“Joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” – Kahlil Gibran
Here’s the deal.
Grief sucks. And the anniversary of a loved one’s passing doesn’t wave a magic wand making sadness and pain disappear.
April 2nd was Dad’s 1st anniversary.
Surviving the muddiest and most eye-opening year was no small feat. We survived and I’m glad the annual “firsts” are behind.
On the night of his anniversary, apparently a train ran over me because in the morning blankets had sucked me further under the covers, and chilly air tempted me to stay in jammies and drink mint tea all.day.long. At dawn, I didn’t want to get out and help little boys brush teeth, put their shoes on, or find backpacks.
Nope, I wanted to stay there and nurse feelings of depletion, sadness, and was that anger? Probably. Apparently I wanted to fester in that as well. For maybe a week. I’m done, people. I’m throwing all my chips in. Peace out. Hibernating was on the agenda. Maybe the day-after-death anniversaries are similar to the let-down after a wedding; so much energy goes into being prepared and present and then, whoosh, there it goes. New day. New year.
Year 2 has begun. Much is new while much remains.
This, my friends is the tricky part about grief. It can be so ME-oriented. So feeling infested.
I begin to sound like an inner dialogue of the seagulls in Finding Nemo. “My. My. My. My.”
Focusing on MY feelings is dangerous. It doesn’t allow room for objectivity, common reasoning, or Truth to filter in. I can easily get swallowed up in the universe I’ve created in my head and forget to look beyond.
Bad days. We all have them. I had plenty before my dad was gone and always wondered, How do I get out of this? What’s the trick?
Whether you’re mourning, simply in a funk, or on those days you awake feeling like you’ve been run over by a train, how do we fight the depressive, Me-hovering fog? How do we crawl out from under the weight and clear the thought of, What’s the point, I’ll just lay here ’til Heaven calls? How do we make Lemoncellos out of lemons when the going gets tough?
When the power of unmotivated, sad feelings threaten, I can remain in the shade, darkness winning. Or, I can turn MY feelings outward, and focus on someone else, unexplainable joy illuminating.
So what does this look like?
I put someone before MY feelings.
I emerge from the covers and into the chilly air. There may be some grunting and resistance, but trusting God to secure my wobbly footing, I’m able to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I ask God’s Spirit to bring to mind people who are hurting, or celebrating. Who needs a hug, or congratulatory flowers?
It really is that simple, a perspective my mom has always modeled. You can’t go wrong when putting others first.
Jesus echoes the same focus in Matthew 25:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
When we do things for others, we do them for Jesus.
Days later, dear family friends saved me from MYself. The hope was that my mom and I could hold their broken hearts in the way we knew best; designing the memorial service for their beloved Nana/Mom. Somewhere between pink and white roses, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Bells of Ireland, something beautiful rooted. It grew as laughter filled the sanctuary while we moved tables, laid tablecloths, and staged mercury glass votives. It was while creating a vignette of Nana’s favorite possessions, that it blossomed full force; joy. How quickly MY pain transformed to absolute joy as we poured our hearts and thoughts into this family. Isn’t that usually how it goes- we hope to serve and leave beyond blessed?
For years, this Mark Twain quote hung in our bedroom: “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” Before, I’d always thought it had been about marriage. But setting up Nana’s Memorial Service, I realized joy comes in whoever we divide it with. When we do for others, we do for Jesus, and the miracle is joy magnified.
Days later, a sour mood was lifted as we walked next door to deliver homemade chocolate chip cookies to our neighbor Ana, who is recovering from hip-replacement surgery. We literally had to prep Ty that No, you can’t “jump hug” her. After visiting, I squeezed Bryan’s hand, thankful for another day to turn pain outward.
Please hear me say this. Self-care and allowing yourself space to heal is one thing. When we ignore pain or stuff hurt, we only prolong the inevitably messy process. But, nursing unmotivated wounds, idolizing grief, and staying in the pain is quite another.
For those horrible, no-good, very bad days, when MY feelings loom, let’s pray, listen, and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. When we reflect self-focus onto another, joy abounds. And not because it is the expectation, but a beautiful reward.
Let’s step out of the shade.