The Joy of Grief

It has become somewhat of a tradition to write a blog post on or near my daughter’s “day.” Grief is such a richly varied experience and I have found it to be a kind of beautiful gift. For this reason, there is always something to say beyond the obvious reality that it sucks to have your kid die.

I couldn’t say that I’m glad I lost her, but today and many many other days in the last 7 years I can say that while I lost more than I ever wanted to, I gained many things I didn’t even know I could.

The biggest gain is that I’ve seen God come through for me in a way that I only ever vaguely believed he would before. A week or so after Sarah died, when I realized that I could not grieve in a healthy way, I asked God to take all of it and give back only what is good. While I could recount many occasions in the last 2,555 days that I felt unpleasant emotions; screamed, cried, numbed up, felt sorry for myself, choked on the emptiness, laid in the cold mud of life without her, thought of who she would be now, felt anger at a passing pregnant woman… I have felt all of those emotions and more, but every one of them came at just the time I needed to feel it. Each one helped me heal a little more. Since asking him, God has been utterly faithful to carry all but what I was supposed to walk with in the current moment.

When people find out about Sarah they almost always say, “I don’t know how…” or, “I never could handle…” But of course they’re right and neither could I. Although it might seem weird that feeling pain has been a gift, it’s the way that I have been set free to grieve without guilt or shame, without wallowing or getting stuck too long. I haven’t made this happen, I have only accepted whatever piece came my way….

Yesterday I freaked out a little in the morning. Freaking out always comes when I feel things I can’t explain and before I have time to name them, other things show up and get blamed. So I reacted to two things that had nothing to do with Sarah before I admitted that it was her I was sad about. I was grateful to have only two people see the freaking out and both of those friends showed me the gentle kindness I needed. I gave myself a time-out and had a nap.

Today, while I’ve been packing to move to Lynden, I’ve been listening to podcasts and just vaguely thinking of Sarah. The podcasts probably helped a lot with this, but at some point I looked up from my overflowing suitcases and realized what a gift is this day. All of the worries and fears that threatened me in the morning suddenly looked as easy to procrastinate as extra credit. They’ll be there tomorrow if I get bored, but today I get to choose gratitude and joy. There’s no magic wand that makes all of the hard things easy, but there is something about seeing God’s perspective which is so full of love… knowing that the one who can see all of the horrible outcomes has the final victory and is right now full of joy Himself… this is the thing that allows me to put down my sharp tools of self-destruction.

Sometimes the gift of grief is about feeling sad stuff, but sometimes it’s about allowing real joy to put sadness away. Because whatever hard things there are, life itself is a ridiculous, amazing gift. As I honor Sarah, today I do that by recognizing that I am still alive and so are so many loved ones, past, present and future.

I don’t always know that joy is one of my choices, but today I do.

Thank God.

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