I’ve never been trained in grief counseling or the stages of grief. I only know what I’ve learned through my own experience. But I’ve also learned that my experience is not unique.
I’m not sure if grief ever completely goes away. It seems to me that it comes in waves. Most days the waves are small and just lap at your feet – just enough to let you never forget. And then somedays the waves are larger and they rock you, make you feel off balance and you struggle to stand upright. Then there are the BIG waves – the tidal waves, the tsunamis. These are the kinds of waves surfers search for – the kind that can move land masses and have dangerous undertow that you drown in. And even if you get to come up for air you’re not sure you have the strength to swim to the shore.
While I’m not sure that the waves ever end, thankfully, they don’t come as frequently as they once did. And you learn to dip your toes in the water just enough to enjoy the familiar sensations and the memories that come with them.
It’s been almost twenty-one months that Michael has been gone. It’s been longer than that since he was here in this house, or at our vacation spots or favorite restaurants. Throughout this time I’ve found myself learning new things, searching for new experiences and wondering who I would be when I one day grew up. And so often I find myself feeling as though I’m living someone else’s life. But it’s amazing how life turns you around, and then around again, and you find yourself in many of the same places — sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously.
Like when you’ve decided on a new hairstyle and each time you go into the hairdresser she helps you to make adjustments for longer or short, lighter or dark, etc. And then on one visit as you ask her to snip a little here and there, you hear her say, “Yes, We’ve been here before.” And you look up in the mirror to see that you’ve managed to return to the same haircut you’ve had most of your last two decades. Oh, well.
And then you consciously think you’ll return to a ministry you’ve been a part of for over twenty years — leading Bible studies. You think this will be different though. You go for a different venue, different topics and literature, and a different group. You put yourself out there, wondering if there will be any response. It’s been over two years since you’ve done this and you’re feeling so incapable and kind of sick to your stomach and that this was probably a big mistake. You’ve known that God gifted you in this area before and yet you wonder if that gift was for another time and not for now.
And then in your door walk a dozen wonderful people who actually look forward to seeing you each week. They bring great encouragement and enthusiasm to your life and treat you with love and respect. Suddenly you remember why you did this for all those years. The thoughts that maybe God had given you this gift for some other time in your life falls away, and you remember what it’s like to share His word with others and be a part of learning and growing together. And the laughter and hugs shared between you will carry you for days ahead knowing that you are a part of God’s plan for each of us to grow together as His body.
And here you are – back to a distantly familiar practice. Back to feelings of joy and encouragement that you haven’t felt in a long time – finally returning to old routines.