"You are handling your grief amazingly."
"You're doing so well."
"I'm so impressed with how well you're grieving."
Really? How do you know how I'm grieving?
I'm alone in my grief. Even my children only see small segments of my grieving. I'm so busy trying to move through my day and all the tasks that must be taken care of that I don't often fall into the deep part of my sadness while we are together. My grief often comes to the surface at night when I crawl into my lonely bed.
There are no friends coming to get down in the muck of my grief with me. It's a lonely process because my very best friend is gone. The one I would turn to with my tears is now in his true Home.
And this is true for most widows and widowers.
So why do friends tell me I'm doing this so well?
I don't know.
Maybe I surprise them with my easy words about my Vince?
Maybe because I don't melt into tears every time they see me at social events?
I don't know.
All I know is how grief has been for me. And it's not how I expected it.
I have grieved the loss of 6 grandparents, including one who lived with us and I helped care for. One of those grandparents was with me for more than 35 years and went home to Jesus just 3 weeks after my beloved. I have grieved for a friend's dad who was like a second dad to me. And I have grieved the loss of many other family and friends.
This grieving the loss of my spouse, my husband, is so much different. It's so much deeper.
My fear is that I will get stuck in this deep, dark hole.
So I decided early on that I needed to lean in to the grief.
I decided not to stuff my emotions down and try to ignore them. I decided that it was okay to let myself feel all of the heartache and sadness as it came up. I decided that I had to go through the grief rather than deny it.
I had to lean in.
Grief looks different for every person.
The way I lean in to grief looks different than it would look for someone else.
I am an extreme extrovert. People recharge me. They make me feel better. So when I am with people, I am much less likely to end up sobbing. The sobbing comes at the end of the day when I am facing the quiet and an empty bed.
One of God's graces to me is my children. When Vince died, the oldest two were in college, one was graduating high school, one was approaching high school, and the youngest was in fourth grade. It has been such a blessing to have them with me. Homeschooling was the biggest blessing while Vince was ill as well as after his death.
A year later, they are still a blessing to me. Four out of five of them are still at home with me. They get me through every day without even knowing it. The grief comes, and they are here to share stories with me. Teeny and I cry together when she misses her Daddy-o at bedtime. We laugh together at the funny things he did.
They keep me moving along the grief train. They keep me from stalling out. They help me feel better without even knowing that I was on the brink of despair.
The other part of leaning in to grief was not being afraid that it would consume me.
In the very beginning, I really did feel that my grief would consume me. I loved Vincent with all of my being. We were one. We worked in ministry together as a team since the time we became engaged– twenty five years working together and loving together. We talked about everything. We were together most of the time. I was his caregiver and confidante through his illness. When his death came near, I thought it would swallow me up. I thought that once I started crying, I would never be able to stop.
To walk through that, I had to trust God.
I had to trust that He would pluck me out of the person-eating grief.
I had to let myself feel all the grief and walk through to the other side.
I had to trust that it would not consume me.
And it didn't.
Leaning in to grief was not something I had ever heard anyone mention. It was something that the Father whispered to me. I'm glad I listened and trusted Him.
I could never have walked this path alone. He has stayed right beside me.
This post is part of a series called On Grief.
During the month of October 2017, I will be exploring topics related to grief. My hope is that I can answer some of the questions you are too afraid to ask a new widow or a grieving friend, give you a window into the first two years of grieving a spouse, and answer some practical questions that will help you know how to help others in your circle of friends and family.