Can you “get over” grief? Can you recover from the loss of a child, the loss of a spouse, or the trauma of an attack so that it no longer bothers you?
There’s been a twitter fight going on recently between Joel Osteen, a motivational speaker who says “yes, you can get over it, God wants you to, and if grief lasts more than a few months you’re wallowing” (okay, I’m paraphrasing), and those who say that some hurts just stay with you. The latter camp believes firmly that Osteen is being insensitive to those who have endured something huge like losing a child, and does not understand the grief process.
Personally, I fall mostly into the second camp, too.
Yes, it’s true, as Osteen supporters say, that “we don’t grieve in the way the world grieves” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but that doesn’t mean that we just get over a huge, aching void.
Nineteen years ago I lost my baby boy.
At 9:30 p.m. on September 3 he was looking like he had turned a corner. The crisis post-surgery had passed. So I kissed him on the forehead (the only place I could reach without tubes), and said, “Good night, Christopher. Mommy loves you. I’ll see you in the morning.” And Keith and I walked out of the Intensive Care Unit and walked home.
At 1:30 a.m. the phone rang. We had better come now, the nurse said, because he was crashing.
When we got to the hospital they were still working on my baby. Fifteen minutes later they brought his body out to us. He was swaddled in a blanket, and the only thing we could see was his little face, with his little tongue sticking out a bit.
We held him and cried over him, and then I kissed him on the forehead and I said, “Goodbye, Christopher. Mommy loves you. I’ll see you in heaven.” And I handed him back to the nurse.
Over the next few days it hurt to breathe.
It felt like someone was stepping on my chest. I had to concentrate to force myself to eat, to force myself to pick up Rebecca (our daughter who was 18 months old), to force myself to shower.
But then, I remember about two weeks in, I had a good day. I didn’t cry much at all. And I felt guilty about that. What was wrong with me? How could I be “over” such a loss?
I shouldn’t have worried, because a week later I was a mess again. But slowly but surely those horrible days got fewer and farther between. They still came, but there were good moments, too.
About a month after he died someone shared with me this truth about grief which helped me so much:
You don’t “get over” grief. Something will set you off–a song, the back of a stranger’s head, a movie–and you’ll be thrown back to that ICU room, feeling everything with the same intensity. But those moments will come less frequently, and they won’t last as long. Instead of a whole day of not being able to function you may just have an hour when you sob and journal.
And those times are random. Sometimes they may be at anniversaries, but often it’s when we’re stressed about something else, or when we’re by ourselves just thinking or even enjoying life. And then it will come–what we’re missing. And it will be so, so sad.
The person who told me this also gave me these words:
When you have good days, do not feel guilty for them. The good days do not mean that you have forgotten the person you loved. They just mean that you are still able to enjoy the good things that God has given you. That love is still there, and there will always be times, unbidden, when that love will manifest itself in tears and in aches and even in rages. But those times will be less frequent. Laughter will return. So enjoy life when you can, and give in to the tears when you must. This world is broken, and God understands our grief. It’s okay to feel it–but don’t feel badly if you feel it less frequently than you once did.
Those words meant so much to me, and now, every time I have a friend who suffers a great loss, like a miscarriage or a death in the immediate family, I share these truths about the grief process with her, too.
In the discussion on Twitter about Osteen I was sent a lovely article by a grieving mom that tells the same story–how she still grieves, but there is also light in her eyes. And that’s okay.
And so I wanted to share that concept of the timing of the grief process with you all today. Joel Osteen proves that even those who are Christians don’t really understand grief. Grief is not unChristlike or self-focused. Jesus Himself grieves. But Jesus also laughs. And one of the most amazing things about this life is how laughter and grief can often co-exist.
Grieving is not ungodly; covering up pain and not speaking Truth, on the other hand, is.
So let’s extend grace to one another when we grieve, and let’s extend grace to ourselves, both when we have a hard time dealing with grief, and when we seem to be able to laugh too early. Neither is a sign that we are far from God; they are both simply signs that we are human. And that, after all, is how God made us.
If you’re walking through grief right now, you’ll appreciate my book How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life. It’s all about the things that we yell at God when life is difficult, and what He whispers back. And it talks about how the reality and promise of heaven can make the grief process easier. The ebook version is really inexpensive, so if you’re having a hard time–I hope this can bless you.
Will you do me a favour? Will you share the chart about grief on Pinterest (or on Facebook) so more people “get it”? To make it easy, you can just repin my post here. Thank you!