Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Learning Through Loss

I was recently invited to a local Senior Housing complex to share the story of my husband's death and my subsequent journey through grief.

I haven't done that for some time and honestly haven't "visited" that time in my life for awhile.  As I began preparing my notes, I was thinking what would be the best thing to share with them in this short time allotted (20-25 minutes).  As I reflected on my journey of grief, I realized that what the Lord did in my life and how He brought me through that time can be applied to our journey of life as well.

We live with losses through the entirety of our lives.  In fact, life lived well is learning how to deal with those losses and becoming better people as a result of them.  I'm sure most of you have heard the expression - "bitter or better."  And, I think that is true.  What doesn't make you better does make you bitter.  But, and this is a big BUT, I believe that it doesn't automatically "make" you one or the other.  I believe we have choices and we can choose, by our responses, which direction we will take.

Here is what I've learned through my loss:

How we deal with grief/loss determines our future destiny.  We can either choose to run from the grief, denying it exists OR we can choose to face it; we can choose to embrace it.  By that, I mean, we can choose to actually and actively grieve our loss. 

In the world we live in, we allow little time to grieve.

Life goes on. 
We must be strong. 
There are things to do. 
We need to get over it. 

Not only do we not have time to grieve, we truly don't know how to grieve.  Some cultures have guidelines and rules on how you grieve, what you do, what you wear and even how much time you give to it.  Used to be in our culture, when someone close to you died, you wore black for a certain period of time out of respect for the dead and to indicate you were in mourning.  Even that no longer applies.

When my husband died, I had no idea "how" to grieve.  I had never walked this path before and I didn't know how to do it.  About 8 months after he died, I thought I was going crazy.  I had no one to talk to about it because no one I knew had walked this journey.  I went online to a Christian bookstore website and pursued what they had to offer regarding grieving.  I ended up ordering almost all the books they had about grief, but one title in particular caught my eye.  "A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss."  My spirit leapt within me when I saw that and I said, "That's it.  That's what I want.  I want to know how to grow through this, how to come out on the other side, a better person, a better Christian.  I want God to use this in every way possible in my life for His glory."

I learned a lot from that book, some of which I'll share here.  I learned a lot on my journey, too, as the Holy Spirit walked with me and guided me through the process.  Here are the three greatest things I learned:

1 - It's OK to grieve; embrace your grief.

Contrary to what you may think, your crying will come to an end and it will not destroy you.  It is actually healthy for you to cry.  Your physical body goes through a lot when you suffer an emotional trauma, such as the death of a loved one.  I couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus.  My mind would jump from one thought to another.  I couldn't read for any length of time, couldn't watch TV, couldn't even sit still.  I actually lost a lot of hair during the time my husband was sick and after he died.  It took almost 3 years for my hair to get back to normal.  I learned that all of this is quite normal, but keeping your emotions in check is not.  There are a lot of harmful toxins that build up within your body during severe stressful times and crying is one way those toxins are released.  When I felt like crying, I would allow myself to cry.  In fact, there were times I would actually sit down, put on some music that I knew would make me cry, and I would just remember....and cry.  I cried at church, I cried at the supermarket, I cried in the car, I cried at home and I allowed myself to know that it was OK to "leak" when I needed to.  I was sorry if it made other people uncomfortable, but this process was important for me to walk through.

I learned through this process, too, that my soul DID indeed have the capacity to contain the grief and to go beyond the grief.  I learned that God's grace and mercy could and did sustain me.  I knew that God could comfort and heal me, but I also knew that only as I was honest with Him regarding my thoughts and feelings, could He do that.

So I allowed myself to feel the pain and to embrace it.

2 - As time went on, I realized I needed to also embrace the change in me.

I was not the same person I was before my husband died.  I was not Phil's wife anymore.  I was not the Head Deacon's wife at church anymore.  I was no longer 1 of 2.  I was no longer part of a couple.  During this time, I also came to realize that I did not want to be identified as a widow, either.  That was not who I was.  It was part of my life's experience, but it would not define me.  I did not want someone to look at me 10 years down the road and say, "She's Phil's widow." 

I was reminded of this prayer a couple weeks ago when I was chatting with a friend (I'll call her "Sue") at church and we were chatting about another woman, "Ann", we knew who had lost her husband a little over a year ago and hadn't been to church in quite awhile.  The comment was made by Sue that she had talked to "Jane",  who had lost a son, about reaching out to her.  I told Sue that I had reached out to Ann, sending her several cards, one recently, and I had made several phone calls that were never returned.   Sue looked surprised, and then she said, "of course, you know what it's like."  She had actually forgotten that I, too, was a widow!!  God had answered that prayer!!

I had to learn who I was apart from my husband.  I had to find my identity again, who I was in God, as Donna.  That can be a very scary process for some of us.  After my husband died, I realized that even though I had always watched a lot of television with him when he was alive, I didn't really like to watch TV!  In turning our backs on or choosing to do something different as a single then you always did as a couple, can feel like a betrayal to your spouse and you can find yourself feeling guilty that you are enjoying something different.  It's OK; it's what you're supposed to do!  God wants you to enjoy life and living again!

So, I allowed myself the changes without the guilt and learned to embrace it.
3 -  I also learned to embrace my new life.
Life was and is different without my husband.  Life is different as a single from what it was as a couple.  I don't have to answer to another person about my comings and goings.  I can eat meals when I want to or choose not to.  I can go to bed when I want to.  On the other hand, I don't have another person to "bounce" things off of or seek advice from.  I miss the male perspective in my life and I miss the "color" my husband brought to my life, also.  I don't have someone to care whether I stay up too late or eat too much or am trying to do too much.  It's just me!  There are advantages to being single as well as disadvantages.   I can rail against them; I can choose to live in the "what ifs" or I can choose to embrace life as it is now.  I can choose to embrace the changes, learn to live within new boundaries and learn to trust God in ways I've never had to before.
I have allowed myself to embrace my new life, let go of the past and press on into the future.

New Life!
Before we can truly embrace new life, we have to embrace change, and before we can embrace change, we have to embrace the pain of the loss. 
Whatever type of loss you are dealing with, embrace it as best you know how. 
Fall into the arms of God and allow Him to show you how.
God is with us every step of the journey!


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