signs of hope: grief is weird

* this is part of an easter season series called signs of hope, real stories of people seeing hope & resurrection in the midst of the pain and struggle of real life.

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grief is weird.  the loss of those close to us can stir up all kinds of hard things in really unexpected ways.  while i have seen death, i have yet to lose someone super close to me other than my grandparents who had lived a long, amazing life.  at the same time, one thing that i keep observing is how grief crosses beyond the loss of a person.  the loss of a relationship, a marriage, a job, a church, our faith, all kinds of other things all have some of the same dynamics–you just never know when the reality of the loss will sneak up on us.

meet my dear friend riley*. we all know that sometimes our greatest pains become our greatest strengths. in her case, the loss of both of her parents (but mainly her mom) inspired her to become a grief therapist and help other kids navigate through the sea of loss with more love, support, and compassion than she was able to find.  listen in on how she is finding hope amidst her reality.

  • grief is weird. it sneaks up on us in all kinds of strange ways that are unexpected.  you lost your mom 9 years ago and the grief still comes in waves now and then.  how has it re-emerged during this season?

This past year has been one of the most incredible, challenging, and life-changing ones in my life. These exciting transitions have transformed me at my core, and there have been so many milestones that have left me deeply longing for my mom’s presence. I have wanted my mom’s support for the person I am becoming, and the life that I can no longer share with her. My mom died a month after I turned 22, and I am such a different person than I was at that time. I so want her to be proud of who I am, almost 9 years later, and the fact that I can’t ask for her or hear her voice, makes me sometimes ache for her even more. Losing your mom in your twenties is difficult in that you are at the age where can look back and see qualities in her that one would value in a friend. I really miss not only mom, but the close friend that never will be.

  • as a grief therapist, you know all the right answers on grief, but we all know that grief is not a science.  what are some things that have surprised you about your grief?

Grief bursts, I realize, are super normal, and the knowledge of that has really made me feel less crazy.  The actual intervals between grief responses do lengthen over time, for sure, but the longing never goes away. However, the depths of my heartache has taken me by surprise, and how even now I find myself in with tears over missing her. After my mom died in 2001, I saw a fabulous therapist and experienced so much healing around the loss.  But sometimes new seasons bring new pain, too.  I have had to give myself way more space than I would have anticipated to grieve in different ways this season.

  • what are some of the things you cried out to God in these past months?

I have asked God on several occasions to take away different strains of jealousy that sneak in now and again. I desire to be a part of a family so very badly, and it actually annoys me how often I have wanted to feel irreplaceable and a special part of one. I have prayed for comfort and for my ability to allow myself to feel–and not explain away– the incredible love and support that I truly do have in my life. Still, I can’t deny that’s what I want, that’s what I wish I had. Also, “they” seem to market Mother’s Day earlier and earlier each year, haha, and since I don’t want to avoid life altogether during this season, I also ask for lots of strength through it. My birthday, Mother’s Day, my mom’s birthday, and the anniversary of her death are all within about a 30 day period, so I know that I need to practice great self-care during that time frame.

  • what is it like to grieve in community, to be honest with others what you are thinking and feeling and experiencing?

Being so independent & not having any family for so long has now been a bit more of a double-edged sword. My independence has really become a part of who I am, yet it can become dangerous if I don’t choose to let others in on my process. The really beautiful part of our Refuge community is our collective ability to allow the freedom to deeply feel. I love that The Refuge is not a place where we would try and comfort with only words, but with presence.  I definitely don’t need or want answers or verses or helping phrases, but real presence. Our community is so great at that, and that is why it is really a safe place to just be.   When my mom died, I feel like I did my “grieving” in private, channeled my energy into a big memorial event for my mom that my friends were a huge part of, and tucked the public piece far, far away. While I try not to talk about her too much, I feel like I have mentioned her more in the past year than I did publicly the year she died. It feels very liberating to be in a community of friends who are willing to hear, not just listen when things come up. It feels really comforting to have such an integral part of my story to be truly known.

  • in the midst of darkness, hope always seems to pop up in the strangest of ways.  how is hope emerging from the darkness for you?

I feel like this new layer of healing has made me appreciate how &%$^ hard I have worked to get to where I am at, yet to give myself the grace of still being in process. I can honestly say that even though there have been some rough grief patches, I have never been happier in my entire life. While there are so many factors that play into that statement, I believe that a huge piece is due to allowing myself to be authentic with this integral piece of my story.  I tried for so long, somewhat subconsciously, to “protect” others from my grief story. Sometimes I just want to talk about who my mom was, and it is risky to share my heart about it. That perceived projection left that part of my heart lonely, and I am finding so much hope that it does not have to be that way. I have so much confidence that my community embraces all of me, not just the happy parts.

  • what has this easter season been like for you?   what has been stirred up through it?

It has been a lot of bumping up against my pride and my desire to always point to all the healing that has been a part of my life. The secondary issues connected to grief and loss have been stirred up in new ways for me during this season. Instead of brushing them under the carpet, or letting them rule my life or day, I have been allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to talk them through.

  • hope can be dangerous.  how are you holding on to it despite its risks?

I believe that continuing to lean into my own story, especially the dark patches, is continuing to not only allow me to be a more compassionate therapist, advocate, and friend, but also a more real me. I have found that I have been able to live out my life from a deeper, more powerful place as I step into this next leg of my journey.

thank you, riley.   yes, grief is weird.  and good.  and healing.  to all those out there grieving losses–of loved ones, or lost dreams, of relationships, of faith-as-you-knew-it, of all kinds of other things–as you let yourself feel, may you some how some way experience God’s hope & new life in the midst.

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ps:  i’ve got a new little (and short, yeah!) post up at communitas collective called questions in the now

ppss:  one of my fav bloggers rachel held evans recently asked some other bloggers “what is the good news?”  she asked me to participate.  you can read everyone’s responses here; there’s some good stuff.    this is what i wrote:

“to me, the good news is that Jesus is alive and well flowing through average, ordinary people who reflect the image of God in all kinds of wild and beautiful ways.   it’s a reminder that the ways of the world are counter cultural to the ways of the kingdom—that in God’s economy, the poor are really rich and the weak are really strong.  the good news is that what the world sees and what God sees are two different things. what we call ugly, God calls beautiful.  the good news is the spirit of Jesus carried into dark places,  bringing light where there is none, advocating for justice & equality for the poor and marginalized, passing on love to the unlovely & lonely, bringing healing and restoration to what’s broken and divided.  the good news is that the life of sacrifice, humility and love that Jesus embodied–when reflected, encouraged, nurtured, valued, extended–changes people, neighborhoods, communities, cities, the world.”

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

11 Comments

  • Thanks you two. Pain gets such a negative rap in my brain – but it’s there, and *Riley’s honesty feels like a healing balm… thanks for this great reminder that all of us people can be growing and amazing and in the right place and also have waves of gut-wrenching grief and lonliness, and that what helps is honest connection. Love you both.

    Reply
  • Thank you for this honest, authentic look at grief.
    Love this, “..ability to allow the freedom to deeply feel. I love that The Refuge is not a place where we would try and comfort with only words, but with presence. I definitely don’t need or want answers or verses or helping phrases, but real presence. “

    Reply
  • First…I love *Riley!
    Second…this was a timely piece for me today. Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of one of my dearest friends. She suffered with a malignant brain tumor for 12 years and she died right when it seemed her life was finally in a really wonderful stable place….this made it so much more painful and confusing for me at least.

    I was so sad and depressed all day, for all kinds of other reasons that equate to loss in my life in other ways…but the grief I still feel in connection to loosing my friend Kelly…is less overt than it was. I do have peace knowing that it isn’t all consuming like it once was.

    The loss of my faith as I once defined it, is a whole nutha story…I’m still greiving that in many ways like it just happened…but it’s really been over 2 years. I have good days and bad days… every other day it seems. I long to feel a sense of completeness I once did. However, I am hopeful that like Riley, the support from my community will be the life boat that keeps me above water until that storm quiets down.

    Reply
  • Oh this was a great post, as always Kathy. Riley, thanks for your story…

    I had a weird wave of grief hit me this past week– and for me too, it’s been about 9 years since I suffered the loss that I did. It’s always unexpected when it hits, but I took a lot of comfort in this post.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • I love these interviews… Kathy, thank you for doing them!!!
    “Riley”…. thank you for sharing your heart and pain with us, I think you are amazing and am so thankful and inspired by how you took your pain and have used it to help kids. That in and of itself had to be such a hard process.

    Reply
  • Grief …you’ll never know it until you don’t have to face it. I lost my little girl…it changed our life forever. Grief does something in you nothing else do. But yes the symptoms of grief is noticeable in many different losses in your life, but nothing come close as loosing your child, partner and parent. But even your partner and parent’s loss can be different too depending on the relationship you had with them, but loosing your child…we haven’t amde for that.

    And even there..there is hope…but only and only with God. I will share that once when I feel ready.

    Reply
  • *riley* thanks for being so articulate in sharing something that doesn’t always have words. xoxoxoxoxox

    Reply
  • A lovely Post Kathy.

    The tragic death of my infant son Joel at 5 months rescued me from an addiction to abusive religion and eventually transformed my life journey.The wounds never completely heal but are bearable and instill compassion and empathy for all who are suffering! You can read my autobiography ‘The Prodigal Prophet’ for free at http://www.authonomy.com If you’ve just lost someone I believe my story will give you comfort and hope. My blog on Christian Spirituality can be read at http://theprodigalprophet.wordpress.com

    Every blessing to everyone bringing Divine compassion to the grieving! You are close to the heart of God.

    Reply
  • valerie – i love what you said here: all of us people can be growing and amazing and in the right place and also have waves of gut-wrenching grief and lonliness, and that what helps is honest connection.” so true. so glad you’re part of the conversation here, listening in and sharing some of your wisdom and heart, too.

    kimberly
    – glad you are part from afar. love & hope to you!

    joy – oh the loss of a friend is so hard, and so confusing..i am also so glad you have a community that can be a buoy in this wild and crazy storm of faith-life-changes and who can cry with you, listen, and allow you to be right where you are. that seems to be the most important thing with grief, to trust the waves.

    ryan – thanks for sharing. yeah, it’s so weird how it comes in waves like that, unexpectedly and sometimes after long periods of time. some losses are just those kind, they will always be scars & wounds and you never know when they might need a little air or ointment or a new bandage for a while.

    jamie
    – thanks for reading. and yes, i am really happy you found this blog a long time ago. who knew what would come of it, eh? stacy. colorado. yeah! looking forward to seeing everyone in the fall. trying to pull off voca femina on a saturday and emdes on a sunday!

    phyllis
    – yes she is. and so are you.

    donna – i always like them, too, they are so encouraging to me and a reminder that God is here.

    work in progress – oh thank you for sharing here and taking the time to write. the loss of your precious little girl, i can’t imagine the pain, the grief, the loss. oh the stories i am sure you have of ways your faith and life has been rocked. sending love and peace from afar. again, thank you for sharing…

    annie – thanks for reading, my friend.

    prodigalprophet – thank you so much for sharing, too. there must be a bond between parents who have experienced that loss that others can never understand. i will check out more of your story, i really appreciate you taking time to say hi and share a slice of your journey. peace and hope to you.

    Reply

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