I’m sitting here writing an article about grieving at a time when I’m grieving more than I ever have in my life. You might think it’s the worst time to tackle a topic like this, but in some ways it’s therapeutic. My husband, excuse me, ex-husband, filed for divorce a year ago, and everything has just finalized. I’m grieving over the loss of what I had, and even more, the loss of what could have been. Add to that the recent change of a friendship that had become an anchor for me as I got through the divorce (and feels very much like a loss), and I’m feeling my grief deeply.
What does it look like to grieve well? How do you deal with a loss like divorce, when the pain of losing someone you love feels like a death, yet your lost love goes on to have a great time without you? How do you bounce back from the utter devastation of grief when it feels like you simply can’t go on any longer?
Grieving with others is good
If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself reassuring others that you’re perfectly fine, and then locking yourself in the bathroom to cry alone. If that’s you, I get it. By nature, I express emotion privately, but I’ve come to learn that this is not the way grief is supposed to happen. We’re made for community (even those of us who lean more introverted on the spectrum) and we shouldn’t try to get through our grief alone.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” I hear that verse and I feel like it’s my Christian duty to bear the burdens of others, but why do I feel so uncomfortable having others do the same for me? Well, for starters, it’s uncomfortable to be vulnerable, isn’t it? When we’re hurting, the last thing we want to do is open up the possibility for more pain by rejection. Trust me, I know. Oh, how I know the pain of rejection at the most vulnerable of moments.
When my husband first filed for divorce, I kept it to myself for weeks. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through. I was embarrassed, and if I’m really honest, I held out hope that he would come to his senses and come back. That didn’t happen. So, with great trepidation I decided I needed help and I reached out to leaders in the churches he and I had attended over the years, only to be met with silence or told that since we were no longer members they couldn’t help us. Talk about kicking me when I was down! It felt like a rejection on top of a rejection.
I was hurt by the lack of compassion in those I thought would care the most, and while it threw me for a loop, I continued to look for people to share my experiences with. In the course of sharing, I met someone who had been through what I had been through and could offer a healing perspective having been a couple years ahead of me on the journey. I also found a good Christian counselor that I met with on a regular basis.
Allow yourself to go through the grieving process
Part of grieving well means allowing yourself to grieve, which goes against our human nature. We don’t want to suffer and will go to great lengths to remove suffering from our lives. To willingly allow suffering into our lives doesn’t feel good, and that’s quite the understatement.
You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief. Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance. I figured I’d go through them one after another like levels in a video game. Denial’s done, let’s see if we can find a cheat code to get through anger faster…Oh look, I’ve jumped to bargaining, and so on.
But my grief journey, which I’m still traveling, has been more zig-zaggy and less like clearly defined steps. I’m angry one day and in denial the next. I feel I’ve moved on to acceptance, but wake up the next morning incredibly depressed. I don’t know when I’ll be “done” with this journey, but I do know I’m getting better each and every day, even if the path before me isn’t completely clear. Grieving well means finding a way to go through the grief (not hide from it) and know that God’s got you.
Christ as our example
When Christ was in the garden praying that the cup of God’s wrath would pass from him, we know he was deep in the throes of grief. He was grieving over what was to come so much that he was sweating blood as he prayed, yet he accepted the outcome. In Matthew 26:39 Jesus said, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
This is an example of acceptance. It doesn’t mean that we have to feel happy about the circumstance in our life that is causing us this grief. We can pray about it and ask God to take our grief, and change our life, but we must accept the fact that if he doesn’t, then we need to step forward and go through the steps one by one. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s the only way to finally come out on the other side of healing.
Grief upon grief
There I was, in the final moments of my marriage. I could almost feel it leaving me like a breath leaving my lungs as the clock ticked towards 1:30 pm, the time when my marriage would be reviewed by a judge who had no emotional interest in the situation, and then it would be over. I sat there waiting, praying for a miracle, begging God to give my ex a change of heart. Begging God to stop him in his tracks and make him call his lawyer and tell her to wait. And I may have even pleaded with God to have something like a typo in the paperwork get the whole thing rescheduled for a later date. Then I got the email from my lawyer letting me know it was done.
It felt like I went through the first four stages of grief instantaneously. I denied it was true, I was angry, I made several, “God if you’ll only…” bargaining statements, and then depression set in. I was whipped into a frenzy of sadness, bargaining, and even begging God to take my life if he wasn’t willing to give me back my marriage. Yet, here I am a week later. Still living and legally divorced. This is real grief: it’s painful, it’s raw, it’s hard to look at, and yet, it’s the reality I need to accept. A person who is grieving is not fine, and that’s completely okay. I am not fine, but I will be. I am grieving, and it’s messy, but it’s moving me toward the finish line. I don’t know when I’ll be okay, but I know God will get me through.
Today I’m staring at a piece of paper with a stamp on it that marks the death date of my marriage. It’s over, but my life isn’t. In the short time between when I started this article and now it looks like I’ve also lost a friendship that was precious to me. It might be gone, but God is still near. God promises us that he will not leave us or forsake us. Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” I am both brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, so this verse is for me today. Maybe it’s also for you.
If you’re broken, crushed, grieving, or hurting, my prayer for you is that you’d feel God’s love permeate every area of your life. That you’d turn to him in your grief, and that you’d allow yourself to go through the stages of grief as slowly as you need to. I also pray that you cling to the promises of a great God who cares deeply for you and will never leave your side.
Grieving well doesn’t mean going through life with a smile on your face and denial in your heart. It doesn’t mean pretending everything is fine. Grieving well means leaning on him, leaning on your community, and being brave enough to ask for help when you need it.