October the 10th was the two year anniversary of the day my little brother, Anthony, died.
He was only 24 years old, and just barely that. His birthday was Oct. 5th. That’s him, in the photo, when we celebrated his 16th birthday I believe.
Last week I thought about interrupting the Fear of Worthlessness series to post about grief on his birthday, but I didn’t.
Grief is very difficult to choose to engage. Most of the “negative” emotions are, but grief is especially challenging because it requires us to accept loss.
Remember when we talked about rebellion vs. radical acceptance with regards to the fear of being worthless?
Well, we have the same propensity and the same choice to make when it comes to grief. Our first response to any loss is usually rebellion. By the time we’ve grown up most of us keep our initial “NO!” internal, but you can see it very clearly in children.
Dorian, my 7 year old, is very polite and respectful but will still occasionally try some open defiance when I tell him screen time is over for the day. To which, I usually raise a single eyebrow and wait about 5 seconds before he sighs, turns off the TV, and gets off the couch. My 16 month old just learned to say “no” and he loves to empty my pocketbook (for toddler reasons), so when I caught him pulling it from my purse the other day and said, “Uh Oh, that’s not Declan’s. That’s Mommy’s pocketbook. Please give it to Mommy” he clutched it to his little chest, shook his head, and said “no”.
Those little losses sound silly compared to grieving the death of a loved one, but if our natural inclination is to rebel against even insignificant loss then how much more difficult will we find it to accept major events?
You can’t grieve what you won’t admit is gone.
And you can’t heal from loss you won’t grieve.
You don’t have to be full on delusional to be rebelling against loss.
“It’s better to stay busy and not think about it than to dwell on it.”
“If I say something about the anniversary they might think I’m being over-dramatic.”
“It’s been years, there’s no reason to be so emotional now.”
“He’s in a better place, so I shouldn’t be upset.”
“I don’t need to do anything special to mark this anniversary or draw attention to it.”
“I need a drink/smoke/case of Twinkies/(insert unhealthy coping mechanism of choice).”
Do you see what all those thoughts have in common?
“No. I won’t feel pain.”
Acceptance is the opposite.
“This hurts. It hurts so bad I’m afraid it’ll never stop hurting again. I’m scared because I don’t know how to manage all this pain without being overwhelmed. I’m scared to ask for help or for someone to be present with me because what if they don’t respond well and then I’m even more hurt? I’m angry because I don’t want to be hurt and scared.”
Once you’ve accepted the loss has happened, you are hurting, and no matter how much you don’t want it to be a big deal or how many people have told you it shouldn’t be a big deal anymore – IT’S A BIG DEAL – then you can move beyond just wanting the pain to stop and be honest about what you really want and need in order to grieve.
Maybe you want to ask someone to sit with you and listen while you talk about the person, opportunity, relationship, or object you’re grieving.
Maybe you want to go through photos together.
Maybe you want to go through photos alone.
Maybe you want to make plans ahead of time.
Maybe you want to wait and see how you feel in the moment.
Maybe you want to ask someone to watch the kids for a while so you can have some uninterrupted space for whatever comes out of your heart.
Maybe you want to take the kids to the cemetery with you.
Maybe you want to be still and give yourself permission to be tired.
Maybe you want to move and spend the time doing all the things you used to love to do together.
Maybe you want to laugh.
Maybe you want to make it public with a social media post.
Maybe you want to take a break from social media.
Maybe you want to ask for a hug.
Maybe you want to pour out your heart in lament to God.
Maybe you want to ask someone to pray for you.
Do you know it’s okay to ask for what you want? Do you know you’re allowed to want something specific?
Do you know God wants to hear what you want in your grief? That he doesn’t want you to ignore your pain?
“You keep track of all my sorrows.Psalm 56:8
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.”
I wanted to make Anthony a hand-drawn birthday card with Bloo and Cheese from the cartoon Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, but when I sat down to do it I felt scared to engage the memories of us enjoying that show together. I told myself it was a silly idea and did the dishes instead.
Maybe I’ll draw it today.