I landed in Denver with a heart full of anticipation. After two years of waiting and raising money, Blake and I were ready for the next step in our journey to a baby. We were about to spend a full day at the world-renowned Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine for more testing before our next attempt at IVF. I spent the day getting ultrasounds, having tubes upon tubes of blood drawn, and going through lots of other tests. We finally sat down with Dr. Schoolcraft, the brilliant doctor I had read so much about, to review and discuss the test results.
We were hopeful he’d give us good news and say that we would be a slam dunk case. But he didn’t. He used words like uterine blood flow and surgery and more appointments. He was cautiously optimistic, but there were several hurdles between us and bringing a baby home. I only heard bits and pieces of what he said because I was once again in shock. I had been so hopeful, so convinced that our last failure was a fluke and that this time would be straightforward and successful.
I felt the emotions rising up in my throat. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I left Blake with the doctor and practically ran out of the clinic. I got in the car, cranked up the worship music, and immediately burst into tears. I couldn’t hold it in. I had to let it out and allow the grief to wash over me. Not only were we having to do IVF again, which is already basically the worst-case scenario in the fertility treatment world, but we had travelled across the country to see the best-of-the-best doctor. And it still wasn’t a guarantee. It was still a huge gamble to move forward with trying to have a baby. In that moment, it all just felt horribly unfair and crushing. I needed to grieve.
Now you may be thinking, Calm down, Megan, no one died. Grief is kind of a dramatic word for feeling disappointed, isn’t it? Nope, it’s exactly the right word for this situation. Let’s talk about what grief actually is.
Grief is a response to a loss in our lives that feels irreplaceable.
People have a horrible tendency to look at that loss and then judge whether or not it warrants sadness. It’s easy to feel like our circumstances don’t warrant the word grief. We tell ourselves that our situation isn’t bad enough to feel grief. Someone else has it worse. But, frankly, that’s absolute nonsense. We most often think of the loss of a person, but this could also be the loss of a job, a dream, a relationship, a friendship, a way of life, or even a vision we had for our lives. Only you can say if your loss is irreplaceable or not. If that is what you are feeling, let your heart grieve.
Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief. — Proverbs 14:13
No two people experience grief in exactly the same way. You may want to stay in bed for a week and cry, but your best friend may get angry and want to break things. No matter what we have lost or how we experience grief in our lives, we have to lean into it. If, instead, we choose to bury it or run away from it, we are telling ourselves that our pain doesn’t matter, that it is unimportant compared to everything else we have going on. Which is simply untrue, not to mention that if we do that we are undermining our own experiences. Doesn’t the world do that to us enough already? It’s a choice to believe the lies that our grief doesn’t matter or our pain isn’t worthy of being dealt with. I hope you chose to believe the truth and let yourself grieve when you need to.
RINGS OF COMFORT
Have you heard of ring theory for how to handle grief? It was developed by psychologists Susan Silk and Barry Goldman. Here are the basics:
- Draw a circle. Write the names of the people dealing with grief in the middle of the circle. These should be the people most directly affected by the crisis or loss.
- Now draw a larger circle around the first circle. In this ring, write the names of the people who are next closest to the loss.
- Draw a larger circle and write the names of the people who are the next closest to the loss after the names in the second circle. Keep drawing circles until you run out of names. Now you have a comforting order.
The person in the center of the circles can talk to anyone she wants to. She can complain and cry and grieve openly. Everyone else can also do these things, but, and this is the key, only to people in the rings outside of theirs.
When you are talking to someone in a ring that is smaller than yours, your goal should be to comfort, support, encourage, and help. That means no complaining of your own, no giving advice, no sharing your own stories, and definitely no telling them to “get over it.”
When you are talking to someone in a larger ring than yours, feel free to share your feelings, cry, whine, or rage over how unfair the whole situation is. The rule is to give comfort in and dump your own feelings out.
This is helpful when you aren’t sure what to do or say for a friend or loved one who is grieving. It’s so natural to want to dish out advice or fix the situation or connect over a time that you also grieved, but that really isn’t helpful. Keeping your ring position in mind can help make sure that you are there for your friend in a meaningful way that will make her feel supported and loved.
Before my breakdown in the car, I hadn’t cried about our story in a while. I had become an expert at pretending I was okay. I wrote a lot on social media about my feelings because that was therapeutic for me, but I rarely cried about it. Instead I put on a brave face, pulled myself together, and filled my life with busyness to avoid dealing with the mess. It’s not that I hate crying. But allowing myself to grieve goes against the very fiber of how I am wired. I am an Enneagram 2, the helper. I take care of the people in my life, no matter what. But my grief didn’t care about any of that. It made me vulnerable. It took away my ability to pretend I was okay. It forced me to open myself up to the grace of letting my people help take care of me.
We are called to do life in community.
But sometimes it can be so tough to let other people in, huh? I have been burned in the past by friends who should have been there for me and weren’t. I wanted them to roll up their sleeves and walk through the hard stuff with me, and instead they ran. Ouch, right? Then there’s the judgement from people who don’t understand what you’re feeling, those who tell you to “just get over it.” Or the awkwardness from people who don’t know what to say, so they avoid you.
I was so tired of opening up just to be told how I should or shouldn’t be feeling by someone who had never walked this road that I stopped letting those closest to me in, even Blake. And Blake was walking right beside me. But building a wall around my heart to keep more pain away also kept love and support and encouragement and empathy away, and I desperately needed all of those things. Galatians 6:2 says,
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
God has always known that we need each other. We need support and the perspective of others. When you are in the thick of the tough stuff, it’s hard to see the whole picture. Having community around you can help you see past the details and on to the bigger picture. Wherever you find your community — at your church, your school, a club or organization, or a close-knit group of friends — don’t shut them out when grief comes knocking. I promise that you will weather the storm better with them by your side.
The Bible is pretty clear on grief. Look at the story of Lazarus in John 11. You’ll see that even though Jesus knew what would happen in the coming moments, He still wept over
the death of His friend. Did you know that the shortest verse in the entire Bible states,
So simple, yet so profound. Jesus knew that He would soon bring His friend back to life. But, even knowing that, He still grieved. This is powerful because Jesus is showing us how important grieving is in the healing process. If Jesus prioritized taking the time to grieve, then so can we.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. — Matthew 5:4
RIDE THE WAVES
There will be days during a challenging season when I feel okay. But other days the grief crashes over me like a tidal wave, sucking me under and leaving me gasping for breath. No matter where I am at that moment or what I’m doing, I have learned that I have to stop and lean into that grief. After all, it’s kinda tough to fight a wave. Better to let it wash over you and then get up and head back to dry land. Here are some ways I ride out a grief wave:
- write in my journal
- talk to a friend
- read an inspiring book or a comforting, old favorite
- watch a favorite movie or TV show
- take a walk in nature
- read my Bible
- listen to worship music
I try not to rush the process. I talk to God and tell Him honestly how I’m feeling. And then when I feel like the waves have passed, I take a deep breath, get myself together, and get up. As important as it is to lean into grief, we also have to keep getting back up.
“Do you feel like you are over it?”
This is a real question I have been asked, and let me tell you: receiving this question is excruciating. The thing about grief is that you are never over it. You don’t move on from grief — you move forward with it. My heart bears the scars of every loss I have experienced. Yes, time, prayer, and community all help you heal, but even healed hurts leave scars. We have to learn how to move forward with our lives, continually making space for the pain that is now a part of us and our story. Grief and loss change us. Grief gives us a deeper level of empathy for what others are walking through. It opens our eyes to the pain in this world. It puts all of life in perspective and shifts our focus to what actually matters. Slowly and surely, brick by brick, God can build beauty out of the ashes, if you let Him. One choice at a time.
Excerpted with permission from Give Grace by Megan Smalley, copyright Megan Smalley.
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“Grief is a response to a loss in our lives that feels irreplaceable.” How has grief entered your life? And, how have you seen God building beauty from ashes? ~ Devotionals Daily