her newsletter, No Guilt, Just Love.