Like a shadow, unfinished grief will follow you.
Sneaking up close, whether you realize it or not, it is there.
Grief is for more than loss through death. Loss comes in many forms, each having its own unique impact.
To grieve a loss is to acknowledge its importance in your life so you can contiue to live fully. It is not a state of dwelling on the past. Rather, it is embracing the pain of what was, or sadness of change, in order to embrace the joy of what is, or is to come.
Know this truth when it comes to losing the people you love: it is not selfish to want a person back. We were not made for death. We were made in love, by Love, and for love to live. Death goes against all of that. I hate death. The very fact our heart reels and screams when someone dies is the very cry of life within us saying, “this is not the way it was meant to be!” Eternity is written on our hearts.
When we grieve we can be comforted by God Himself, and others. That comfort assures us we are not alone. We honor our memories, our pain, our longings. We give name to what we wish still was, and what we ache to be. We own it honestly, without shame or false guilt.
But what happens when we have unfinished grief?
- It can show up in your dreams.
Several nights through this summer, our sweet pup, Elijah, came alive again. Literally, in dreams. He left us suddenly, on the dawn of a loaded season. One daughter was marrying out of state, another was birthing twins out of state. Both required a lot of travel, tons of work, and precious time. While not having to tend or worry about him through it all was good, I knew the busyness wouldn’t lend much time for grieving. I prayed God would help me because I didn’t want it to emerge in unhealthy ways down the road. In my dreams, we’d put him down, but he would “come back.” He would live somehow. How strange, yet how telling.
- It can hinder your daily work.
- It can leave you fragmented.
So much has happened in three short months. Good things, and hard things. Coming home from twin babybliss to a severe illness, long hospital stay, and a longer, weird recovery has been the hardest. The extreme difference and sheer number of experiences have left me fragmented. For weeks, I couldn’t seem to hold a single thought very long. My to-do list only grew longer instead of shorter, because half of one day’s checkboxes would be shifted to the next. And the next. And the next.
- It can affect your relationships.
Short fuses, anyone? I’ll be the first to raise my hand. Many times I catch myself, but I still don’t like the feeling of coming a little unglued over minor things. Not to mention, the tempation to isolate from others, even in my own home. While it is sometimes good to stay in or sit quiet, there’s a significant difference between isolation and solitude.
- It can squelch your ability to play.
Play is more important than we often give nod to, whether in grief or not. Unattended grief often steals our desire to do so. I’ve even felt guilty for playing when others or my own heart are grieving, as if it were somehow wrong or insensitive. It’s true that we could choose play as a disctraction from grief. But most of the time, play is treated as a luxury rather than a necessity. We need play to come alive. Without it, we lose our ability to imagine and our creativity.
Unfinished grief will actually cause us to become stuck. The busyness of life and responsibilities will trick us into thinking we are fine. Because we are “doing” and “going,” the unattended places get pushed down below the surface until they seem silent. But what happens when a little annoyance causes an eruptive reponse out of proportion to the issue? Or a trigger finds us in a puddle of tears and we aren’t even sure why?
What can we do?
If you find yourself crying and aren’t even sure why, ask God:
"Where are these tears coming from?"
If your thoughts are fragmented:
Try downloading the One Minute Pause app. Here’s only a snippet. The whole of it has been an immense rescue to my mind lately. There are also several other pauses available in this app.
When you sense your relationships are affected:
Lately, God has been reminding me of the fruits of the Spirit. If you grew up in church or ever attended a church kids camp (as a kid or a worker), you may have a childlike song instantly playing in your head right now. I’m smiling, yet I’m aware that somehow the magnitude of the scripture it comes from is largely diminished. I don’t think we realize how much we work to muster up these fruits more than we ask the Holy Spirit to grow them in us. So, let us truly concentrate on what each word means in our relationships as we ask:
"Spirit of God in me, thank You for providing a way to grow the things I long to experience in my relationships. Please fill me and __________ (name the specific relationship(s), e.g. my marriage, my friendship, my family, etc.) with love with joy with peace with patience with goodness with kindness with gentleness with faithfulness with self-control." [Galatians 5:22-23]
Lastly, make room for play.
Be intentional. Even if it feels awkward or empty at first, play anyway. Make it a habit to do something fun each week. Do something you know you enjoy, and try new things. With time, it will get easier and become something you look forward to.
This week, I was finally able to pick up our little pup’s ashes, sit with them for a while, and let every salty tear drip freely from my chin. Funny, when my husband said he wanted to cremate him individually so we could have him, I thought it weird. But not this week. I could almost hear his low, raspy bark. Smell his (ok, our) favorite shampoo on his skin. Even feel his soft ombre hair. I re-read the cards given to us back in April. Grieving helped me think of a few special ways we can honor him in the next few months.
I also lingered over the morning sun on our enclosed porch for the first time in too long. It was September 1st. Instead of welcoming the shifting shadows that speak of an impending fall, I let their movements open a place of grief over a lost summer. I am still recovering from the low level the illness took me down to. It has been the strangest recovery.
Instead of a steady incline, it has been an up and down, forwards and backwards journey. It took weeks to just walk around the house normally. Then there are days I can barely move again. I can’t take the heat outdoors, or walk for ten minutes without my legs wanting to give way. My love of baking leaves me utterly spent. These and several other pieces of this recovery have made all the summer things I’d normally participate in impossible. Just sitting with Jesus, acknowledging it all, and journaling opened me up to possibilities of play moving forward, even if it looks different for a little while longer.
How will you make time for grief so that you might live?
My prayer is that God will gather every broken piece of your heart, seal it back into place with His love, so that you will move forward whole.