A bit more on grief
Digging for marrow uncovered the issue behind the issue–– lack of wonder. That summer of traveling reminded me that the U.S is more than capable of evoking heart cartwheels, just like the ones that Portugal gave me. Which says a lot about the mental state I was in, that I even needed that kind of reminder in the first place.
(A bit more about The Black)
Have you ever noticed that whenever you’re having a no good, very awful, terribly crappy day, everything in the world is no good, and awful, and crappy too? That pothole. That comment. The dog poop on the sidewalk that is now on the bottom of your shoe. …all of that? That’s 0, and 0 is absolutely valid (#mondays are #theworst). But turn it up to 100, and that’s what the black on black on black I mentioned earlier was like for me. Everything in my world was dark, and I picked up on the darkness in everyone else’s life too: another mass shooting, a friend was laid off and couldn’t afford to pay their mortgage, a friend of a friend of a friend whose husband died in a tragic car accident and left behind a wife and 3 kids. Perhaps my perspectives were sprinkled with pessimism, but this felt deeper than that. It was like I had a radar, an awareness of all things heavy. I was hyper-sensitive to each tragedy wherever I went and I felt each heaviness in full.
Of course, wonderful, shiny, redemptive moments were happening all around as always. A group of people pooled money together to help take the edge off of my friends lay off. Meals were delivered to the widow, toys for the kids; love and support stepped up to the plate immediately. Still, my heart wasn’t able to absorb much of it. While everyone else was happy to move into action, to help out, I was still so heartbroken by how hard and cruel life can be, still shedding tears. A puppy could have appeared out of thin air and crawled onto my lap, and at the risk of sounding heartless, I can’t say it would have changed anything.
I’ve noticed that when shit hits the fan everyone’s go to prayer is for “peace and comfort.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful, and I needed these prayers. There was one especially searing day that I remember vividly. I was laying on the couch, exhausted from the emotional effort of crying for hours, when I heard a gentle voice (my own voice) tell me to get up.
“I can’t,” I whispered back.
“Try,” the voice said.
The coaxing pleaded until I peeled myself off the couch. I labored into the kitchen and continued to cry as I poured myself a glass of water. When the glass was full, I set the Brita pitcher down and raised my gaze to the look out the window behind our kitchen sink. In that humble moment I felt something that I hadn’t felt in weeks–– quiet peace. My brain relaxed, the sobbing stopped, and for a minute or two my heart did not feel like it was eroding into a void.
“Someone is praying for you right now,” the voice said.
“I feel it,” I wept.
I have no idea whose prayer it was that transcended into my kitchen that afternoon, but it will always be a soft light in my memory. And while I don’t doubt that many people have prayed for me in my lifetime, this is the only time I’ve actually felt it.
So thank you, to all who lift up the brokenhearted by praying for peace and comfort. Peace that passes understanding is real, and even palpable. Comfort, too. But do you know what else I needed? I needed someone to literally sit with me in solidarity (I’m here for you and I’m proving it), or at least in silence (I can tell it’s too soon, so I won’t try to fix you).
For the love of sympathy casseroles, there should be no Sunday school theologies allowed when heartbreak is that fresh. I flinched every time someone told me “my baby was in Heaven”, or said “everything happens for a reason,” or brought up “God’s plan.” It was like I just got stabbed in the chest and instead of reacting, some of the witnesses took 6 steps back and said “this was supposed to happen” or “all the doctors are in the Bahamas, isn’t that a nice thought?”
I just needed someone to be there (sometimes literally), to validate my pain without using it as an icebreaker to impose a sermon.
No one wants to spend their Saturday afternoon sitting in a dark room while their friend wails on the couch, though. Because black on black on black wounds are deep and they are gruesome. They are hard to look at without wanting to mend them immediately. No one knows what to say or how to act in those situations. No one, except for the broken hearted.
You see, broken hearted people are uniquely equipped to pray and care for other broken hearts. In time, my sensitivity to the heaviness turned into a dark super-power. I wasn’t uncomfortable around anyone else’s deep cuts because I had them too. I wasn’t afraid to be specific, and honest about every struggle, every hurt…about how messed up the world is and how frustrating and unfair. I didn’t hesitate to shake my fists in anger, even towards God. My prayers were fierce and desperate and authentic and straight to the point because they had to be. I wasn’t trying to put on a show for anyone, I was just trying to make it through another day.
It’s not that I started a support group or anything, but since my radar for all the world’s pain was going off anyways, I figured I might as well use it. I prayed on behalf of that homeless man, that widow, that friend of a friend who also just had a miscarriage. I lifted up every underdog and tragic story that set off my radar. There was a melancholy camaraderie there. It was like the blind praying for the blind; I was praying for the darkness while I was also in the darkness. I admit, it was a weird, heavy superpower to have. Flying, or invisibility might have been more marketable, but this was the superpower I had been given at the time, and it was powerful nonetheless.
(A bit more about the recovery)
In grief the recovery is everything. Particularly in tsunami level grief, the kind that leaves us gutted and wrecked and barely hanging on. In a state of emergency as serious as that, healing a heart is the most crucial work and it’s the hardest work. It takes every available resource; all hands on deck.
I imagine this is true of a literal heart surgeon in a life or death emergency surgery. I doubt they’re performing heart surgery with big smiles, cheers-ing their scalpels, wondering what’s for dinner, or thinking about last night’s sunset. No. When a life is on the line, when a heart is in repair, anything that isn’t life or death gets pushed aside. ‘Wonder’ and ‘play’ get booted out indefinitely. And if that goes on long enough, even after the dust has settled, sometimes all that’s left is a shell with a pulse. Medically speaking, the shell is alive, but that’s no way to live a life.
I’m grateful to have made a full-ish recovery (I think?), and then some. But I’ve noticed that some people who have been hit with a grief tsunami never come back, not really. They live through that season of black on black on black and only make it to the next few phases–– black on black, or black, and they get stuck there.
I realize that grief, and the subsequent revival period is different for everyone. The worst thing anyone could do would be to tell someone with a broken heart to “snap out of it”. (Someone said something like that to me a few months after our miscarriage, on my birthday, and it still upsets me even after a years long forgive-and-forget routine.) Grief isn’t something we can snap out of, it’s a long term relationship, even with a revival. But I’m talking about those people that have spent decades carrying around the bulk of their grief. The people that allow time to mask their wounds but never heal them.
I want to bear hug these people when I see them out in the world. (Sometimes you can just tell when someone has been lugging around too much pain for too long.) And if I were 8000% more intrusive I might see them in the frozen pizza aisle and say something like “Wow, this deal on Digiorno is really something! By the way, I can sense that something tragic happened to you a long, long time ago….”
I want to encourage them and drop lots of hints that there’s another phase after The Black. That another 5 years of eating frozen pizza every night is not their only option. That their heart hasn’t fully healed if simple joys, like smiling or meeting a friend for coffee still feel like chores. That going to work, and buying groceries should not require a pep talk every single time.
Or maybe for some, there was no tsunami. Day to day autopilot mode can also lead to shell-with-a-pulse syndrome. Maybe their capacity for ‘oohh’s’ and ‘aahh’s’ got lost in changing diapers, mowing the lawn, and decades of 9-5’s. Joy and wonder got lost in the shuffle, and by the time we’re out of survival mode, we’re too far gone to notice that we never invited them back in.
I hate that we can lose our zest for life like that. Whether it was taken by grief, or 9-5 autopilot mode, I hate that we can bury a thing like wonder.
It’s a terrible thing, to forget a prayer like awe.