This weekend has been not one of my favorites. Some days I’m a normal person (sort of), but some days I just can’t get it together. Being a mom, and a healthcare worker, and a wife, and a daughter, and a sibling with everything that’s going on can be a little overwhelming. I keep wishing I could talk to my mom about it and ask her how she would handle things, and then I remember I can’t.
Everyone is so kind and thoughtful, and they ask, “How are you handling things?” and I say, “I’m OK,” because I am most days. The first few days I was mostly numb, now a lot of days I fluctuate between sad, angry, or ignoring that anything has happened. I get accused of being emotionally backwards. The problem with working in healthcare for long periods of time is that unfortunately you see lots of people die. You compartmentalize because, otherwise, you can’t function. If I cried every time something bad happened to someone, I would lose my ability to be effective taking care of other people.
When mom died, I took about a week off work, but then I went back because I desperately needed to get back to some kind of routine. And I needed that for my kids. It helped a little, I think. But when I went back my daughter said, “Mom, how can you do it? How can you help other people when no one could help any of our people?”
That’s one of those moments when you sort of wish your kid was dumber and less insightful. I told her that I liked going to work and trying to help people because I knew how it felt when there was nothing anyone could do, and if we could do anything at all, it was a way to prevent people from feeling as sad as we do. I don’t know if any of that is true or if I was just on the spot, but it sounded good. So basically, as long as I’m at work and busy I do ok.
This weekend, though, I haven’t been at work, and we’ve been “social distancing” so there has been very little distraction. I see all these Facebook posts about how great it is to be at home with your family, and it is. I love having this time with my kids and my husband. But if I’m being honest, even if I’m sitting on the couch watching a movie with the kids, or cooking dinner, or trying to have a conversation, all I feel is a huge hole in the middle of my chest. It blows my mind when I walk by a mirror and I appear to be whole because I fully expect there to be a perfectly round opening in my chest that you can see through, could probably even put your hand through to the other side if you wanted. There are no jagged edges or bleeding. Just a big void chopped out with surgical precision. There’s no real pain, but there’s no real healing either. Just a hole.
I’ve come to realize that sometimes grief doesn’t look like someone sitting in the dark, crying. Sometimes it looks like a mom smiling and nodding as they have no idea what their child just said. Sometimes it looks like mechanically eating dinner you can’t taste. Sometimes it looks like a whole person who is hiding the massive hole in their chest under scrubs, desperately wanting to be normal again, all the while clearly broken into pieces, while everyone keeps going about their business as if nothing has happened.
The best and most honest description of grief I’ve read so far is “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. He was a complicated guy. He was messy. He started out as an atheist, then eventually converted to Christianity. He developed a friendship with a woman who was divorced with two children, and a writer. Together they went through so many complex iterations of a relationship until he eventually married her, and then later accepted that she was the love of his life. I like people like that. Some people are like Mary the Mother of Jesus, or Ruth, or Esther, or Job. I’ve never been one of those people. I’ve always been more of a David I think– irrational, emotional, and messy. C.S. Lewis was too.
“A Grief Observed” is the diary he kept after his wife died from cancer. He was honest. Some people refuse to question God because they think it’s wrong. But that’s not C.S. Lewis. And it’s never been me either. I’ve always felt that if our faith isn’t strong enough to withstand the tough questions then it’s not built on anything substantial anyway. He describes it this way: “If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.” And I think he’s right. So here are a few of the things that me and C.S. Lewis want people to know about grieving:
Sometimes going to God in your grief feels like a door slammed in your face. Sometimes you’re scared not because you’re afraid you’ll find out God isn’t real, but because you’re afraid you’ll find out He’s not who you thought He was. And that life after losing someone you love is completely different. He writes, “The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” He says that, “Sometimes it is hard not to say ‘God forgive God.'” And that there’s a vague sense of wrongness is spread over everything, of something amiss.
In the freshness of his grief, he writes that it brings no comfort when people say, “‘Because she is in God’s hands.’ because ‘she was in God’s hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her there.'” An angry but honest admission. Then, as time passes and his grief evolves, Lewis says, “She’s in God’s hands’ gains a new energy when I think of her as a sword.” He goes around all these circles and finally lands on knowing that his faith is secure, and his God is faithful, his faith stronger after having it tested.
There are good days and bad days. This weekend has been a couple of bad days in a row, probably because I can’t get out and do anything to distract myself. Don’t feel sorry for me. Not all days are like this. It’s just part of life.
But in case you’re wondering, no, it won’t get better with time. It might really be “the Lord’s will,” but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. God didn’t need her in heaven more than I needed her down here, and talking to her like she’s here isn’t as good as when I could hear her respond. All of this is how I feel today. Tomorrow might be completely different.
For now, the hole is big, and nothing can fill it. But tomorrow is a new day, and I’m thankful for everyone I have left. Grief sucks. I refuse to wallow, but every once in a while I have to let the horrible-ness of the whole situation wash over me so I can work through it. I’m convinced that God is still good, even when you’re mad at Him, and that it’s OK to tell Him. He’s big enough to take it, and if you deny that you’re mad, you’re lying. So today, I embrace the suck, open and honest, like a less articulate, mouthier version of C.S. Lewis.