Isn't that an enticing title? 20 years of grief? But if you've ever lost someone you loved then you know the grief never really stops, it doesn't ever get better, it changes and you change, but it never goes away completely. Isn't that encouraging? Yeah..I know.
But before you click onto one of the blogs to the right....the ones about decorating and child rearing and things way more fun and entertaining.....let me tell you a few things I've learned from losing my dad...20 years ago.
I remember getting ready for class my freshman year of college and getting a phone call saying I needed to get a suitcase packed and head to the airport. My dad had had a brain aneurysm and things were grim. I had never flown in an airplane before and was scared...that compounded when I realized I would have to change planes in St. Louis. I remember my mom saying quietly, "bring a dress". I knew then she had an idea he wouldn't make it. I arrived home just in time to make the decision with my family to take dad off life support. He would never have wanted to live like a vegetable. He had lived a vivacious life of basketball with us kids, teaching Sunday School, homeschooling us kids, loving my mom...never in a million years would he have wanted to be kept alive by a machine. So somewhere around 10pm on March 5, 1991, my dad met Jesus. My mom was with him, and me, my 16 year old brother and 13 year old sister stood outside the doors of the ICU and waited for them to call the code. Shortly after, a tear stained cheek mom said confidently "the joy of the Lord is our strength". And truly that has been the theme of her life.
In a moment when grief could have consumed her every word....she chose the truth that is in God's Word. She chose truth. TRUTH. It would have been easy (and not necessarily wrong) for her to have come through those doors, fall to the ground, shaking her fist toward God, screaming "WHY? WHY? WHY?" But in those moments of extreme grief...when only the truest words are spoken....the words on her tongue were comforting and soothing and TRUTH. Those words have also been written on the tablet of my heart...and remembered over and over when times in my own life have been tough.
Over the years I've learned a few things about grief....here are my lessons:
1. Grief doesn't end. It changes...what once caused you great joy or enjoyment may now bring you to tears...not because it is bad or negative or even painful but because it reminds you of something. Jelly Beans, Five Mile Creek Movies, whistling...these all at certain times have affected me that way. Instead of avoiding those moments and memories...embrace them. If that means crying...do it....if it means experiencing it....do it. Don't avoid it because it's painful. Remember it because it was wonderful...and in some way connects you to that person.
2. Express your emotions. Others feel them too. You don't have to be strong. No one expects it....or wants it. They want you to be real.
3. Allow your church to minister to you. This helps them fulfill God's command to take care of the grieving. If you retreat...they can't minister to you and later...you will complain because you will feel they have forgotten. Let them bring a meal, help with chores, your kids, your yard, your pets or anything else.
4. Find a verse and claim it. God's Word is the ONLY word that you can count on. People say good things, encouraging things......and STUPID things. The only words that you can believe and act on 100% of the time are GOD's.
5. Get counseling. REAL counseling. Not retail therapy, friend therapy or chocolate. Your church can help you find someone....or may offer someone on staff to meet with. Don't be afraid to get real about how you're doing. These professionals are used to it...they can handle it....even help.
6. When you're ready....smile. This may be 2 weeks, 2 days, 2 years, 2 months from the date of mourning....but it will come...and you'll be glad for the changed experience. Don't feel guilt. Remember the enemy (satan) wants nothing more that for you to be submersed in your grief for as long as possible.
7. Most of all know that God means this for good in your life. That's a tough pill to swallow. I remember thinking "how on earth could God think this is a good thing....a wife without her husband, children without their dad?" and then I realized that what I characterize as GOOD and what God equates with GOOD are two different things. He sees the whole picture while I only see a portion and most of what I see involves the past. I do believe this was the only way that my family made it through this.
I'm thankful for those 18 precious years I had with my dad. Now I can even say I am thankful for the past 20. God's been faithful....after all...He knows a thing or two about losing someone.
Has God taught you anything through the grief He's allowed you to go through. I'd love to hear about it.