Our precious daughter Sophie was born a month and two weeks ago now. We miss her so much. Some days I’ll have moments of great sadness as I long to hold her again and hear her heart-warming little breaths, followed by feelings of delight when I think of how beautiful her chubby little face and body are, followed by life feeling very normal, followed by life feeling very much not normal and out of place but with no words to describe what that feels like. This is the place of grieving. I used to describe grieving as a process, but lately I see it more as a place. A place you find yourself in for an extended period of time. There’s different areas of the place of grieving that I experience at various moments, but it’s not a journey or process I’m traveling through. It’s just a place I’m living in. In the midst of grieving I’m discovering it’s not so much about “getting through it” or a destination on the other side of the journey that I’m trying to reach. The point isn’t about getting through it in order to be done with it and move on with life. The point of grieving is allowing myself to sit and live in the healthy-but-very-unenjoyable place of grief. And in doing so, slowly over time healing and transformation happens. CS Lewis describes this transformation in A Grief Observed. “There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.” -p. 46.
As Lindsey and I grieve in the midst of our incredible community of family and friends, we’ve realized how many people are grieving with us. Not just people who have come alongside to support us in grieving, but people who are also grieving the reality that Sophie is no longer here with them. As Lindsey and I continue to learn about grieving, I thought it might be helpful to share what we’re learning as others grieve with us also. We by no means have figured this out. We’re just learning as we go…
- Everything’s Not Okay…and That’s Okay: Especially in our day and age, there can be this belief that everything needs to be okay, or that “hard emotions” like sadness or anger are bad. That’s ridiculous. I’ve slowly discovered over the years that while I don’t always understand my emotions or enjoy them (especially those of deep sadness or anger), God has given us emotions for a reason and they are very good. Emotions are never meant to control our lives, but they are indicators (gauges in a sense) of deeper things going on inside. And often times they are one of the critical ways in which God will heal and transform our hurting hearts. This has never been more true than in this place of grieving. At times we find ourselves going through emotions as if we’re flying through a box of Kleenex, moving through a myriad of flowing emotions throughout the day. And Lindsey and I chose months ago as our grieving began to simply sit in the emotions as they came. Not ignoring them, not running from them, not trying to create them, or compare what we were feeling to each other. If we are horribly sad and distraught, then we allow the tears to flow and our heart to ache. If we’re delighting in sudden great joy, we embrace the smile and the laughter. And when the other person is experiencing deep emotions and we’re not, we allow them to feel what they’re feeling and just be present with them. It has given us great freedom to just be where we are at, and trusting that the Holy Spirit is leading us into emotions because he knows best how to counsel us and slowly bring healing in this heavy time of life. We don’t have to feel guilty that we’re feeling one thing or not feeling another. We can trust in the counsel of the Holy Spirit (as long as we’re being quick to act upon how he is leading us), and experience the freedom to feel what we’re feeling in the moment.
- Grieve with Others: Undoubtedly the most important thing we’re learning is that healthy grieving happens in community. Grieving is not an isolated place (although it can often feel like one). We were designed to live all aspects of life in community, including grief. There are many times when we haven’t had the energy to reach out to spend time with those around us, and we have been so thankful that God has continually used family, friends, and even those we don’t know to proactively step into our lives physically, over the phone, or via messages, cards, and emails. But there are also times when we know it would be good for us to get out, or be around some other people. And in those times we’ve chosen to take the initiative to call a friend and spend time with them. Often times, we don’t have much energy to initiate with others, but after we do we are so thankful because it’s just what we needed. Sometime we cry with friends, sometimes we watch videos of Sophie, and others times we talk about other things in life and play a game. We’ve learned that it helps us to be sharing what we’re feeling and experiencing with others also. While we are intentional about sharing with each other, it helps to get other people’s perspective and can lighten the load on each other when we’re also sharing with others.
- Grieve Differently but Not Alone: In those March days that followed hearing Sophie’s diagnosis, Lindsey and I cried and cried and cried together. We felt deep sorrow and confusion and our dreams crumbling around us. We were together every moment, and able to console each other as we walked through the same emotions together. But as the weeks went by, our emotions began to change. Lindsey’s emotions were deep and strong and closely matched our circumstances. My emotions began to feel less strong, and many moments began to feel as if life was normal again, even though it was far from normal. It was very surreal. I was committed to allowing myself the freedom to just be in whatever emotions came up and not try and “manufacture” emotions of greater sadness that I thought I should be feeling. But there were many times I thought maybe I was ignoring what was really going on and that’s why I wasn’t feeling more sadness anymore. Lindsey, on the other hand, was seeing me as appearing to engage in everyday life again and was wondering if something was wrong with her (or if something was wrong with me ?) and began to feel very alone in her grieving. We were both reading the book A Gift of Time and as we read about how men and women grieve, we discovered this was very normal. Some people are intuitive grievers in that they feel their way through grief, while others are more instrumental grievers in that they express grief largely through immersion in activity. You can guess where Lindsey and I fall in that. But in that we discovered that for us to be in it together and not feeling alone in our grieving, we had to be communicating about what we were experiencing. While we didn’t always feel the same things, we could still be side-by-side in our different emotions if we allowed each other to know what we were experiencing. This required a change in my mindset. I’m not as quick to think about what I’m feeling with Lindsey (often times because I’m not even aware I’m feeling something!). But I began to realize it was really important to share my different emotions and what I was experiencing throughout the day (especially when I experienced strong emotions when I wasn’t with her…like when I’d start crying as I listened to a song driving in the car alone). We found ourselves needing the same intentionality again a couple weeks after Sophie was born to ensure we were side-side as we grieved. And I’m discovering a new aspect of marriage and vulnerability as I share more frequently with Lindsey what I’m feeling and experiencing in general.
- Grieve The Many Losses: Last week Lindsey and I went to our first session of a grief and coping group through Florida Hospital for parents who have lost their baby. During part of the session they talked about how grief is not about death. Grief has everything to do with loss. Death is of course an incredibly significant form of loss, but in losing our daughter there are many, many things we have lost in addition to being with her. In the hours that followed Sophie going home to Jesus, we began to realize different things we had forgotten to do in the precious ten hours we had with Sophie. One in particular was when Lindsey realized she had forgotten to place the beautiful bracelet she had hand-made on Sophie’s wrist. The moment the thought hit her, Lindsey’s eyes filled with tears. Seeing my wife in this pain and sorrow was far worse than the deep sadness I experienced as my various forgotten plans came to mind. All I wanted to do was comfort her, and remind her that we couldn’t have remembered to do everything, and that it was okay. And that’s exactly what I did. But after doing that a few times, Lindsey kindly stopped me and reminded me that it was okay that she was sad about these things. And I realized she was right. While it hurt so deeply with each little thing we realized we hadn’t gotten to do with Sophie, it was really important that we acknowledged each loss–however little–and allowed the tears and sorrow to come with each one. All of those are losses, and if we do not grieve them, we will hold onto each one deep inside and not allow ourselves to truly let go of the pain that surrounds each.
- There’s No Right Way To Grieve: There are certainly unhealthy ways to grieve (like taking a bat to the TV…don’t worry, we haven’t done that yet), but for the most part, there isn’t some magic formula for how to grieve. Everyone’s grief looks different, and thus there has been great freedom for us as we’ve let ourselves figure it out as we go and not try to find the “right way” to grieve.
- It’s Not Quick: This is the sucky part, and the good part. I don’t like experiencing pain or seeing Lindsey hurting. And knowing that we will live in this place of grieving for some time makes that even harder. But at the same time there is a strange comfort in grieving and there is connection with Sophie we get to experience that becomes much more permanent and deep for a lifetime as we allow ourselves to live in the place of grieving for as long as God has us here.
- Learn from Those Who Have Grieved Deeply: Almost all of what we’re learning about grieving comes from things we’ve read, or heard, or listened to from others. Here’s some of the most helpful resources that are helping us:
- A Gift of Time by Kuebelbeck and Davis
- A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
- A Grief Observed by CS Lewis
- Finding a Group (in person or a forum online) to connect with others who are walking through a similar loss. For us it’s been the 7 week HEAL group through Florida Hospital.
- Music: A great music album, Every Falling Tear by Matt Hammitt, which our friends the Pelton’s sent us, has given me songs that have brought some of the emotions to the surface. The artist wrote it after losing their own baby and thus the lyrics don’t feel empty but resonate with what my heart is feeling.
We see grieving throughout the Bible. In fact, the Israelites were really good at grieving. You might call them expert grievers. And there was a great health–as designed by God–to their lives. As with all aspects of life, we want to continue to learn, like the Israelites, how God has designed us to live in this current place of grieving. There is much loss. And while we look to the restoration of these things as secured by Jesus, we will continue to grieve as we wait.