Random Thoughts on Grief and Expectations

The culture into which I married has a wonderful tradition. It's called 3:00 coffee break. It's that time of day when life slows down, you lay aside your projects for a short amount of time, and you revel in a period of rest. It's that time of day when you might expect visitors, or drop in on friends of your own. It's a tradition that has it's roots in community and sharing, and one that I've really grown to appreciate.


Lately, as my daughter has transitioned into afternoon naps vs. morning ones, I generally find 3:00 a quiet time in our house. As every mother I'm sure has battled with over the ages, the every-present question during those moments of quiet is whether to tackle housework, take a nap, or have some me-time. Today it's the latter. I'm savouring a cup of the invigorating brew that gives me daily delight, and indulging in a York mint patty - courtesy of a care package mailed to me by a dear friend. 

I'm feeling drawn here, not because I come with a lot of thoughts sorted out, but because I haven't taken enough time lately to sit, think and write, and yes, admittedly cry. To just be, and let God be Who He wants to be in my life.

Recently a few friends have asked me how I was doing and I have struggled to put into words what life has felt like lately. I've struggled to even put into sensible thought the complexity of this road we've been asked to travel. So, once again, I find myself wandering to paper and pen. It's how confusion is sorted out for me. It's how I find myself "thinking" the most clearly.

One thing I've realized is that emotional pain is a strange beast. It attacks when you least expect and want it, and hides unseen when you finally feel ready to face it. It's something you can temporarily run away from, but never with very satisfactory results. 

To be quite honest, there have been many times these past two-and-a-half months when I've wanted to run away. To keep myself so busy that I don't have time to think. To avoid each and every situation where I could face a baby, an expecting mother, or the tiniest reminder of the child that I have lost. To pack away the pictures, to not open the cards, to not write, to not talk. In essence, to isolate myself from reality itself, closing myself into a small world of my own making where pain does not exist.

It's possible for a season. I've seen it. You've seen it. Movies portray it. For the temporary relief it may bring, we all know that the end result is not very pretty.

In choosing and learning to face this pain head on, I've had to deal with a lot of confusing, and oftentimes conflicting feelings. I'm realizing that grief defies your expectations. It is not a neat little package that you can open when you choose, and close when the circumstances are not suitable to probe into it's painful depths. It's messy, it's involved, and it's demanding.

In thinking on this subject, I've realized that I have had many un-voiced and un-thought-through expectations in life. These inevitably came through books, Hollywood, culture, media, and through observing the experiences of others. Some of them came from unknown sources, but somehow became deeply influential in how I viewed myself, others, and life. It's the strength of those that surprise me the most when they surface through circumstances beyond my control, and the ones I have to battle the hardest to bring them under the truth of God's word. 

Grief has been like that. It touched me in small ways growing up, but was never the lasting throb that demanded attention day after day after long day. It never required me to give it much thought because it was something I watched others go through, not myself. I admittedly didn't understand it, yet somehow still had ideas of what it looked like and how it was supposed to be handled. 

It's taken walking through it now to show me how much of a mystery it really is. It's contradictions are many, and never cease, and I don't know if I will ever fully understand how it works. 

Recently I came across some writings by another mom of a stillborn that helped me sort out some of this confusion. She was so accurate in describing many of these emotions.

"When a tragic death occurs there’s a reaction that is supposed to follow it. We’ve all seen the movies, you’re supposed to burst into tears, wailing and screaming... You’re supposed to lose control having slipped immediately into madness; they would have to sedate you to subdue your hysteria. Right?"
"Grief isn't like the movies."
"Grief is an enigma. You’re prepared for the sadness and the breakdowns. You’re expecting the heartache and the devastation. What you aren’t prepared for is how you’re left feeling when you didn’t have the reactions you thought you would. When you didn’t cry when you thought you should."
"Once I began to know my grief I started to understand that it’s as predictable and consistent as a train-wreck."

In learning to walk through this, I'm having to trust God in a completely different way. I'm having to learn to accept and trust that the person He has made me to be is OK. To acknowledge that He made me a human being with emotions. To accept that the pain, the fears, the questions, the ups, the downs and the confusing conflict of everything is all right, and that they are part of this journey. To let those expectations of myself go.... 

Though the hard days are still tough, and the easier days confusing, little by little I'm find a freedom in letting God be God, and me be me. I'm learning that there's no right or wrong way to grieve, and that I need to ignore my own preconceived ideas of who I should be, and the perceived expectations I think that others have of who I should be and how I should act. 

It's a journey that overwhelms me if I try to look too far ahead, so by God's grace, I walk step by step, embracing each moment as it comes.... It's going to be a very long road, perhaps spanning a lifetime, but it's just the moment I'm in right now that God has promised strength for.

Contrary to how it may sound on here sometimes, there are many happy times amidst the trying ones. As soon as time allows, I'll be digging out my camera again, sorting pictures, and sharing some of those. :-) Till then.... 

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