The saddest, most profound truth about the suffering in grief is that it has a compound nature about it. What I mean is that there are layers to the suffering that prove overwhelming.
Within one single loss event there can be a myriad of separate grief issues, because rarely is loss linear. If we lose a spouse or a parent or a child or a marriage or a career, several relationships change, and there are numerous losses within the loss event itself.
For myself, when I lost my first marriage in 2003, I lost not only my wife (the major loss), but my home, constant access to my children, the ability to stay in my job, and financially too. And this doesn’t cover reputational losses, and the losses incurred to my mental health. The rest of my family, on both sides, also experienced their own sense of loss. And yet I understand why that marriage failed, and today I’m an advocate for women who are dealing with husbands like I was. Even then, as that marriage went up in smoke, I was aware of the consequences of my lack of action that led to its demise. Suffering regret and remorse was essentially a further layer of grief that took me some time to understand and accept.
And then there is the phenomenon where one loss is followed by another and then another, and even multiple loss events that occur simultaneously. If we can only imagine how so many people suffer from the loss of a family member, and a marriage, and a career change they didn’t choose or financial loss, or the loss of their mental health and their physical health, or the loss of two or three family members in a relatively short space of time. So many people must grieve the loss of a preferred life path which came because relationships were untenable — two losses at the same time.
When we were losing Nathanael, there was another very real and tangible loss we were experiencing, something that felt out of our control, something that was very hard for me personally, something very stressful for both of us, completely unconnected to the loss of our baby — two journeys of loss in parallel. Add to this another issue that was to consume many hours of our time, yet a process God had called us to. And yet remarkably we knew God was close right throughout the entire season, every single day. Even as we felt overwhelmed in many ways, we also knew we were being carried by prayer. Not that it wasn’t the toughest kind of season that regularly pushed us beyond our limits, because it was.
We are forgiven for feeling under attack, and for wondering whether God has in fact turned His face from us, or for feeling numb or beyond our means to cope. Many are also tempted to feel angry toward God, like, ‘How could God allow this or these things to happen?’ These are all normal feelings and responses.
It isn’t abnormal to find ourselves in a Job kind of experience, but of course within our realm of relationships it is unlikely that we will know another person afflicted like we are at the time. And it doesn’t always help if we do know someone who is equivalently afflicted. They can drag us down, or we can find that we drag them down. Empathy isn’t straightforward when we’re grieving, nor is support from another person who is grieving or suffering in any way, apart from the knowledge that we are not alone, although it is true that two separate persons don’t always feel weak at the same time. Sometimes facilitated counselling groups can be a Godsend.
As you traverse your grief, you may well notice the multidimensional nature of the loss event you are in. It may help to list down the losses in becoming aware of the magnitude of those sources of grief. This as a source for being gentle with yourself.
It is good to know that grief is a journey, and there does not need to always feel so sharp. But some are called to an extended season of grief that does seem to last and last. One thing can be certain, grief always last longer than we would prefer it to.
Just about every form of suffering has grief in it, and often mental illness is caused by grief.
I would like to conclude with some words on faith:
Faith is like deciding to cross a bridge. The journey is worth the work and pain. Hope gets us across. Jesus is with us every step of the way. Even as we rest when the journey is too much for us. His Presence ministers to us as we rest, and it empowers each movement forward. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
And yet, there are times when the journey, having commenced it, feels not only impossible, but not worth it. We consider turning back. Indeed, there are times when we cannot go on, just as there are times when we find ourselves walking the other way, at war with ourselves for what we are doing.
We just feel incapable of righting our thinking. Jesus understands.
Even as we turn and walk the other way, Jesus is still with us, not berating us nor condemning us. He is simply there, with us as our ally, encouraging us to draw close to Him.
As we draw close to Jesus, He reminds us of His Word, of His truth, of His promises, and we may feel the reassurance of His Presence. He renews our heart and mind gradually as we press in.