break before we mend (on grieving)

I’m not the best at following rules, but there are some things in life that I wish were a bit more clear-cut. In recent days of watching friends grieve and after a season of much personal sorrow, I’m learning that grief doesn’t play by any rules. And through many failed attempts, I’ve learned that we cannot propel ourselves into any particular emotional or mental state beyond the one in which we most naturally exist, especially in seasons of grieving. 

For those of us who have managed to avoid or outrun the intensity of our emotions for some time, news flash: those bottled up feelings tend to catch up with us by inflicting physical consequences which eventually force us to uncover the source of our emotional – and now physical – strife. This type of reaction may take us by surprise but the reality is, sometimes we aren’t cued into our unprocessed trauma and grief until our body tells us it has had enough.

The hard truth is this: grief does not have a prescription or an expiration date. It can neither be dictated to us or medicated with definitive hows and whys nor given a cut off date. Grief is its own dictator and it dictates the actions and behaviors of so many of us in different seasons of our lives. It is wild and unpredictable and almost always startles us with its raw intensity. 

I have noticed that some people try to comfort those grieving by commenting on how strong or brave they are in the process. But to grieve is not to be strong or brave or heroic; to grieve is merely to be human. 

I used to think strength was the equivalent of never crying and never being emotionally affected by traumatic events. I was wrong. Strength is not measured by our ability or capacity to withhold or suppress emotion but by our willingness to navigate the dark depths of feelings which we feel too weak to endure. And while grief does not necessitate strength, I have found that the toil of grieving almost always produces strength. 

The strength produced through grief is not one which boasts an immunity to pain, but rather, it is a fierce and beautiful inner strength built on a foundation of awareness and recognition of our fragility and emotional sensitivity as humans. And I’m learning that by sitting in that place and giving in to the tears and the fears and in some cases, being rendered motionless by the weight of our aching, we are actually aligning and caring for ourselves in the most healthy way possible. 

So here are just a few things to keep in mind when we are grieving or walking with others who are neck deep in grief:

It is okay to be incapacitated by emotion and sit in the heaviness and pain of it instead of trying to push it down or propel ourselves forward.

It is okay to feel powerless to make even the simplest decisions.

It is okay to put down the phone and not feel guilty about the texts and calls that are adding up because we merely lack the emotional energy necessary to engage with those who are well-intentioned with their words and calls.

It is okay to ask for help and it is okay not to know what to ask for.

It is okay to admit that many of our questions have hollow and empty answers and that life seems far less colorful than before and that we can’t even consider the light at the tunnel without first wading through the long, defeating darkness.

It is okay if our grief consumes us and it is okay if our grief comes in waves – unexpected and blinding and terrifying – and ebs and flows, broken up by happy moments which give us life.

Our ability to experience and express emotion is what distinguishes us from any other living being. There is beauty in the breaking, but we must break before we mend. Mending takes time and the love of dear ones who are willing to sit with us in the hard silences and meet our needs even when we don’t realize what those needs are. Mending is a process and not always a point of arriving and it is so important to have grace with ourselves (when we are the ones grieving) and grace with others (when we are supporting those grieving) as we navigate the messy process.

Life is a funny melting pot of depths and heights. Sometimes we are the broken-hearted. And sometimes we are the ones who have the privilege and honor of loving broken hearts back to life. But in either case, grief is a messy and scary experience and connection and love and grace are the only things worthy of sustaining us through the seemingly never-ending and always present darkness.

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