This morning I spent time with a couple of friends getting manicures and pedicures (in our home because everything can be delivered to your door in China, even the nail salon!). I cried most of the time. It’s just been a hell of a year for me. It kicked off a year ago this week saying goodbye to my dear Becky, Beth, and birthmoms in Arkansas. Then, my mom died. (It’s still hard to even write that sentence.) Days after we buried her, I moved to China. With all the stress of a massive, life-changing-no-mercy move to China and a year of teaching, which I am not cut out for, I haven’t had much time to grieve her, and I need to.
So, here I am weeping and it’s hard. I don’t want grief to have power over me, but how do I make that happen? What’s the recipe for grieving? How do I turn this mixed batch of raw feelings into something beautiful, delicious and purposeful? What steps are there to take? How many are there? When will I be over this?
You can’t tick boxes when you are grieving. You just can’t. When we grieve, we dance. Some moves are harder than others, some flow, some take effort. Sometimes we get our toes stepped on or have two left feet. The thing is, we aren’t trained, we aren’t wearing proper attire nor do we have flawless music. We are moving around the floor of grief as best we can while they grade us from afar.
Grief is uncomfortable. We are tempted to hurry it along, as if grief is not a debilitating force that must be obeyed, like gravity. In the awkwardness, comes ideas about how long it’s okay to grieve and how it should be done. It’s hard to see others hurting and so we try to help them through it or leave them alone until it’s over. We work to fill our grief list, define our grief stages, and organize the chaos of loss. All the while we squander sacred moments vulnerability.
There are even books on how to grieve. Do this. Don’t do that. Say a thorough goodbye. Keep something of theirs. Have a tradition as a reminder. Forgive. Remember. Don’t run away. Move toward something new. Be well.
But I am not well. When you are grieving, you are not well. You are you are what you are. You are where you are. If you work hard to do it “well”, you will deny the ugly brokenness that is there. I don’t want to grieve well. I want to grieve honestly.
I don’t want to care about the timeline or the words or the ways in which the grief comes. I don’t want to think about others’ worry or doubt. I want to shove my middle finger up at anyone who thinks, “Oh god! Is she still going on about her mother’s death?”
Yes, yes I am.
I told my friends this morning that grief is like being naked, and I have this inherent need to cover up. Maybe we all do? If you Google the word grief, almost every image that comes up with a person in it has them hiding part or all of their face. It’s terrifying to be so vulnerable, but I don’t want to cover my face either. That doesn’t help.
What I want to do, what I am going to do is choose to suffer honestly. I think there is something holy that comes from living this darkness in the light. There is communion in being naked and unashamed.
So, I am going to acknowledge the deep sadness that I don’t get any more time with my mom. I am going to let in the pure joy of having such a woman in my life, full of tenacity and fire. I will not ignore the anxiety she felt or the things I wish had been different. I will embrace the complexity of us. I will accept the whole of our time together and I will feel every bit of it. The discomfort others feel in that can be a comfort to me that I am loved.
There are no uncomplicated deaths. Deaths involve people and even the best relationships and the most peaceful deaths at the end of well-lived, long lives have a dance for those left behind. Letting others grieve honestly is a gift. If you are a loved one or a friend of someone grieving, I encourage you to embrace the discomfort and pray into the hope. Hope does not disappoint us.