Grief: A Message of Hope
The Land of Grief
It is only the people that have lived in the land of grief that understand it is most definitely a place. It is the closest thing that I have found to the twilight zone. One day, without warning, you are given a one-way ticket with no determined time of return. No dates can be set. And if you try to find out when you can go back home, you are told something vague, like ‘when the time comes’ or ‘when you’ve worked through the pain’. But, some people never go back home.
As a long time tenant in this land who was finally given a ticket out, I have come with a message: grief is a tool. Whether you like it or not, it cuts away things in your life regardless. And I believe it is God’s scalpel. If you let it, it will transform you for the better. However, the decision rests firmly in your hands.
A day will come in the land of grief where you will be told, it’s time to go home. But, you are the one who decides whether or not to listen. Have you let a place that was meant to be temporary become your life? Has it become a dim room with the remaining light quickly fading? Grief was never meant to take you to your knees and keep you there. It was never meant to stunt your growth and leave you a forty something year old man emotionally stuck as a thirteen year old boy, or a fifty something year old woman emotionally locked in the mind of her childhood self. It was always meant as a tool. And I can only say this because I have lived it. I know how it feels and I know how hopeless it can seem.
I was only ten when my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 multiplemyeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone. At the time I couldn’t comprehend what any of this meant. I only understood the simplest base: he was very sick. Though, it didn’t take long until my comprehension expanded greatly. Our first Christmas together is something I still have a hard time forgetting. Fresh off of brutal chemo treatments following full body radiation, dad couldn’t hold down a thing. As we were on one side of our split living room singing Christmas carols, dad was on the opposite side, pervasively vomiting into an empty ice cream container. This is the first memory I have that expanded this reality: my dad was dying and it was only a matter of time.
What this does to a child’s mind is both simple and complex. I would wake up dreading everyday, slowly preparing for the day he would die. Not knowing when it would happen was the worst. It would follow me everywhere I went. When I was at school, it was in every phone call, every announcement over the speakers. When hanging out with friends it was always there, a second shadow. I was always trying to prepare for his death.
He battled valiantly for three years. And then the day came. A body that was barely a structure anymore, void of everything that had made him who he was, took a final gasp of air. And what I was left with was a ticket to a land that seemed void of God, void of warmth, void of happiness, and for a long time, void of feeling whatsoever. For a very long time I just existed.
The Five Stages
At the beginning of this entry, I compared this land to the twilight zone. And it truly is on another plane of existence, where your entire identity is lost wandering, while your body switches onto autopilot. You make it through the day, but the you that was is no longer in your reach. Simultaneously, your body is aimlessly grasping for it’s missing identity while you, the identity, are lost in a land made up of hopelessness, the land of five, seemingly, insurmountable stages:
For anybody who has lived in this land, they know that these stages, if at all true, come as strange hybrids. One day you can wake up thinking you have accepted the death only to realize you haven’t even begun to accept it. You can be angry, sad, and in denial. You can be all five at once. Grief is the opposite of simple. And when therapists try to break it down into simple explanations, frustration is all that comes from it. When they try to explain the unexplainable, it somehow cheapens the whole process. Just as your love for the person you lost was unique, so is the process. There is no box. There are no set stages. If anything, there are many levels of the same five stages.
But, for the most part, the five stages of grief seem as ridiculously simplified as Freud trying to say everything comes down to violence or sex. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator of unfathomable complexity, which means we should not be able to be put in a box. You are not just a well formed package of molecules. Your thoughts are not just a certain mixture of chemicals. Ephesians 2:10 says, we are God’s masterpiece. And for those who can see themselves as God’s masterpiece, suddenly this land of hopelessness starts to brighten.
What have you found to be true about The Five Stages of Grief?
The Power of Perception
I think almost everyone is familiar with the glass half full-half empty analogy. It is simply talking about the power of perception. How do you look at difficult situations? How do you look at positive situations? I know, that second question is ridiculous. But, pessimistic people can always find a way to take something positive and attach some kind of rain cloud.
With grief, it takes time to have perception at all. Do not think that you can leave the funeral and the next day you’ll be looking at this situation from multiple angles. For a time (which I can’t determine, because it is different for everyone) you will be numb to the situation. And you either find excuses to give yourself why they aren’t gone or you push them into the category of never-was.
Perception comes with time. I am not a psychologist. I have no fancy degrees. I have in-the-deepest-of-the-dark experience. And it’s from experience that I want to help you. Not textbooks. Not what other people have said. But, raw, painful, healing experience.
I am a Christian man. And as a Christian man I’m not going to be offering you hope through what the world offers. It is my opinion that this world offers only hopelessness. And this may be a controversial statement, but here it goes: grief has no end without Jesus Christ. Sure, meds can medicate, they can give the illusion of brighter days, but a temporary fix doesn’t say a lot about the future. Maybe you’re fine today. But, what about five years from now? Ten? Twenty? What happens when you realize you are still in the land of grief?
If I had a steps program, it would start with Ephesians 2:10.
- You first have to believe and accept that you are a masterpiece, created for a purpose.
If you don’t accept step 1, my words can’t help you. Because it is only by accepting the truth of Ephesians 2:10 that you can start to perceive your situation differently. If you know you are a masterpiece, it gives you hope for tomorrow. If you know God is with you always, it makes the dark begin to light up. The power of perception comes with knowing who you are in Christ.
Life Goes On...
I learned very quickly after my dad died that I was no longer the same person. I was like an abstract painting in a world full of realism. Whereas everyone else were proportionate, I now had two eyes on one side of my face. And everyone saw the difference. Or at least it felt that way.
There is a very cold reality about the grieving process. People are only sympathetic for a short period of time. Maybe a year. Usually less. And then they expect you to move forward. Life goes on…
The only problem is while their lives march forward at a steady pace, you are wandering aimlessly. They have an outside perspective of your grief. They attribute it to a bad break up or something else very minuscule. What they don’t understand is you are essentially learning to walk again, and they expect you to already be running. It is insensitive and yet not their fault.
Only someone who has been to the land of grief can understand it. It would be like me trying to describe New Zealand (a place I’ve never been to) from picture alone. Anyone who lives in New Zealand would immediately be able to tell I had no clue what I was talking about. And so, peoples’ biggest mistake is trying to understand it, when they haven’t experienced it.
I can make excuses for people all I want, but insensitivity is still insensitivity. It had only been ten months since my dad had died when my reading teacher confronted me about all of my absences. I told her I was having a hard time since my dad died ten months before. Her response? “My parents are gone too. It’s time to move on.” Not verbatim, but close enough.
You will meet insensitive people who expect you to be farther along than you are. But, odds are, if they were in your shoes they would be farther behind than you are. I have a strong belief that only certain people experience grief because there are many that wouldn’t survive the process. If you are going through the process right now, remember this: you are strong enough to handle it, because God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. That is truth, even when the battle seems too big. You are stronger than you think.
Where are You, God?
Some people claim that they have felt the Lord so strongly in their grief. He has spoken to them in ways they have never experienced before. And for those that experience this, wonderful. But, this isn’t what I experienced. Not even close.
In fact, for a long time, I felt abandoned. I felt His promise to be a Father to the fatherless was a big fat lie. Instead of feeling His warmth, I felt cold. I felt entirely alone, calling out to Him everyday with no answer. And for a very long time, I hated Him. I would seethe at the very mention of His name.
Anger is a wall. And I was a master builder. When my dad died, so did God. I knew that I had built a wall to keep Him out, and yet my hope was that He would tear it down and wrap me in His arms. What I didn’t understand at the time is that choice is very powerful. Just as I chose to build the wall, I had to choose to tear it down. For all of God’s unfathomable power, His limitation (His boundary, if you will) is going against free will. He loves us enough to respect our decision.
As I was calling out for Him, I was continuing to build a wall to keep Him out. It’s a contradiction. But, that is part of being human. I was hurt and broken and I wanted Him to pursue me. I didn’t understand that He couldn’t tear down the wall.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced this. And I know I would have found this kind of revelation priceless had I known it then: God never leaves you. He is as close as you let Him get. If you build a wall, no matter how high, He is on the other side with His body pressed against it, trying to be as close as He can. And He is waiting for the day that you start to tear down that wall. He is waiting for the day.
The Thread of God
The words that you read in the bible, where God says He is the same yesterday, today and forevermore (Hebrews 13: 8) are not something that time can change. He is the same today as He was when He said those words thousands of years ago. If you chose to put up a wall, He will not tear it down. Just as when He created Adam and Eve, He didn’t have to give them the option of disobedience. But, He did, because there is no love without choice. Without the option to disobey, obedience means nothing. Without the option to deny, loyalty means nothing.
This may seem like it has veered off into another tangent. It is actually the same topic from another perspective. I am not off the topic of grief, but showing you the thread of God. From the beginning of time, choice has been something He will not interfere with.
For me I just needed someone to know what it was like. I needed therapists to stop giving me their two cents, trying to simplify my pain. I needed outside Christians to stop judging me when they had no idea what it was like. I needed someone who had already gone through it to tell me it would get better. I was never able to find someone who gave me that message; I experienced it myself.
And now, my hope is that I can give that message to you. I am ending this with a challenge: TEAR DOWN YOUR WALLS. And you will find that Jesus is waiting to embrace you, His child. Let go of your anger and your hate. There are things you will never understand (there is so much I still don’t understand) but I know that I have a Father Who loves me no matter what and cares when I hurt, cares when I need, and wants nothing more than to give me what He has promised: Peace that passes all understanding. (Philippians 4:7)