My Brain on Grief
I remember it just like it was yesterday. My mother came into my room, waking me up from a peaceful slumber to tell me that the most important person in my life had passed. Wait, this just can’t happen, I thought at the time. That person is my only “safe” person. That person is the only one that I feel truly loves me. That person is the only one willing to take care of me when I get sick. “That person” was my grandmother and I had just turned sixteen. Living with a mother battling severe depression and a disconnected, authoritarian father, losing my grandmother meant losing my only safe place.
This was when I became acquainted with grief for the first time. Now 40 years later, I realize it truly has been woven into my core and is inseparable from my very soul. Katie McGarry in Pushing the Limits describes grief this way…”Grief doesn’t get better. The pain. The wounds scab over and you don’t always feel like a knife is slashing through you. But when you least expect it, the pain flashes to remind you you’ll never be the same”.
Grief doesn’t just hit us when, as in my case, we lose the most important person in our world, but can flow into our lives in unexpected ways. As a professional counselor, I have specialty training in helping people cope with grief that comes to them in a variety of ways. One client came to me when it dawned on her that her abusive childhood had stolen away all her memories of having a childhood at all. Another came to me grieving the fact that she was in her 30’s and had never been in a close relationship with another human. So grief takes many forms.
We don’t have to view grief as an enemy. Quite the contrary, we can view grief as something to embrace, love and make peace with. The grief that I feel from the loss of my grandmother is “sweet” to me. As it nudges at my soul, it releases a smile on my face when I think about the last time she put her arms around me and told me how special I was. And I remember how she always let me win at monopoly while baking my favorite chocolate cake. Kristin O’Donnell Tubb in The 13th Sign describes grief this way, ”Whoever said that loss gets easier with time was a liar. Here’s what really happens: The spaces between the times you miss them grows longer. Then when you do remember to miss them again, it’s still with a stabbing pain to the heart.” While this writer agrees with Ms. Tubb’s quote, I would like to add that the “stabbing pain” is followed by gratefulness, in that every time I experience that pain of remembering my grandmother it is followed quickly by the joy and love that she gave me in my life.
April is a time when we are made aware that there is a type of grief that is not always followed with joy—National Infertility Awareness Month. So when grief comes to a couple as they live day by day childless, knowing that the one thing they want may never happen, how can one turn that to joy? This is an unrequited loss that can turn into complex, prolonged grief if not attended to. While there is not “pat” answer, one thing I am certain of is that in the case of all grief, acceptance brings relief. As all other options are exhausted for the couple that desires a child, trusting that God is there to comfort and accepting “what is” can bring some relief. C.S. Lewis put it this way…. “getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point and move forward.” I believe there is much wisdom in this quote. Trusting God is not always easy, but it’s always necessary—even when we have to grieve the loss of what could have been.
As I reflect on grief, I am reminded that God himself is most intimate with grief. Isaiah 53:3 reminds us with these words…He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not.” Is it not wonderful to know that our God understands our grief and one day promises to make all things right—even our grief—no matter what the cause.
Renee Trimble, LPC Intern, LCDC