Lessons From Grief: “New Normal”

Grief sucks, plain and simple. It’s teaches us quite a few lessons so we can help those who are currently struggling through it. You learn some surprising insights from it, one being that you gain a new identity.

Have you lost someone and found that nothing feels the same? A new normal has to arise, with a new identity of sorts. I’ll let C.S Lewis explain:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend.”

C.S Lewis The Four Loves

When you lose someone close, they’re a friend whether they are related or not. That part of you that they could get you to reveal is hidden again. How we act around one friend is different than with another. My wife sees both the extremely goofy and analytical sides of me. My best friend enjoys engaging the part of me that goes deep into obscure topics that would bore my wife to tears.

The part someone brings out is gone when we lose them. It’s hidden away, just a memory. A hole is formed and it has to be filled the best way possible. That involves a change, a new normal–not moving on, but forward.

Some of the changes I went through is I began to legitimately care about people. Before, it was all about me. I opened up, appreciated life, and realized that a lot of life’s squabbles are petty and stupid in the end. It leads to regret when one of you dies.

As we grieve, we’ll adapt, becoming someone a little different. It’ll hurt still, and don’t worry, you won’t forget about them. As time goes on, other parts of your personality and life experiences will be drawn out. Like a music talent that was dormant or neglected will return. We grieve, but we also grow.

Death, the Unexpected Eventuality

Sometimes I arrogantly think death cannot surprise me. It’s a really stupid thought. A couple of months ago, two of my friends died. One, unexpectedly in an accident, and the other in a fight against cancer.

One was my buddy from high school. He was always up for talking about cars, going riding around, and never turned down a fishing trip. Time and life stepped in and my group of friends grew apart, as life went on. In that moment we came back together.

People grieve differently. I will get quiet, walking away to process it. If it hits really hard, then I’ll write a poem. My wife wanted to get a card. A nice gesture, but to me, it feels empty to get a sympathy card full of cliches.

I would rather have someone just sit with me and listen. Like Job’s friends in the the Bible. My friend Bobby listened to a rambling two hour monologue over the phone after my godson died. Other family came from hundreds of miles to just be there for us.

A week after my buddy’s death, Randal, Howls coauthor and coeditor, died of cancer. I thought of him daily, he was wrote down on my prayer list. Earlier that day, I had checked his Facebook page to see if I missed a post. Nothing since December, and it was a post that I would expect from him, a rant. Surely he was doing well, I thought.

It wasn’t well.

This is one thing that gives me hope at funerals, when I hear that they were in a saving relationship with God. If so, then I’ll know I will see them again. If not, never again, and the hope dies, and pain rises. With these two, I have some confidence, if not assurance. I’ll close with a poem I wrote after the funeral:

 

Did You Whisper?


My heart is heavy
and burdened
Lord.


Death after Death.

Twelve in Four.


Twelve people
gone in
four years time.

Whos next?
Tick-tock.

I have a hope.
I have a freedom.

My own death
does not
hold the grip
that it did.

I have died twice
already.

Is my hope
the same as
my friend’s
hope?

That is
my burden today.


I will see the others again.
They are where I will be.
Is Michael there?
Is Randal there?


Michael was pursuing you.
Seeking and knocking.
Did you whisper in his ear?
Did he turn and come near?


Did he know
his time had
arrived?

The seed was
being sown.
Did it take root?

Randal lived
on his terms.
As mortality
approached…

Did you whisper in his ear.
Did he turn and come near?

Was he lost or
a prodigal
far from home?

I joke
that I want to see
crooked halos
on saved sinners.

It’s a
plea
as well.

Did you whisper in his ear?
Did he turn and come near?

Was my hope
their hope?
Are they waiting
on me in the
Glory?

What Should I Do?

Have you ever been asked a question that took two or more weeks to answer, and you’re just struggling with the right decision? I was asked to help in another ministry, which isn’t anything new, except this was in a different area. It intrigued and terrified me at the same time because now it’s face-to-face with others.

There were two problems, though, one being my schedule at work. For once, I wasn’t very fond of my new position. It was getting in the way, and I watched that door close to a crack. The second problem was me.

Should I Help?

Through the week, I fought over in my mind if I was even right person for it. I wanted to be sure it was God’s plan because I’d fallen on my face before, operating under my own strength. I had been convicted all week in one area, my heart. A sense that I had to ‘check my motives’.

If I did it for the curiosity rather than wanting to just help, then it was about me. My nemesis resurfacing as pride and ego returned. That was risking hurting people who were already in pain even more. I decided when it was no longer about me, then I could do it. I prayed for help in that area before drifting off to sleep.

The answer wasn’t long in coming. The next day, I heard about the session the night before from my friend. It had been the largest group ever, overwhelming her and forcing her to rely on God’s infinite strength. The message preached that day had really lifted her. That penetrated and hit me deep, my friend needed help. The motive had changed, and it would be on my mind all day it turned out.

A Lesson In Humility

Talking to my wife about it, she instantly keyed on my egocentric tendencies, helping me deal with them. We could watch for them. The next day was my Sabbath, because my weekends are busy, on Monday is when I turn off everything and just spend the morning with God. To check my motives, I looked at Philippians 2 and the mindset of Jesus:

‘Do nothing from factional motives…prompted by conceit and empty arrogance. Instead, in the true spirit of humility (lowliness of mind) let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself [thinking more highly of one another than you do of yourselves]. Let each of you esteem and look upon and be concerned for not [merely] his own interests, but also each for the interests of others. Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.’

‘[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.’

After that I resumed my quiet walks around the plant. During the walk, I prayed a verse that came to mind from Isaiah 42:3, “Lord, please don’t let me hurt them any more than they are, ‘a bruised reed’ I don’t want to break, just use me and work through me.”

What Could I Even Offer?

I went to pick up my wife and was simultaneously reading a book on Kindle and listening to Love Worth Finding with Adrian Rogers. In the same moment, I read 2 Corinthians 1:4 while Pastor Adrian quoted it in his sermon:

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

Coincidence?

As the week progressed, I watched it play out through the rest of the week. At a get-together with classmates, I was approached by a guy I had only met once. The unusual thing was he was comfortable enough to tell me about his sister passing away almost right off the bat.

Immediately, I asked how he was holding up, listening as he let it out. Then a friend mentioned a recent loss in his family that really hit home with my wife and I. These people were awfully comfortable with me to be willing to share their pain. It doesn’t generally happen as I’m not that approachable.

It carried on, though. I was able to sit in on a session with the group I was asked to help with later that night. My friend wisely gave me tips on looking at how to help them and watch a group leader work during discussion. I saw so much pain, and heard so many stories.

In a previous post, Losing Someone, I wrote about the ten losses over the course of a three year period. Most were in the span of a year. As painful as that is, because of that I could identify in some part with most of them in the group.

As I wrote this, I reread that post and Ravi’s quote stuck out at me again: “In terms of service it’s the wounded soldier that serves best, someone who’s been in the darkness.” It kind of echoes the 2 Corinthians verse.

During the night, I was able to use my healing as an example, which I picked up while watching my friend work. I had thought she was like a counselor; now, I see it more as a mentor. She quoted the 23rd Psalm that night, and that’s why that team is so helpful to those in the group; they have ‘walked through the valley in the shadow of death’ and came out on the other side.

The next day, I was approached by a few in the group, just to say hi or connect. I made my mind up. I don’t know if it is a God thing, but it is a good thing. I was going to help any way I could. Just needed to get my schedule to cooperate.

Losing Someone, What Does It Mean?

The darkest times of our lives don’t seem that bad when they’re spread out over time. The closer they are together, the easier it is to grow pessimistic. When it comes to death, you would think it couldn’t get any darker since that’s supposed to be ‘the end.’

On a Saturday in early October, I got a message that my Jeet Kune Do teacher had died in his sleep. I had trained for two years under him. I was a guest in his home, ate with him, and when money was tight he allowed me to pay for the class with a diet coke. His class was a form of therapy, an escape during my darkest times in 2013-14. At his funeral, many told of how he had touched their lives as well. I even saw my history teacher from high school there.

It was starting to feel like, pardon the bluntness, I’m carrying a closet full of bodies. I debated returning to GriefShare for a couple of Saturdays. One of my friends said I should. I am still stubborn on not doing that, though.

The reason is I’m reminded that in the last three years ten people I’ve known have died. They were either close to me, shared a history, or close to a loved one so I mourned with them. I didn’t want to be seen as…”competitive” or “my baggage is bigger than yours.” Dumb reasoning I know. It still feels like “I see your lost loved one and raise you by nine.”

So I decided to change my perspective on it. Rather than looking at the loss, I looked at the gain. All but two I know for sure I will see again, when I leave this life for eternal life. I see how they enriched my life and others’ lives. I see how others are enriching my life, or how I can help others, like the desperate neighbor looking for work.

Alternatively, simply appreciate the interactions with others, like moments of silliness, for example. Like when you are talking to one friend and another steals your phone. Then returning it after taking a zillion selfies before you realized they had it. Or friends teasing you about being helpless because your wife is out of town. My friends in the homeless ministry and deaf church kept that up for days.

In closing, I was watching Ravi Zacharias on YouTube when he said something I wrote down immediately.

“In terms of service it’s the wounded soldier who serves best, someone who’s been in the darkness.”

I am not sure if it was ‘darkest’ or ‘darkness’ but it was profound. Thoseman_legs_walking_cane-1024x576 ten losses hurt. I will not deny that. All of them, either directly or by proxy, had a hand in shaping me today. Their work is done; it made a difference in many lives. Mine continues, ours continues, we press on with a limp.

Losing A Loved One; How Your Worst Moment Can Lead To Something More

Every person alive has something in their past. It can be regrets. Maybe a tragic loss left a hole in their life. What do you do with that?

A friend reminded me of the good that can come from the bad. Four of us were worshipping one evening, all of us with scars left behind by life. Later my wife showed me a video of the absolute last person I expected to see teaching a Sunday school class.

DestinyAll five of us lost someone. One had to watch cancer take his loved one, while the other four lost their loved ones in sudden accidents.. It can lead to jaded bitterness. I was jaded for a little while afterwards. My best friend had to tell me to knock it off with the fatalism.

What gets you out of that?

Surprisingly, it is when you do not focus on yourself so much. You focus on others. It does not mean bottling up your emotions, however.

Work through them as they come. It is not healthy to be stuck in them. I recommend finding a local GriefShare group. Go here for more info.

You may find yourself leading a group. The experience lets you be able to meet hurting people on common ground with more than platitudes and it can bring you closer to God. In the case of my godson’s dad and me, that is what happened. He’s serving as a teacher and I can honestly say I am proud of how far he’s come.

If you’re hurting and want to reach out, I’ll listen. Comment here, DM me on Twitter, or email me at abysspress@gmail.com. If you have an experience that helped you grow as a person, share it here if you’re comfortable with it.

It’s Okay To Ask For Help

I wonder sometimes if I’m a bit desensitized or emotionally stunted when it comes to my feelings. Everyone faces a loss in their family or friends. Everyone reacts differently to it. Some of my reactions though…are just weird.

In the last three years, I’ve lost nine people in the circles I run in. The last one was my step-grandmother. A lot of my later childhood was spent with her. Casey and I spent part of an afternoon with her a month before she passed to find hope was fading fast.

I heard about it through my sister when she died. The first thought I had was that I’m out of grandparents. I text my wife to tell her what happened. One of her replies was apologizing that I have no more grandparents. I hadn’t told her I had thought that.

I chuckled at that. Over the years, I found that dark humor is a misunderstood coping mechanism. It helped me through the other losses. Especially if I couldn’t find anything to laugh at, I would’ve lost my mind probably.

I did feel like crying. Of course, I can never seem to actually cry. I choke up at the most while the tears stay in hiding. I kept the information to myself about grandma. Instead, I retreated into my habit of bearing it mostly alone.

I wondered where she was now. Present with the Lord or at the other place? I think everyone wonders that in one sense or another. “Is this life all there is?” At the funeral, her chaplain at the hospice eased my mind on that. He had spoken at length with her about her relationship with Christ.

The funeral brought me face-to-face with my past. Instead of scary, I found it to be sad. In hindsight, I should have hugged my stepfather, expressing my condolences. Instead, I hovered protectively around my mom. I also retreat into ‘doing’ to avoid ‘feeling’ sometimes.

Not mom, though. She burst into tears when she hugged her sister-in-law after passing the casket. Casey consoled her while I stood awkwardly to the side.

We left immediately afterwards. While I drove, I thought of the figure that was laying in the casket. To me she looked much different. Life energy makes all the difference it seems. Have you ever noticed how living things have a glow that manmade things do not?

Later that evening, I was at Deaf Den for Prayer night. While I waited for it to start, grief finally hit me. Good timing, because I wanted to be alone so I hid between two rows of chairs.

Am I the only one who does not want to burden others with their sadness?

In Galatians 6:12, the Bible says to bear one another’s burdens. However, that is in the context of sin. It still is a good idea to be there for friends in pain. I have done it for others. They have done it for me when I actually do tell them what is going on. Maybe it’s stubborn pride…actually, that is what it is. Not wanting to show weakness. I will have to work on that.

My Purpose?

GriefShare ended last month, the lessons at time paralleling my experiences during introspective moments that I’ve shared on here. Two of the things that stuck out to me were the terms ‘new normal’ and ‘moving forward’ as opposed to moving on. When someone dies, it leaves a hole in our lives; our adapting to the loss is what sets the new normal as we grieve. We move forward from that, acknowledging what we lost and continuing our lives. It is not moving on as if they never lived; I could not forget even if I had wanted to.

What is my new normal, I wondered. During the last video, I made a list:

  • Encouraging others because others encouraged me when I needed it. I used to be reclusive, however, lately if someone is in my circle, I try to show them someone cares. They do not have to be close friends, but friends, acquaintances, the next generation, showing support, listening, and taking time for those that others may overlook.
  • Helping others, generally through one of the ministries, people that appear in my life, or projects that spring up.
  • Occasionally counseling others.

Summing it up, the new normal focuses on others now. What does moving forward look like overall? There is a quote in the workbook:

“If you don’t know your purpose, this is a great opportunity to discover it.” Sabrina D. Black

That resonated with me in light of my introspection as of late. When something happens, or people interact, it causes a ripple that we respond to negatively, neutrally, or positively. Circumstances help shape us by the experience, and we respond to it by internalizing it into the unique way we are designed. Our purpose we find within our design. Circumstances and consequences give us the experience to adapt it, showing us that we are capable. I will elaborate in light of the last post.

A Reformer + Peacemaker = Idealist who loves to learn. Due to the personality of the Reformer type, he has to justify his ideal and choices. He studies deeper than reasonable because of his learning drive and desire to be right and good. Done right and it produces someone who tries to walk his talk. Tempered with the Peacemaker wing/influence helps build bridges.

He is not actively pursuing, but interacting within the circles, he travels because he is also introverted. However, new people keep popping up at just the right time without his looking for them. Taking this design and adding the spiritual gift of service and he’s able to push his boundaries a little, helping behind the scenes. This puts him into contact with other people and relationships are built.

Cap SpeechMy purpose? Well I still fill the gaps, just on a deeper level than I realized. A multi-level gap filler who can give a hand, steward a cleaning team, answer questions, and give advice. Part of the legacy my godson unknowingly left is teaching me there is more to life than myself. He gave me a greater appreciation of life and the experiences of it being what is important. The others we lost, friends and family, taught me sympathy because I know what it is like to hurt. The trauma taught me my limits, the darker side of life, which gave me a greater appreciation of life. Tempered with humility, the realization that in spite of all that has happened throughout my life here, others have it worse.

My purpose…is to help to the best of my ability.

I’m Not My Past

When we lose someone, it hurts, but generally, the happy memories outweigh the bad. The ache subsides as a new normal is established, with the fond memories occasionally arising. I wish I had the luxury of fond memories. With the completion of the first half of my book, Ronin’s Journey that documents the journey of grief along with the steps I took to try to heal, coupled with the Grief Share program, it stays in the forefront of my mind. At least I get to talk to others about it every Saturday evening.

It does not take much for my mind to go to dark places, like the comment made ‘taking things a day at a time’, and I remember at least four unexpected deaths. A joke at work about fireworks as earplugs sparks memories I do not wish to revisit. I cannot watch a video, or look at a picture of my godson; the memories that brings are not happy ones. Instead, I see horror, and when we returned to our former home where he died, it had been renovated; as I walked through, the heavy atmosphere was still present. I did not see what it looked like that Good Friday; I was taken back to that hot July day. It always happens there, the memory of a yard full of cops and emergency personnel.

I have been ripped apart before, in between, and since by guilt and hatred. Hurting people have a tendency to hurt other people, some lash out occasionally, some just want to maliciously share the pain they feel. Inner wounds that were healing, having the scabs picked off, and the pain renewed; or made to feel guilty about doing good for others or trying to heal. That in tandem with time at my personal Hell on Earth, I fell into a depressive spiral. I felt like the tax collector from Luke 18, “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

Watching the testimonies at the Good Friday service did not faze me. The dinner date with my wife was not pleasant as she tried to make me feel better. The next day at the church’s bridge event while working the food drive booth, knowing it was going to feed thousands of kids, I sat wondering why I was even alive. I reached out to a friend at Grief Share for her thoughts. She said I have to protect myself, my avoidance of the place was not wrong, and I am reminded that people grieve differently. If something sends you into a spiral every time, stay away, do not repeat it. Do not go around those who send you to the bad places in your head. If they truly cared, they would understand and not hurt you again.

After the Easter service, I felt a little better, working through it on the First Samuel 12:24 blog here, but the ache remained. I went through my study Bible looking for guidance and comfort. Psalm 34:22 and Psalm 71: 19-24 were the comfort that I found. Matthew 11: 28-30 reminded me that I am not in it alone. Colossians 1: 21-23 reminded me that I am reconciled, without blemish, and free from accusation. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 reminded me of what love actually is. The Apostle Paul is a good example of someone who made a 180 degree turn, in Philippians 3: 13-14, he wrote that he was forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. He acknowledged his guilt in 1 Timothy 1: 12-17, and moved past it to be very effective in his ministry.

If someone cannot let go of our past, sometimes we have to leave them there until they are ready to rejoin the present. My Lessons from Mark post reminded me of that, where I went through Mark 6 in the Message Bible paraphrase. Two songs come to mind, What I’ve Overcome by Fireflight, and I Won’t Go Back by William McDowell; got to hang on that.