What is Grief?
I’ve heard it said that grief is an uninvited visitor that never leaves. It is an invitation to a club you would never take the initiative to join. It is when a piece (or in my case) three pieces of your heart shatter.
It’s been fourteen years since my three daughters died. They were in a car crash on the way to be bridesmaids in their brother’s wedding. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday. After so many years have passed, it is still hard to live in the present—without my girls. I have learned that just like any other journey grief takes time and much care. I need to be patient with myself and others.
Sensing uncomfortable and/or awkward feelings from others, I catch myself feeling like I shouldn’t be talking about the girls. When I bring up their names I sometimes feel as if there is an elephant in the room. But as a parent, it’s almost impossible for me to keep silent. My missing them will never go away; nor will my desire to talk about them.
It’s important for a grieving parent, just as it is for parents with living children, to talk about their children. They want to share the significance and impact their child has had on their life and the lives of others. Helen Keller said, “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose because all we love becomes a part of us.” Since our children are a deeply vital part of who we are, after the loss of a child (or children), the silence only intensifies the pain of their absence; threatening to terminate even the memory of them.
Grief is a journey and like all journeys takes time. Sometimes the mourner comes to unexpected turns in the road where grief’s waves sweep in fierce and unexpectedly. The famous song lyric describes it accuratley: “when sorrows like sea billows roll”. Even today, waves of grief come and go for me—sometimes harsh, knocking me off my feet; other times gentle, like a refreshing wash.
From February to mid-May, we observed all three girls’ birthdays, Joe’s birthday, my granddaughter, Vivien’s birthday and finally—Mother’s Day. The accumulation of these celebrations presented themselves like a billowing wave threatening to drown me in a sea of sadness. I think the lingering snow storms of a very long winter that we experienced here in Minnesota may have punctuated the intensity of my pain.
Much of my healing occurs from telling myself the truth about where the girls are. They are alive in the presence of God. Completely loved, completely cared for, and completely free. One day, I too will join them for all eternity.
However, since grief is an emotion that stems from the heart, no matter how much we know in our head, our emotions cannot and should not be ignored. Grief cannot be dealt with without first identifying and then addressing the emotions you feel. Grief suppressed stays with you, and if not recognized and addressed, can cause what grief experts call “the second death”. Shutting down, and out, all emotion. Both good and bad.
April 14th was Krista’s, my oldest daughter’s birthday. This also happened to be the last snowstorm I spoke of earlier, which left us “snowed in”. We literally could not get out of our driveway. With nowhere to go, we settled in on our cozy couch and watched all three memorial videos I had previously made for each of our daughters. After that, we proceeded to look at photo albums (see pic.s in each girls’ gallerey) almost the entire day. Laughter filled the air and tears poured from my eyes as we travelled back in time to relive funny jokes, sweet smiles, and many treasured family times.
There is both joy and sorrow in remembering. You can’t really have one without the other. We have sorrow because they are not physically with us now, but joy because we know that love never fails. It endures forever. So instead of dwelling on their death, I have learned to be thankful for the lives they lived, the love they gave and the LIFE I experienced with them.
Corrie ten Boom tells us that “Memories are not the key to the past, but to the future.”
In remembering, I have recognized how God was with me in the struggles as I raised my kids, just as He is with me in my present struggles as I walk out this grief journey.
These memories also validate and affirm who my girls were and the importance of their lives. Remembering also facilitates gratitude for the relationship and love we experienced with them as we see how God used our relationships with them to change us and draw us to Himself.
Healthy remembering prompts us to enjoy the life and memories we had with them while also treasuring all that God brought us through. Remembering His faithful presence is what motivates and invites us to engage in the present and to embrace the future that is to come, both for now and eternity.
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Remember that you are eternally loved. There was no beginning and there will be no end to God’s love for you!