It has always intimidated me to discuss grief, and by always, I mean since five years ago when I experienced it first-hand with the loss of my mother. What could I possibly tell you that would help you navigate a season that seems darker than the winters of the Northland? I feel at a loss when it comes to loss.
As I was thinking about the reasons behind my lack of words for others, I thought back to the books handed to me when I lost my mom. I read a grand total of 1.75 of them; 75% of one book given to me, and the entirety of another I picked from a used book-store, pages worn from another reader, written by an author I’ll always trust.
The first was a little daily devotional. I don’t even remember the name. Someone gave a copy to my Nanny, my sister, and me. Somehow, the short length of each devotional and its authors’ raw acknowledgement that grief is the worst allowed me to keep turning the pages day by day. Ironically, I never finished it, perhaps symbolic of the fact I wasn’t finished grieving in 80 days. I’m still not. Pretty sure I never will be.
The second book was A Grief Observed written by C. S. Lewis. I’ve loved him since my childhood reading of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I finally felt ready to pick up his book three years after my grief began, and I only recently had an epiphany about the title of his story. This epiphany has finally freed me to begin writing.
C.S. Lewis titled his work A Grief Observed, not A Grief Advised. In losing his wife, rather than share a solution to his grief, he only shares his own musings, sometimes so dark, the only light about reading them is in the fact that you’re not alone in the darkness.
In the same way, I cannot advise you about grief, only tell you my observations. I offer this as nothing more than my own process. Perhaps you will resonate with it, or maybe you will have different observations to add to the novel of unique human experiences. God has crafted us so marvelously alike and yet so individually different. The mystery of his creation astounds me and leaves me with the same comfort as Lewis’s work: we are not alone.
So, after that far-too-long introduction about why I’ve never written, here begins my grief, observed:
1. I had grieved with others but had never grieved.
When I was in high school, a close friend of mine lost his dad. This was a coming-of-age experience for me, in that I had never known someone to lose someone so close. My heart was heavy beyond spoken words, and my tears spilled out for this family. When I lost my mom, I quickly realized I had only a vague idea of how heavy grief felt, though I had walked the road with others.
Grief feels like someone has literally stolen your life from you, and then expects you to keep breathing and going to work. The world doesn’t stop spinning, and you see everyone continuing their lives. The whole experience leaves you with the worst kind of bitter, until you, eventually, can breathe again, too, which brings me to my next observation.
2. Grief is long.
We are talking many dark days, and months, and for me, years. People told me I would find a “new normal.” I wanted nothing of this new normal. I wanted the old one back. So for at least a couple years, I lived in a fog that masked my old self, whom I searched for relentlessly but had a very hard time finding. Turns out, I never did find her. I am different, and I’ve finally come to accept that different is the only way I can be. So, like some kind of ridiculous miracle, I actually have found a new normal. Just in this past year, real joy snuck up on me, and I realized that although grief is always a road I will walk, it is not one that will always be so dark. My “new normal” and “new self” have so many good and beautiful things about them.
3. Dates don’t bother me. Daughters holding their moms’ hands do.
People ask me if dates are hard. The date I lost my mom? Her birthday? Mothers Day? Yes, to some degree, but not really. The things that still feel like gut-punches are when I’m in the mall, and I see moms and daughters together shopping. Tears and jealousy creep up, and I feel the urgent need to run to all the young girls and say, “Hold her hand! Let her play with your hair until you’re eighty!”
Music concerts get me, too. She sure could teach people to sing, with their voices and their souls.
“Black sheep”— double-gut-punch. My mom had this special way about her that made the unwelcome and outcast feel welcome. And when I meet those kinds of people, I miss her something fierce and just want to take them home with me. She would.
4. God actually showed up in my grief.
To be honest, I had some beef with God for some time. Mostly along the lines of “Why would you do this?!” “Why is death a part of life?!” and “I hate you!” I had some other choice words with him, but that about sums it up. However, somewhere in the midst of my dark night of the soul, his sweet whisper crumbled my defense. His whisper came in the gentlest of ways, through his midnight-presence to my tear-soaked prayers, through the love of my people, and through the sun that never ceased to rise over our gorgeous East-Anchorage mountains. His whisper told me the world was broken, that he hates death as much as I do, and that his redemption and resurrection overcomes it all. I don’t have all the answers, but I have that. It’s what I hold on to when injustice seems to prevail.
5. Life is the sweetest, hardest, most excruciating gift I have ever received.
I don’t know how to quite express what I mean, but Tennyson said it well when he said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I grew up knowing an unconditional, “I-love-you-at-your-core” kind of love. I’m just so glad I had my mom. I want her for 100 more years, but I had her for 22. If my only alternative was to go without, then thanks to God for those 22 years. They made me.
As you can see, no advice here. Just the sharing of my story and the willingness to listen to yours, and the encouragement that you may be unique in your experience, but you are never alone.
From one sister to another,