There was a day, years ago, that someone asked me about my kids, their disability, and how I felt about it. This person was a trusted friend… until we got into the conversation. I told them that I loved my children but was tired of all the grief. The significant loss was becoming too much and sadly it wasn’t going to end any time soon. They told me at least I wasn’t like a mutual friend of ours that lost a baby. I stiffened and sighed internally. Before anyone comes at me, let me explain; my children have a rare genetic motor neuron disease. It is taking functions away from them routinely. I know well that this isn’t the same as losing a child. But, it hurts similarly.
Fast forward a few years, I was sitting at a table with friends and was asked about managing disabilities. I explained a bit about our situation, and then was dismissed by the very person that asked about it. She has a son that’s deaf and was in the beginning process of figuring out this new normal. I remember those days, too. I remember being full of hope, despair, courage, anger, bravery, exhaustion, joy, sorrow… and so on. This friend, well meaning, said, “oh, well if that’s all… at least your kids can hear. You wouldn’t understand, what’s really hard is….”. I’ll be honest, I stopped listening, mostly because (from experience) there wasn’t anything anyone could have said, in that moment, that she would have heard. But I also stopped talking to pray quietly for her. She said what she said out of pain, not to be insensitive. Yes, my kids can hear! But what she didn’t understand, or forgot, was that my kids can’t go into the kitchen and feed themselves. My kids don’t walk, run, jump, climb, fight (I’m thankful for this one), play sports, go to dance classes, take martial arts classes, and so on. They just don’t have the motor function to do these things – and it’s ok. This time at the table made me thankful that I had worked through the initial, hardest parts of grief surrounding our significant loss.
What I’ve come to learn about grief is that grief is grief. It is no respecter of persons or situations. Losing my grandmother felt much the same as losing hopes and dreams I had for my kids. Losing friends to terrible diseases feels the same as the cycles of grief that come every time my kids make a degenerative change. The thing about grief is it’s fickle… and like pain, can’t be compared. There isn’t worse grief, there’s just grief.
I’ve also learned to become friends with grief. Before you think I’ve lost my mind, let me explain a bit more. My entire life has seen trauma and significant loss from the age of two until the present. For a long time, I used to fight grief. I used to think that if I caved into the feelings, stages, and emotions of grief that I was somehow weaker. I used to do what I could to “rise above” it every time grief reared its strange head.
One day while processing things about special needs parenting, I stumbled upon a blog post that talked about cyclic grief associated with special needs parenting. That it’ll always come back with every change, with every unmet milestone. While reading that post I found myself thinking I’ve been doing grief wrong my whole life. The truth is, life will always bring with it losses of all forms.
Changing seasons = grief. Loss of loved ones = grief. Loss of dreams = grief. Loss of jobs = grief. Trauma = grief.
I thought about that truth, that sure my situation is unique, but it’s not the only grief in my life. And it won’t be the last grief-inducing thing in my life. Which led me to the reality that I should probably stop fighting it and make friends with it.
When I made that mental switch, the cycles of grief weren’t as severe because I knew it was coming. The waves of grief didn’t knock me down as hard or for as long because I knew how to work through it, and I knew it was coming. I set myself free by making friends with this fickle thing. I learned that “rising above” is a Christian term for denial and dismissal. I learned that denying what I’m experiencing, and feeling isn’t healthy. Denial and dismissal aren’t how we move through things. In fact, denying something is exactly how we remain stuck. Making friends with grief freed me from comparing one person’s grief to another.
Making friends with grief isn’t a license to stay stuck in our situations. What it does, is it takes the sting off and gives us room to work through it in a healthy and constructive way.
Maybe you need to make friends with this thing called grief. Maybe, like me, you’ve been looking at it wrong. Maybe you need to take the first, hard step towards healing. Friend, you’re not alone. Lean into Jesus, and let Him walk with you through this process, now, and when it comes back around. Even when it’s truly dark, He is with you, walking it out alongside you. Let me challenge you to dare to hope in the goodness of the Lord, even when it doesn’t look good right now.
“I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet, I still dare to hope when I remember this: the faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.” Lamentations 3:20-23 NLT
Pastor Krist Hahn, Crossroads Community Church