**I have been planning this post for a few weeks. Writing, editing and rewriting. This is a hard subject and I have only scratched the surface with this story. However, after the events this past weekend in Orlando, I knew that it was divinely timed and important for me to get this out. Additionally, yesterday my family suffered a tragic loss and I immediately knew that I had to post this for my family, for those who are walking the road of grief and those supporting the grieving. Please know that my words only barely describe the depth of grief, but I share with my whole heart.
It will wreck you. Turn your life completely upside down, shake you all around, and spit you out like the whale spit Jonah out on the Beaches of Nineveh. Grief is this inevitable, painful reality that we spend most of our lives trying to avoid. Grief will make you run, it will make you hide, it will make you crazy and it will challenge the sanity of even the most confident individual.
Grief is a process, something that has to be finished once it is started. Kinda like the death defying rollercoaster at your local theme park. Once they hit go—you just have to hold on until the ride is over, until it comes to a stop and the operator says “please exit to your left”. The funny part about grief is when someone tells you it is okay to exit—sometimes you stay on for another round, unknowingly. What most people forget to acknowledge is that grief doesn’t just come after a death. It can show up after any loss. The loss of a career, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a friendship, the loss of a future you dreamed of—you name the loss—grief follows. It is all about how we acknowledge and show up for the experience that dictates how long the ride takes.
For me, grief hit me like a bad bad joke in the middle of the ocean just as I was about to catch the biggest wave and crush it in life—except the wave cut short and crashed over me and it had another wave right behind it that coupled itself to the crash and overcame my fight. My story with grief is longer than I would like—but learning through the process has proved to be the greatest of gifts. At 16 years old I lost my future, my dreams, my hopes in a matter of exactly 10 days. On a hot July summer day in Houston, Texas I woke up broken and unrepairable—told just 24 hours later that I had less than a day to live. My life was over and even if I lived my future would never be the same. I had no idea what this grief would look like, but I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to get on this ride. It would take a toll on me that I was unprepared for.
However, in a matter of 10 days, this loss would no longer matter to me—as my best friend would die in a horrific car accident 3 states away from me, thrusting me to the beginning of the line for another ride that I had no intention of enjoying! This grief would make me question everything. I doubted the Lord many days and wondered if I could actually go on living without my friend to fight for me. Because of her death, I became very apathetic to search and find a cure for my own illness. I accepted that it was simply a matter of time and I too, would die a premature death. To the point that I told my mom where I would like to be buried—and I started pulling away from my sisters because I wanted it to hurt less when I died.
Clearly, I am still alive and the rollercoaster has circled many times—more than I ever wanted. I lost my dream of becoming a medical doctor that summer (Although I fought valiantly not to lose that one for a long time). I lost my athletic dreams—I mean I was pretty sure I was going to find some Division 1 school out there that would put my slugger mode to good use—even if we had to get a pinch runner every now and then. I lost the dream of having “normal” “easy” relationships, finding a boy who could just fall in love with my high-achiever self and would love me through the crazy schedule of surgical residency and be patient with me as we planned out starting a family and balancing it all. I lost my care free future and I was saddled with waking up every day to count the cost of every single action I would take. (Here is a great theory of what living with a chronic illness is like Spoon Theory). Then to top it off I lost my friend, my confidant, and the future I had hoped and dreamed of with her. High School graduations, the glorious college years, then raising kids together, having husbands that loved each other like brothers and having a life of influence side by side. Gone—all of that (and so much more) GONE in 10 days.
My life in the 14 years that have followed has not been sunshine and roses. I wish I could tell you that I handled the grief well. That I strapped myself in, kept my chin up and just rode that ride and got off. But I didn’t. I neglected to deal with the grief of losing my life and future and it ended up backfiring in a BIG kinda way in my early twenties. I had waves of grief that flooded me through the early years, especially around big events when I thought about the fact that I would not have my friend by my side or be able to call her for advice. I spent the better part of the first 7 years in survival mode and very unhealthy—but God in His gracious love met me with every twist and turn and guided my journey right to His healing arms. Through a season of intense counseling (I highly recommend good, Christ-Centered counseling) and the prayers of those who love me—about 7-8 years after that tragic summer I was finally able to breathe again. I found a way to accept that my life may not be what I imagined it would look like and there are certainly pieces missing, but my life matters and has a purpose. I discovered that if I would choose to walk like I believed that the Lord was still on the Throne, that He was sovereign and that nothing surprises Him—THEN I could truly LIVE again. And let me tell you living again is beautiful and the Lord has redeemed more than I could ever hope or imagine.
Grief is powerful and painful. But, (don’t you just love when there is a but) it does not have to destroy you—it does not have to over take you—the wave may crash and it may push you deep but we serve a God who is mighty to reach down, grab your hand and pull you to the surface. You will breathe again, you will feel the sun on your face again, you will laugh again, you will dream again—just hold on tight to the One that never fails and face grief head on knowing that the Lord will not let you become consumed. And shockingly when the rollercoaster of grief is over—you might even be surprised how the Lord will use you to serve, encourage, and coach the people who reluctantly get on the ride after you.