The past six months have been a time I can only really describe as “dark”.
Many people postulate the stages of grief. They are different for terminally ill patients than for those who lose someone, and the most commonly known list of stages is the one terminally ill patients go through when they realize they are dying – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If you learn about grieving, you typically will hear about these stages.
I found another list. This is the list for those who experience the loss – the ones left behind:
- Shock & denial
- Pain & guilt
- Anger & bargaining
- Depression, reflection, loneliness
- The upward turn
- Acceptance & hope
All of the circumstances surrounding the loss of my brother were unimaginably hard. When I first learned he was dying, it was within 24 hours before he would pass, almost to the minute.
I spoke to him on the phone, told him I loved him and could not believe what was happening – shock. I feel thankful that even though I was 1,700 miles away and could have denied it to myself, I could hear his labored breathing and asked him to tell me the truth – are you dying? Yes. I am.
Denial didn’t happen for me. Especially once I saw him. I could not deny that my sweet, fun-loving brother was gone.
For the next 6 months, I experienced stages 2-4 in waves. The ocean of grief completely consumes. I felt extreme pain, sometimes even physical, and massive amounts of guilt. Had I been a good sister? Did he know I loved him even though I wasn’t there when he passed? I should have been nicer to him. I should have….I should have….this went on and on in my mind.
When anger came, it was a silent riptide. It pulled me in and swallowed me whole, like Judah’s whale. I had no place to put this anger – the place I wanted to put it would have been pointless. I was boiling mad, almost every day. I took it out on my husband. I said mean and hurtful things, my emotions were uncontrollable, and I could not grasp any self-awareness. I felt like I was actually drowning.
I tried to live life like normal, but instead I ended up drinking too much, yelling at people I didn’t even know, embarrassing myself and my husband.
It was in these moments that I understood why addicts get started. Numbness sounded lovely. The pounding waves of anger were so overwhelming; it was difficult to fight against them. I didn’t want to fight the anger. I wanted to feel powerful in a time where my entire life was shattered.
I wanted to live my routine, my normal. I grasped onto any semblance of control I could sense. If the schedule changed or we fought, I would crumble. I couldn’t handle anything that surprised me. I explained this to my therapist as an earthquake. It was a completely unexpected, foundation-crumbling earthquake and I was still feeling aftershocks. I couldn’t handle feeling unstable. I have never liked this feeling, which is why I don’t like snow sports or taking any uncalculated risks. But this…this was blinding terror. Death became so real to me. It was on my fingertips and seared into my memory. I could not escape it – I cannot escape it. No one can. The people I love will die. I will die.
This is when depression hit. I cannot bring back this beautiful person and I placed blame. But that didn’t matter. I couldn’t get through this on pure rage alone, but I couldn’t imagine feeling anything else. I started to hate everything and everyone. I was negative all the time, except when wine was involved. I was unhealthily dependent on forgetfulness. I begged God to take it all away, to just let me feel better again. But He didn’t.
My mind was consumed with fury and blame and hopelessness. I knew my brother went to Heaven. He is there, with His Savior and that makes me smile. Somehow, though, that didn’t help. I cried in the shower more times than I can count. I didn’t want to hang out with anyone, because I said things that were mean. I started making fun of people for my own enjoyment, like I used to do before I knew Jesus and He taught me to love with my words. I would say things I didn’t mean and regret them all immediately. This was definitely a time of wanting to rewind and take back everything I’d said to anyone.
Somehow, my friends stuck around through my negativity and intense need for control.
I’m not exactly sure what happened, but a week ago, I came out of the riptide. I took my first real, deep breath in 6 months. It was marvelous. I realized how awful I had been to Nick and I apologized profusely. The greatest thing about him is his huge heart. He hugged me and told me it was okay, it was his job to be my safe place. I have never been so grateful for that man. I think I finally hit the upward turn.
I mentioned that I had prayed for God to take away my pain, my anger, and my fear. And He didn’t.
In my life experiences since I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior (I realize that sounds very “Christian-y”, but stick with me), I have never been yanked out of suffering. Instead, I have been reminded of the company I have in the pit of despair.
God does not say He will keep us from suffering. Instead, He says His grace is sufficient for us. If we depend on Him, we can survive whatever it is we’re going through.
I have never felt so much pain. This was the darkest time in my entire life and I have never felt so sure of God’s presence. He is with me, always. He is with YOU in your darkest moments where you do not see the end of the pain. He is there.
We are not made stronger by having easy lives, friends. We do not grow without discipline and we cannot become more like Jesus without trial. That’s the goal, of course. And if there is anyone who understands wanting pain to be over, it is Jesus.
I feel it is timely for me to share this. Not only because I finally can think clearly again, but because this is the time of year we celebrate the resurrection. But for us to celebrate His resurrection, we need to be reminded of the pain of the cross.
In Luke 9, Jesus says His followers must take up their cross and follow Him. Despite pain and hopelessness, we are called to follow.
I am not naïve, believing this will be the only time I feel I have been carrying a cross. I know there will be more, as there will be for you. But now, I am stronger. I will carry the cross a little easier next time.