A backed up world.

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When My oldest son was about three he went to work on a bowl of cherries a friend in Ukraine gave us. We didn’t realize until it was too late that he was eating the pits along with the fruit. This led to him having a problem for several days, and when it corrected itself…what a mess! Joe Primo from Good Grief says, “Grief is like poop, you have to let it out.” It would be funny if it weren’t so true. In my world, there are so many people in one of the stages of grief. It’s not that there has been any more tragedy than normal, just that I am realizing how many people around me are quietly carrying grief.

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

All my life, I thought I was doing a great job bearing the burdens of the hurting, and then I realized I had no idea what this verse meant. A few years back, a friend of mine lost her mother. I was careful to smile, and ask her how she was, I was always eager to cheer her up.  Recently she said she felt neglected by the church. I was blindsided. Hadn’t I done what Paul said in the verse mentioned above? I realized I had left her to walk her journey alone. I needed to go into the wilderness with her, instead I stood on the edge and encouraged her.

Many times, Christians and churches do not realize they have left family and fellow Christians to grieve their losses on their own. Many times, the bereaved don’t even realize they are grieving. They are saddled with an incredibly difficult burden and when asked how they are doing they just reply, “Fine.” As a society we have a serious blockage. The bereaved don’t know how much pain they are burdened with. And those who are supposed to be carrying those burdens with them don’t know how to.

I reached out to two friends for their testimony after a loss they experienced many years ago.

An anonymous testimony from a broken heart

I saw myself as filling the vacancy my dad left when he passed away. I wanted to fix everything and everybody. I dealt with my grief by shutting down and ignoring the pain. The church addressed our physical needs but I didn’t know how to express my emotional need or how to be listened too. I didn’t even know I was carrying a burden. I thought I had it figured out.

I was close to my dad; when he died, I lost a companion as well as a father. My relationship with my mom was different after his death. My dad had been my advocate and I was at odds with my mom. I felt my mother was busy with my brother and sister, and I chose not to burden her with my grief, she in turn clammed up. We neither one processed our grief. I did not open up until I was in my thirties. I never wanted to reach out because I still felt like if I ever admitted how much I still struggled, that people were going to be overwhelmed with my big emotions and ask me not to come back. When I was asked “How are you?” it was easier to just reply “I’m fine”. I was afraid of being shut down and feeling even more alone.

After my tumultuous teenage years, I lost my mother as a young adult. More recently, I have just gone through a divorce. I think if I had just shared my pain from the start, the subsequent losses would have been so much easier to take on one at a time. As it was, it was an avalanche of heartache. I forced myself into a “fix it” role, and I never really defined myself within the framework of being honest with myself. I am rebuilding my relationship with God. And spending some time getting to know myself, and not who others think I am. God is with me, but I had to remove myself from those who knew me to do work on myself.

The second individual who shared his heartache was much younger when his father died, his experience was very different from his sister’s:

Conventional parental advise has always been to allow your kids to make mistakes while they are home and have you there to set them back on the right track. This was not the route my mom took when raising me. She was overbearing but I needed the heavy-handed approach. Sheltering saved my life. There was a lot of never leaving the house.  I never rebelled because it was not provided to me as an option.

Still, I was a difficult teenager, and at times my mom admitted to my youth group leader I was too much for her to handle on her own. When he approached me and told me she said that, it hit me kind of hard. The last time she spanked me, I remember I was twelve years old. I just turned around and faced her, and asked “Are you done yet?” She ran out of the room crying. It wasn’t easy for her to raise us on her own, I was a brat and self-centered, but she was so grounded. Mom was always right.  

The way I viewed dad never changed from when I was little, like his image was frozen in time. I tried to live up to the ideal that I remembered of him. I was the last of six, and I got the best of him. He was a workaholic, but he was so stern and that was what I remembered of him.

The morning he died, I was angry. It upset me when I saw my sister’s pain. In my mind, his cancer was so curable. My older sister lost dad at a very important time in a little girl’s life. She should have learned the way that a father can love his daughter. I hurt on her behalf.

I know in my head God has taken care of me in ways I don’t even stop and think about. I approached the situation trying to understand what God was trying to teach me. Other times I was departed from loss. I ignored my grief for a long time. Only as an adult did I recognize my need to express those emotions I have suppressed for so long.

When I lost my mom, I was just recently married. With each milestone in my life, the grief is fresh again. I will never get over the pain, I just have to learn to live with it, and grow around it. I know this pain is mine, I have earned it, only in feeling it can I move on. I chose to work the day my family went out for breakfast. That would have been the last time I would have seen my mother. The feelings of guilt have plagued me.

Always be there, always be involved.

As the first testimonial said, asking “How are you?” is not helpful, and cheering up a heart that is broken is not supportive. I am still learning a lot, but we need to recognize the problem before we can figure out how to fix it. For myself, I was afraid to invite the bereaved to share. I was afraid I might not be qualified to deal with the avalanche of emotions that would ensue. The most important thing you can do to bear the burden of a hurting brother or sister is to recognize you do not need a degree to be a safe place for them to lay their burden down. You are just there to hold the space. Love is required of us.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:14