February 28, 2014

Grief, loss, and finding dry land

I've been thinking a lot about grief and loss lately.
When I was in high school, it occurred to me that I was the only one of my friends who had not experienced a major loss in my life. All my grandparents were living, my parents were happy together, and none of my family or friends had unexpectedly died.
I lived in a state of fearful anticipation. I knew my grandparents, and even my parents wouldn't live forever.  Not knowing what to expect emotionally, I feared their deaths even more. I was afraid of a Big Loss that I knew was coming - an unidentifiable certainty, because I knew I would not live in this state of blissful ignorance forever.
When those Big Losses did begin to show up - the death of my grandma, the death of my father-in-law, the miscarriage - I stopped thinking so much about what loss and grief were like. When comforting my husband, I stopped worrying about future loss and future emotions, and found myself focusing only on the right now. And when the death of our unborn, unseen baby happened, I found I could only worry about the present. There wasn't enough in me to look forward.
I do not know when I became comfortable with the process of grief. Somewhere between losses, I began to realize that grief and loss are natural parts of life. How did I know the "correct" emotion to have? The "correct" reaction to a loss? I didn't. The emotions simply rushed over me like a wave of seawater. And then they left. And then they returned. Some days, the grief was at high tide. It rushed over my mouth and eyes and whole body so I could barely breathe. And other days, it simply brushed my toes, like a  gentle reminder that it was still there.
Why does God allow bad things to happen to us? It's a question we ask ourselves in the midst of tragedy and loss, a question we all struggle to answer. A question at times we feel like screaming at God, demanding to know: WHY ME??
A friend of mine is going through her own period of loss right now, and in her grief turned to me. I found myself equipped in a way I had not been before. I was able to speak, able to explain, grateful to help, because I recognized the emotions I saw in her.
If we are God's hands in this world, then maybe bad things happen to good people so that when someone close to us experiences those same bad things - death, loss, grief - we can hold out our hands - God's hands - and let them know they will not be alone when the waters rush over them.
I am eternally grateful to those who held my hands over these past few months as those waves beat against me. I am thankful to have you in my life, and that you knew the right words to say and the right way to be present. It is your hands in mine that helped me to find dry land once more.

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