Grief: Not for the Faint of Heart

Warning: a little bit of raw honesty bleeds into these “pages.”  I believe I have not crossed the line of being too personal – and there are definitely thoughts, ideas, the specific sources of heartache, that belong between me and God, or between me and those closest to me.  Those things I shall not share.  But I know I am not the only one who has ever grieved, and I daresay I hope there is something small in here to encourage someone else who is also aching. As Jean Vanier (I quote him later) says, “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”  May it really be so.


For three things in my life have I grieved.

For something precious lost.
For something deeply desired denied.
For something painful given.

And in each case, the grief is profound, shattering, and, oddly, empowering.  Cyclically.  I don’t at the moment feel empowered.

When I took Aliyah to the hospital with the flu recently, expecting to be admitted for the night (and, thankfully, being released with her positive electrolyte results), I recognized all of the nurses I saw on the unit.  And to my surprise, they recognized me.  One of them said, “You were the couple that were so independent and coped with everything so well.”

Hah!  I thought.  Clearly, she did not see my red eyes every time she came into the room, hear the thickness of tears in my voice when I asked questions or clarifications, recognize the utter weariness that burdened my heart and my body.  Clearly she did not recognize grief.  Or so I thought.

I think back on those weeks in the hospital with both heaviness and hope.  I remember feeling overwhelmingly thankful – for the hospital, for the incredible staff, for the family and friend and church support we received, and for the very blessed fact that I believed in hope and that all things could be redeemed.   But also, well do I remember the unknown and unnamed fears that beat down my thoughts and dominated my dreams.  Well do I remember the dread with which I approached the computer and the barriers that prevented me from reading anything about what was to come, knowing I was not ready to bear it.  Well do I remember nights alone on that window seat where I slept next to my baby, attempting not to give in completely to the earth-shattering heart-wail that threatened.

Grief can be surprising in its approach.  Just when you feel you are coping effectively and you have it all under control, someone says something.  Or pats you on the shoulder.  Or looks you in the eye.  And then that tentative control shatters, and it feels like every cell in your body is going to shatter into a million broken, aching pieces.  So you can either dam it up, plug it up, swallow it, deny it, put it aside for another day – or you can take a moment (because sometimes a moment is all you can bear) and stare in the face of all that you (or as in our case, the ones dearest to us) have lost, and scream.

Figuratively or literally, take your pick.  I prefer the latter.

Back to the hospital nurses.  Their comment about how we coped revealed to me another facet of grief: that truly, to grieve is not a weakness, but a strength.   That coping does not mean not grieving.  Sometimes putting aside grief in order to survive effectively, to make it through changes, is necessary, but at some point it becomes equally necessary to really look at the reality of our pain.  Sometimes we can only do this, once again, in moments and tiny bits, because the entire picture is too big for us to face at one time.  But those tiny moments of weeping, of intense reality, are part of giving us wisdom, endurance, and understanding.

If I look back on past heartaches and remember the grieving, I recognize a few things.  A) Nothing has ever broken my heart like watching my child hurt.  I could never have imagined this kind of sorrow.  B) The grieving process for anyone and any pain –  the aloneness, the fear, the physical-ness of pain – although perhaps varying in intensity (but never in validity) is the same.

Jean Vanier, a Canadian humanitarian who lived out his deep Catholic faith, wrote often and beautifully about loneliness and aloneness, and I’m finding (in my lucid moments) that it applies profoundly to my own grief.  I can’t remember the exact quote, and so will paraphrase, in a far less poetic way than he.  In his book Becoming Human, Vanier discusses loneliness as essential to the human experience; when we recognize that indeed, no one shares or feels our pain and we truly are alone in it, we can recognize that all people feel the same loneliness – and this aloneness that we share, we can understand.  This has been a revelation in my life.  I can see now that no one can fully grasp what I am going through – and just as truly, I cannot fully grasp what others are going through.  But that does not mean we do not know or cannot share the grief of another, or that someone cannot share in our own.

I suspect some of you have expected me to share about how my faith in God has encouraged or sustained me in this time.  After all, I have been a Christian for over 2 decades and have many times felt that I walked closely with God.  But – and here’s the brutal, honest truth – my faith has taken a significant beating these last months.  I am limping along spiritually, weakly attempting to understand this God whom I have loved and his ways with which I have not yet come to grips.  My questions are far, far bigger than any answers that I previously would have spouted off (unfortunately, have spouted off), and far more numerous than the answers I did have.  Platitudes and empty promises mean very little in the reality of pain.

I can say this: I have hope.  I have hope that God, in his grace, will meet me somewhere along this dark road.  That the intense joy and beauty of life will outweigh the burdens and pain.  That somewhere in this heartache there is a healing more intense and more beautiful than mere physical healing.

Even if I have not yet encountered any of these things.  Or rather, even if my eyes have not yet recognized that which I have encountered.

We are in the beginning of this process.  It has only been a little over four months since our reality shifted under us and we have so much to learn.  I know tears are not finished yet, and probably there will be more moments when none of this “good stuff” registers.  But I have to be okay with that because it is our life.  It is my little girl’s life.  And God is not finished with us yet.

Psalm 42:7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have washed over me."


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diane Scott
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 11:42:20

    Poignant! Thank you for sharing Crystal.


  2. beth@redandhoney
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 19:34:09

    Love this. Thanks for sharing your heart – this is the kind of blogging I love. There’s really no such thing as “too personal” in my opinion… it’s your blog, you can share what you want, and people can choose not to read if it makes them squirmy. I want to hear the “real” stuff from people… not just the fluffy stuff. With that said… I have no idea what to say in response to your grief and hurt. I don’t know what it’s like, but my heart is burdened for you. All I can do is listen, sympathize, and be available for hugs/chats/whatever. If there’s something else that would be helpful… let me know. Sending lots of love and prayers your way today. xoxo. Beth


  3. beth@redandhoney
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 19:34:54

    PS – Your transparency and hope is inspiring. Thank-you for that.


  4. Elaine Wiens
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 02:32:07

    As tears fall from my eyes … All I feel I can do is pour out prayers but even that doesn’t seem to come so easily these days. If only I could do something for you … I love you guys.


    • Crystal
      Oct 15, 2011 @ 15:02:56

      Thanks, Aunt Elaine. We have some totally joy-filled, beautiful days and some harder ones, like everyone else. I happened to write that after a harder day, and found it really therapeutic. It’s amazing how many people are grieving something quietly and have shared with me those things. We miss you guys! Hope you’ve had a good Thanksgiving and fall.


  5. Aunt Ruth
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 20:33:41

    Crystal – Wow! What a fabulous piece of writing! You have expressed your painful feelings so well and with such honesty. I am sure this was so difficult for you to write and I hope this writing was healing for you. With just having lost my Mom, your article was especially meaningful to me. Thanks you so much for writing this and I will definitely be sharing this with others. Hope you and your family continue to heal emotionally and continue to grow and develop as the beautiful family you already are!!!! Thanks again for sharing your feelings and emotions so beautifully!!!! Sent with love to you and your family.


    • Crystal
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 22:22:37

      Thanks, Aunt Ruth! I do find writing somewhat cathartic – it’s odd that the best pieces of writing come out of deep emotion. I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and hope you are finding strength and joy in your memories of her.


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