My father was lost in a world of darkness. The chains of mental illness wrapped their wicked fingers around his throat and squeezed until he pulled the trigger on his life. That was January 1977; he was 36. I couldn’t wrap my young brain around that loss for decades. I just felt the colossal void his suicide left in the form of emptiness, pain, and lack. As a 9 nine-year-old child, I didn’t know how to grieve so I stuffed my feelings and lived.
Only it wasn’t that easy.
I had no healthy outlets in which to grieve, so all those stuffed emotions manifested in my behaviors. As a child that looked like poor focus, declining grades, unstable relationships, bed-wetting, and mood swings. As a teenager and young adult, it looked much worse. Let’s leave it at that.
If I could have a conversation with my younger self, this is what I would say to her:
It is okay to grieve and it’s okay to be afraid. Cry, be angry, and wrestle with all the hard feelings. Scream, punch the pillow and ask God why and any other question you want because God is God and he can handle the questions and the anger and anything else you’ve got.
Yes, grief hurts; people fear it, no one likes it because it feels terrible. It takes us by surprise, interrupts our lives, and demands its own way with our emotions and thoughts. But when grief is stuffed, it always finds a way out, like it did when I was a child. When we allow ourselves to acknowledge and feel the pain of loss, we begin the healing process.
Our culture seems to have forgotten how to lament. We will do anything to avoid the work of grief and bypass the pain, yet there is no other way to heal except by way of feeling our emotions. We either stuff our emotions or we numb them using a variety of methods including that fake Pollyanna attitude.
I see this evident at Easter when well-meaning Christians say, “its Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” in a most cheerful tone. No! No, on Good Friday we sit in the silence of the suffering and the truth that Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins and humanity crucified him. Sunday will come, but we must sit in the discomfort of the crucifixion and death of our Lord. That is called grief.
So if someone you love has died- grieve
If someone you trusted betrayed you- grieve
If someone has harmed you- grieve
Whatever your loss- grieve
You need to grieve your losses; not doing so can be detrimental to your mental and emotional health, but don’t do it alone. Reach out to a trusted friend or a professional therapist. We were created for community and you do not have to suffer alone.
This world is subject to torment and bondage and not many will escape without scars. “He was despised and rejected- a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT). If our Lord Jesus spent time grieving, why do we expect to shrink away from it and just get on with our lives as if this terrible thing has not happened?