Blind Sided by Grief
August 23, 2019, was the sixth anniversary of John’s death. We shared life for nearly eight years and I fully expected to grow old with him.
Grief is a strange thing. It is dynamic and strikes when I least expect it. I rarely think of upcoming anniversaries, but grief lurks in the shadows ready to surprise me when I see a memory pop up on Facebook or when I hear one of John’s favorite songs. The moments of grief don’t last long and I accept them as part of life. I miss John but would not wish him to come back because I know he is walking with God and enjoying conversations with the saints.
John showed me unconditional love, and I have missed his presence as I write my story. His smile and his encouragement helped me believe in myself. He was not perfect, and neither was I, but I always knew that he loved me. As I recalled those early months following his death, I found this blog. I wrote it about one year after John’s death, but the words still resonate with me. Remembering the ways, I coped with grief in those early days helped me this year when grief surprised me.
“Why?” becomes a bargaining tool
John often sent texts that began with “Howzit?” He wanted to know how my day was going and let me know that he was awake. I miss that phrase; I miss his simple words of care and humor that turned even the most difficult day into a pleasant one. I could not understand why God would take those moments of joy from me. I wondered how I would survive without him.
Asking “why?” became my bargaining tool. I cannot count the times I asked that question. I asked God but received no response. As a result, I spent many days creating reasons that made sense to me and creating scenarios that would make the outcome different. My list of “What if…” was long and complicated. I told myself that if I knew “why,” I would feel less guilty and could let go of the self-blame.
Learning to change my focus
With time, I accepted that I would never know why John died so young, but not without a long intense struggle. Moving on from bargaining required me to stop asking why. Once I stopped asking why I recalled the things John taught me. I recalled the life he lived. I remembered things he shared with me that helped me heal and become the person I am. I can’t change the events of the day John died, but I can change what I focus on.
John once told me that it is more important to focus on how God brings you out of a painful experience than to focus on the experience. Remembering this helped me stop asking why John left me and begin focusing on sharing how he affected my life and my family.
This is not your fault
I don’t know how many times I have told someone who is in the midst of grief, “this is not your fault.” During the stage of asking why and bargaining for the answer to the unanswerable, I remembered my words and silently told myself, “this is not your fault.” When we face the loss of a loved one, remembering that their death is not our fault can help move us beyond blame to healing. When you focus on the life lived by your loved one can help you move beyond the exhausting task of bargaining to change the unchangeable events surrounding the loss of your loved one.
The disciple’s grief
I imagine that the disciples asked “Why?” many times during the days after the crucifixion. Even though Christ told them what was to come, the followers did not understand they only had a short time left with their beloved leader, much less that he would be back. To His friends and disciples, the grief was real. These men and women lost the greatest companion they had ever known.
The promise that he would come back or even the promise that he was going to prepare a place for them did not ease their grief. They were in pain. They were afraid. They probably asked “Why did He let this happen? What could I have done to prevent it?” Perhaps they wondered how they could minister to others when their grief was so intense. I wonder if like me they struggled with thoughts they must deny their intense pain so those who looked to them for guidance would not lose faith. I imagine that hearing someone quote what Christ told them at the last supper resulted in a mixture of anger confusion and doubt. After all, they walked with Christ every day.
They wanted to know “Why did He leave us?”
Christ knew exactly what His future would be. He also knew nothing his disciples said or did would change the outcome. However, the disciples did not immediately understand or accept His purpose would continue without Christ’s physical presence.
Christ provides a comforter
Christ rose from the dead and then ascended to heaven, which though altogether different from death, still left the disciples on their own. The disciples finally understood Christ’s purpose and began sharing their experiences with the world. Christ gave them His Spirit, the comforter, to empower them in this mission. They stopped asking why He had to leave and started sharing who he was.
As followers of Christ, we have that same Spirit within us, a comforter in our deepest grief. While the answer to “Why?” may not always come, the Spirit can empower you to change your focus and move past bargaining to embracing all that your loved one added to your life.