My heart thuds a little too loudly and I keep checking Facebook even though there’s nothing new, nothing I really need or want to see. I tap my phone to refresh the screen, checking for returned text messages I may have missed in the last 30 seconds.
It’s nap time.
I can hear Elias’ soft snores through the bedroom door. Jude stopped singing his 2-year-old version of Angels We Have Heard on High so I assume he’s sweaty sleeping, surrounded by his menagerie of stuffed friends. And even the 6-year-old rests, sleeps most day. (Halleluiah! Pure grace for a weary-mama-aching-for-quiet.)
So it’s my small window to write. But I keep questioning if what I sat down to say is right. Right to share. Helpful or necessary to those who read here.
Most often a speeding pulse and compulsive self-distracting means for me that God is stirring. And that I need to obey.
* * *
Every time I write about grief, whether in a full post or as a passing comment, I get notes slid into my inbox or Facebook messenger that say, “Yes, me, too. You’ve put words to my experience that no one else says or feels.”
It brings redeeming joy that my pain could somehow be a gift to someone else. But it also escalates the ache. Because I heart cringe to know that others have felt so alone. That others have gone through seasons of mourning without someone to look them in the eyes and squeeze their shoulders and say,
I see you. You are okay. Your grief and confusion and mixed-up, angry-sad-relieved-lost-and-mad feelings are normal. And it’s okay, not just okay, necessary, to let those feelings out.
Whether you lost someone suddenly or after a long illness. Whether it’s been two months or five and half year or a decade or more. Whether you adored them or despised them or both on different days. Whatever the details of the losing, it is still a loss.
It is complicated.
It is confusing.
It is a journey.
Grief is many things. But it isn’t something to just get over.
Yet our American culture, don’t-know-what-to-say friends, and well-meaning Christians often send the message that it is.
And for me those messages increase the loneliness. They elevate the feeling that know one really understands why I’m still struggling when my dad’s been dead for almost four years. And that there’s no one to help guide the way on grief’s journey with its unpredictable waves and heart tremor triggers.
Every experience of loss and grief is different.
But no one should have to feel alone in it.
I’m not an expert or psychologist. I’m just a regular mama and wife whose dad died when she was 28 years old, and four years later is still figuring out what that means. I haven’t walked the journey perfectly. But I’m purposing more and more to open my heart to the Perfect Healer.
Last weekend I had a significant experience. An unexpected heart healing moment. It’s this gritty, ordinary, beautiful moment that became part of my healing process. And I want to open it up to you…
A letter I wrote to my dad.
I’m sitting on your old crocodile afghan in front of your grave. I pulled a weed out next to your marker and pushed away the dirt crowding out the corner.
I’m annoyed at the preteens talking loudly behind me. Angry at their lack of respect for the dead and grieving.
Grieving. I’m grieving.
I’m grieving for you. For Alyssa. For others so dear to my heart and the different kinds of loss and death and pain they are struggling through.
I couldn’t find the new Bible I was hoping to buy at the Family Christian Bookstore down the street from your old house. I feel like it was a waste of time to drive out here. But I know it wasn’t. I know I’m supposed to be here.
It’s not your birthday or anniversary. I actually can’t remember the last time I was here. But I keep hearing that phrase I read in those grief books: “You can’t heal what you don’t feel.” And significant milestone ore not, today I know I need to let myself feel.
Feel the loss. Feel the weight of what is gone.
The boys don’t remember you but we talk about you sometimes. They call you Grandpa Ralph. If you were still here I’m sure they would just call you Grandpa.
They are so sweet and so smart and so fun. I know you would love them.
I buy them each a new puzzle for Christmas every year. And I think of you. How you’d enjoy turning over pieces with them and teaching them how to group colors or collect the border or whatever your favorite puzzling method was. I don’t remember that part. I just remember it was your love for jigsaw mastery that fueled mine.
Noah got a dinosaur puzzle. Eli’s was robots and Jude’s was a pirate scene—he liked the treasure chest box it came in best.
We’re signing Noah up for his first season of t-ball this Spring. I know that would have put a smile on your face, too.
I wish I could have known you as a boy. From all the stories cousin Mike told at your memorial it sounds like you were a dynamic kid. I wonder if you had the twinkle in your eye like my Elias or if you snuggled in your mama’s neck like my Jude does with me or if you were confident and strong with a silly sense of humor like my Noah.
I wonder if you didn’t yet carry the sadness and anger I knew in you as an adult. I wonder if you were different before the weight of your own grief sank in. The grief of losing both your parents in your teens and twenties.
I wonder who you would have been if cancer hadn’t taken your family. Was that the catalyst to decades of addition and self-destruction? Was that the root of two divorces and so much despair?
I don’t know the point in all this question asking other than just allowing myself to wonder, to follow where my feelings flow, where my mind meanders.
Question asking doesn’t make things different. But sometimes it does lead to a difference in understanding.
Maybe that’s what I’m going for. Maybe I want to understand the past differently so I can have more compassion in my reflection.
I don’t like just feeling hurt and angry and lost.
This morning at church the message was on forgiveness. Pastor Bruce preached on Romans 12:14-15 and how we are suppose to bless our enemies.
You were not my enemy, Dad. But you did hurt me. You hurt me on purpose and you hurt me completely without malice or intention. I see that. I see both.
I don’t know what it looks like to bless someone who is dead in this world. But I know that forgiveness does not require a two-person interaction. It’s a one-person transaction of release. Releasing the offender from debt in my heart and mind.
I know I’ve done it before. But maybe forgiveness is a process. I’m not God and sometimes I do remember the sins of others and allow them to continue to eat away at me. No more here. No more with you.
Dad, I forgive you.
I forgive you for not being the father I often wanted and needed. I forgive you for not trying harder. I forgive you for just not knowing how. I know you loved me. Thank you for loving me. But too many times your own issues and agenda and sin trumped your capacity to show love. I forgive you for your shortcomings and for the ways your depression and addictions wounded my heart and caused stress in my life.
I release you.
You are already whole and alive and redeemed in heaven with your Savior! I praise Him for that!
I choose to lay down the weight of any unforgiveness or bitterness I was carrying.
It is finished.
Jesus finished it.
And since I’m still here, I will ask and trust Him to continue to bind up my wounds and heal my brokenheartedness as much as is possible this side of heaven.
Then one day, I’ll see you both face to face. And I relish the day when I will feel my Fathers’ embrace.
I love you, Dad.
* * *
Friends, this letter isn’t a prescription for getting over grief. It’s not a formula for healing or an equation for forgiveness.
It’s just one small example of one small step in one woman’s journey.
And despite that heart pounding insecurity I felt when I started tapping out this post, I’m sharing it with the HOPE that these words will allow at least one other person to not feel so alone.
I see you, grieving, friend.
And God sees you.
He sees you and He is with you. Continue with Him you on your journey.
Sharing with the wonderful communities of storytellers at Jennifer’s and Holley’s.
Are you in a season of grief?
If so, would you leave a comment below or send me an email? I would love to pray for you.