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respect the path of grief


Grieving is a funny thing.

It’s amazing how you can be rolling along, smelling roses and such, and all of a sudden…BAM…it hits you. It comes out of nowhere, this longing for the old normal, and how unsteady you feel in the new normal. Maybe it’s a conversation with a friend or colleague, or maybe you’re just going about your normal business, and something just feels…off. That awkward sensation that you’ve lost your balance, and you aren’t quite sure you can regain your equilibrium.

Joel and I were at a one-year-old’s birthday party a few weeks ago, mingling with friends, enjoying the sunshine (rare in our neck of the woods), and the next thing I knew there was a lump in my throat. Talking with one of the dads I could feel tears pooling in the corners of my eyes, and internally pleading, “Oh please Lord, NO! Help me hold it together!” Grief suddenly seized my heart and I spent the remainder of the party trying desperately to avoid conversation (not an easy thing to do, mind you).

Grief doesn’t give a heads up. It’s not something you can mark on the calendar. It just walks into our lives in the most unexpected moments, and we have to let it run its course.

We are experiencing the ups and downs and sideways moments of unexpected grief in our home. And I am being stretched. When grief hits me I can work through it, own it and understand that this is part of the letting go process. When grief hits my kids I feel totally helpless. But God has been revealing to me that I needmust…respect the path of grief – not just for myself, but for my family and those around me.

Everyone grieves a little bit differently. Some people want to talk it out, cry it out, let it all out. Others contemplate. Order their thoughts; feverishly work to understand why they feel so helpless and upset.

When life goes from one normal to the next, regardless of what the new may be, we have to work our way through each stage of grief. Since Joel and I, and our children, began stepping into the missions call, there has been a lot of grieving taking place. This grieving is not due to a lack of thrill and excitement in looking forward to our future, but it is the reality that sets in as we let go of an identity we have shared for thirteen years. If there was no grief present as we transition from one call to the next I would be gravely concerned.

Respect the path of grief.

There is no rushing it. It truly does come out of nowhere. Letting go is hard. Because it is all so fresh in my life right now, I thought I would jot down a few insights I’ve gained as it pertains to respecting the path of grief. If you are grieving, or you know someone who is, perhaps these simple thoughts will encourage and inspire you on your own path.

1. Don’t be a pushy listener. My thirteen-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, is a mental processor. She needs time to sort her thoughts and feelings. Dramatic displays of emotion overwhelm her and cause her to shut down. Walking with her in this season of transition is teaching me that it does more harm than good to try and squeeze the feelings out of her. Patience and presence are the most effective way to encourage her to open up. If you can relate, communicate to those close to you that you just need time. Words aren’t yet formed, but by simply being present, you will eventually have something to say.

2. No feeling is off limits. We told our kids from the very beginning of our transition that no feeling is a bad feeling. If they feel angry, then go ahead and feel angry. Jackson’s way of dealing with those out-of-control feelings is to grasp the one thing he believes he can control, which is his willingness to move to Africa. If it’s been a particularly challenging day at school, if he’s feeling rundown or fighting off a headache, he will declare to us, “I’m not going to Africa anymore.” I have learned to just let those words hang in the air. Don’t try to fix them, or him. When walking with someone who is grieving, giving them permission to say how they feel out loud, without being corrected, is one of the most powerful ways to open up meaningful dialogue. Connect rather than correct.

3. Tears are healthy. Go ahead and cry. Cry until the tear ducts run dry. Don’t be embarrassed by the need to shed a tear or two. Tears tell the story of our hearts. And a good cry makes everything seem much, much better. If you are grieving, and you’re trying to be calm, cool,  and collected don’t be afraid to cry. Let the release from your heart pour out from your eyes. You are stronger when you cry.

4. Lean in. One of the biggest temptations that pulls at our hearts when change is on the horizon, or change has already taken place, is to pull away – withdraw. It comes down to self-preservation. We don’t like to hurt, so in order to control the pain we are already experiencing, we start to pull away from the very support system that we need. While I understand the necessity for space and processing, there comes a point when too much space can lead to isolation. As challenging as it may be, when all you want to do is hide in a corner, you’ve got to lean in. Surround yourself with safe people. Don’t grieve alone.

5. Let it be. In our fast paced culture where we move from one thing to the next and rarely stop and take a breath, it can become easy to toss out the past, hurl it to the far side of the sea, and power through, stuffing emotions out of fear of looking weak. We are not a weak people, at least that is what we project to the world. Feeling sad that an end is coming, or has come, is not weakness. The next chapter may be a really good one, and you may genuinely feel some excited anticipation about the future. Feeling sad, feeling struck by loss, does not diminish in any way the joy of the new season ahead. If you feel sad, if you feel the loss, if you feel unsteady and little bit off kilter, it’s okay. And when grief sneaks up on you in the middle of a one-year-old’s birthday party, just let it be. The effort it takes to stuff the feelings simply isn’t worth it. Let the grief come, let it sit there, and if you need to cry, then go ahead and find a place to cry. Affirm the process to yourself. This is healthy. This is good. Let it be.

As Joel and I walked to the car after the sweet birthday party, Joel wrapped his arm around me. He affirmed my feelings. He didn’t try to correct me or cheer me up or find a way to avoid the grief. It was really quite beautiful.

We are somewhere in the middle of the old normal and the new normal, so my insights are very fresh…and perhaps underdeveloped. As we continue to walk this tight rope of emotions, I am sure much more wisdom will be gained. And there in lies the beauty in all of this. From the ashes of goodbyes and grief, sprouts wisdom, strength, empathy and hope. There is always gain after loss.


Respect the path that grief takes you on.

Let it do its work in you.

And the mourning will truly turn into dancing.

One day at a time.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” Psalm 30:11

*Picture credit goes to Brooklyn

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7 Responses to “respect the path of grief”

  1. Jonette says:

    Love this. Thank you

  2. Sherrie says:

    Very thought provoking..we as a family walked griefs path for a while. I remember the day, hours, second…ours came uninvited to my don’t door. It took our breath away and turned our lives upside down. Here’s what I’ve lived through…crying, anger, denial, blame, anger, guilt, and now transition with God as my healer of deep pain Our loss effected my children to the point they’re lives will forever be changed. Hiding the hurt only intensified the pain. One thing and one thing only holds us together. Talking daily with God. His grace manifested in ways that can only be explained as a divine intervention into our lives. We’re wiser, and yes we have battle wounds that say my God Has This! Praying for you.

  3. Lisa Kirakossian says:

    Thank you for this very heartfelt and insightful post. Such good advise as grief can be so complicated and difficult to process it’s hard to know what to do sometimes. I especially can relate to the last sentence. In some form or another, there is always gain after loss.

  4. Amy says:

    Sherrie, so beautifully articulated. I love your statement: “His grace manifested in ways that can only be explained as a divine intervention into our lives.” Yes. Even though grief, God shows up…in unexpected and divine ways. Thank you for praying for us, and thank you for sharing a bit of your story here with me. Love you!

  5. Amy says:

    Thank you, Jonette! :)

  6. Amy says:

    Lisa, sometimes we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that the gain is coming and that it is good. And sometimes the light is too far out of reach and we just have to keep pressing on. But, with God there is always that glimmer and that hope and that assurance that there will be something to gain, something to bring him glory, after the loss. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Judy Hayburn says:

    Very beautifully said and so very, very true. In retrospect, almost all of the beautiful things that have come into my life have come on the heels of the most difficult circumstances.

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