It was the busiest season of the year, and I decided to stop at a store where I frequently shop. Pushing my cart down the aisle, the cheery displays begged for my attention.
I finished up my shopping, and chose the young familiar cashier to tally my items. I had gotten to know her a bit over the years. She was usually snapping her gum and cracking a joke with me, but today she was quiet. She hardly looked at me. “Everything alright?” I gently inquired. Looking down, she sighed and said nothing. So I smiled sympathetically, and gave her space.
As I gathered my bags off the counter, her eyes filled with tears. She spoke softly, “I hate this time of year. My son died three years ago, and this year is just plain raw grief.” Seeing her sadness, I lingered with her for a moment and said, “I understand. I’m so sorry you lost him.”
Plain raw grief. It arises from the events which rip apart our lives or cut deeply into our hearts. If we’ve lived life very long, we’ve experienced some things. We’ve discovered life is unpredictable; even when our ducks are in a row and we’ve done everything we thought was right.
Deep loss inevitably changes us. To lose someone dear is painful. It leaves us feeling empty. Other types of loss are from trauma and abuse; they affect us in profound ways. Loss of a job, home, marriage and other drastic changes will also affect us. We grieve all these things if they happen to us.
Sometimes we live out our adult lives reacting to past childhood trauma and loss. If we haven’t gone through the plain raw grief about what we went through, we usually try to run from it. Most of us do not welcome vulnerability. Nonetheless, making peace with our past baggage is essential to being free from it.
I remember the movie Forest Gump. In the movie, his childhood friend Jenny returned to her drunken father’s house. At that point in her life, she realized how much of her adult pain went back to that little shack where the horrors of her drunken father lay. Though they were old memories, they remained alive and continued to torment her.
Jenny had tried to bury her past by sleeping around, drugging and choosing the gypsy hippy lifestyle. Nonetheless, when she saw her childhood home, the plain raw grief arose from her child-heart. She threw rocks as hard as she could at that house. She tried to tell her dead father how much he hurt her. Later in the movie, Forest Gump wisely demolishes that old abandoned shack full of hurtful memories.
Loss is an unfortunate part of life. It’s unforeseeable in how we might experience it personally. Some things run deeper into the fabric of our hearts than others.
Sometimes there’s a new us that emerges from our process of grieving. We come to terms with things that are too deep to expose to anyone but God and those who are helping us get through it. It may take months, even years to get to the place where we can believe again. At times this is misunderstood by those who imagine life is about pulling up our boot straps, being thick skinned and staying the same.
The beauty of the grieving process takes us on a unique path, if we let it. When we invite the Lord to be part of it, we come to understand some things about ourselves. We learn things about God which couldn’t have been understood any other way. To avoid the process of grieving is to avoid a necessary part of becoming whole.
Grieving shows us God’s personal love in ways that other aspects of life do not. It can show us how we’re relating to God – Is He our judge? Is He our enemy? Is He our savior? Is He our comforter? If we’re aware of what’s going on within us, our views of God will surface during these times.
The Christmas season tends to stir up sadness for many people. It’s well known that around Christmas, the suicide rate increases. Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, there are underlying feelings that people connect to during this season. It may stir up memories of what we hoped for in life, and the realization that it never happened. It may also highlight our deeper losses.
If we’re working through plain raw grief, we can learn to stay in it until the process has done its work. Rather than disconnecting from the things that happen in our lives, we can take the time we need in order to feel better. During our grief work, we can bring healthy comfort to ourselves in small meaningful ways. We can ask for what we need, and make new pleasant memories.
The grieving process is a gift from God to us. It is often a space of time where our Heavenly Father’s love meets us in special ways … so our hearts can believe again.