A Time to Mourn

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Luke 13: 10 – 13

I don’t have the inside scoop on what constitutes spiritual crippling today. Many of us tend to scratch our heads at the role of bad spirits in the New Testament, and focus more on the scope and power of Jesus’ healings. But this decades-long affliction makes me wonder.

The woman in this account is “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan {had} kept bound” for long years; her affliction had left her debilitated, unable to straighten at all”. Is it much of a stretch to imagine Satan working in similar ways today, crippling God’s children in body OR spirit? Isn’t a spirit of despair, for example, as disabling as a physical infirmity? Could Satan use such a spirit to disable God’s children today?  I wonder, because a heavy spirit of sorrow and unresolved grief crippled my spirit and ate at my faith for many years, long after I became a child of God.

As a new convert, I delighted in Jesus’ promise to comfort those who mourn – for me, this promise was as great as that of forgiveness. Still, long after my baptism, there were oceans of pain within me that belied full healing. As years passed, I began to believe that full comfort and renewal would come only in the next life, when Jesus would wipe every tear from my eyes and let me see the divine purpose behind my losses. Once, when I dared to share my deep-seated grief with a strong Christian leader, I was told to forget the past – part and parcel of the sinful life I’d been forgiven – and to fix my eyes on the way forward. Lacking an alternative, I buried my grief and soldiered on. The problem is that repressed grief does not dissipate like ashes or dust. Instead, it absorbs subsequent losses like cancer and waits like a dormant volcano to explode. My blow-up came in 1999, after twenty-one years of repressing the greatest loss of my life and trying to move forward without knowing how to grieve.

No one had told me this could happen.

When my grief erupted, it was as if the death had just taken place, and mentally and emotionally, I was back in 1978 – pre-Christian days for me. I went for extensive grief counselling, but my counsellor had not successfully put his own life-shattering grief to rest, and thus was incapable of guiding me to the other shore. He empathized, but gave very little direction. The more I talked and wrote and cried, the more pain rose to the surface. I’m not sure if we were making any real progress. But midway through, my counsellor went to rehab and I never saw him again. I tried to reoccupy my present life and convince myself and others that I was better.  But the haunting dreams, the bottomless sorrow, the self-accusatory thoughts and the inner devastation never left, no matter how hard I tried to pray, work, journal, and wish it all away. I was sick with it, and sick of it, but instead of dissipating, the mass of grief kept growing. It was being fed by other losses: twists and turns my life had taken since.

I knew from reading dozens of grief books that I was suffering some version of “complicated grief”, and figured I must have broken a world record in “delayed grieving”. But finding labels for my ailment wasn’t the same as finding a cure. All the books recommended grief counselling – and that had been a flop. I even went to a grief recovery group, but the newly-bereaved members were so horrified by the length of my grieving that I never returned. I was dimly aware that I’d accumulated an Everest of grief in the years since my major loss — all the moving, loving, leaving and longing had left its mark on me – but had no idea how to take its measure or break its hold on me. I felt like a freak and the most hopeless of lost causes.

Fear, anxiety, guilt, pain, sorrow, longing, disorganization, depression, despair, confusion, lack of concentration, loss of faith, irritability, tension, frustration, restlessness, grief spasms, isolation and withdrawal: these are some of the emotional and spiritual effects of unresolved grief. Physical manifestations include loss of pleasure, gastro-intestinal disturbances, decreased energy and motivation, lethargy, tearfulness, heart palpitations, trembling, shaking, hot flashes and dizziness. This is what the grief experts say. They also say that the impact of grief increases with the number, type, and quality of what are called ‘secondary losses’, and is compounded by the lack of a  social support system. I believe a social support system must consist of others who recognize and understand the impact of grief, and don’t turn away from those who mourn long and deeply.

I think our culture downplays the depth and breadth of grief and loss, and fails to teach us why and how to grieve. After the death of a loved one, followed by the most cursory of rites (a sanitized, 45-minute funeral), survivors are expected to sail solo through the ‘five stages of grief’, or to simply ‘get back to normal’ after the first year has passed – or even sooner. For some losses and some survivors, this might be enough. For example, I continue to miss each of my grandparents and wish they were still part of this world, but their deaths were not untimely or shocking (except for my maternal grandfather, who died when my mother was ten.) They had lived full lives, and there wasn’t ‘unfinished business’ between me and them. These losses don’t haunt me. But other losses, especially those we experience early in life, leave much deeper scars. And some of our greatest losses may not involve a physical death at all, but rather an abandonment or a betrayal that cuts like a cleaver. These profound losses must be reckoned with and mourned completely, or their effects may never go away.

I’ve observed that most people aren’t eager to talk about death and grief, though as we age, this seems to change for some.  Still, starting to read the daily obits is not the same as discussing grief’s ravages.  We who’ve experienced early and/or profound loss are more attuned to grief in others, and for everyone’s sake, we need to speak up more. Many people are frozen in accumulated grief and don’t even realize it. Talking about grief and loss shouldn’t be taboo, weird, or morose, and by denying the presence and impact of grief, we stigmatize those who are bent and unable to straighten under its weight.

Perhaps I needed to become a ‘grief expert’ in my own life before I could truly help others. Who knows why the bondage lasted so long? But God eventually sent an angel – in the form of Tammy Fleming, a friend I hadn’t seen in over twenty years — to point me to the right tools and break the death-hold of grief in my life.

In my next article, I’ll share that story and what I learned with you.

 

 

 

9 replies »

  1. If one believes that they will never see a loved one again who has gone to sleep, or that perhaps they are burning in hell for all eternity, I can understand how we could be almost crippled by grief. I don’t believe either of these are true, and I believe we will all be reunited some day, and that we are all loved by God beyond what we can imagine. I pondered over why God made everyone Greek hundreds of years before Jesus came, and it is only in reading up on Greek mythology and philosophy that I discovered the bible made so much more sense. I fell in love with etymology, as it painted a beautiful picture in my mind of God through the expansion of the meaning of words, far different from the image falsely portrayed by Christians who control. Hellenism was to prepare the minds of the world for the coming of Jesus and the ready acceptance of the gospel message. The early church had very different beliefs from those of the Romanized church of today, which relies on guilt and fear to control. I emailed a brief paper I’ve written on this to Henry, has he read it? There is more than one way to look at things, and I have a very different perspective than most, and I can more readily accept the death of a loved one, and not feel guilt that I didn’t convert them before they went, that perhaps I should have done more, that perhaps some day I might be held accountable for not saving them from hell. I’d love to share it with you, can you see my email address when I reply? Or my facebook profile? Perhaps you could contact me with your address and I’ll email it to you.

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    • I’d be interested in reading your paper — you can email me at mkriete@telus.net and I’ll have a look. The grief and sadness I’m talking about isn’t based on guilt or the fear of never seeing someone again — it’s grief over a life cut much, much too short, and of a life planned together that never happened. There’s also grief over places and people where I ‘planted’ my heart, and had to leave suddenly, and permanently. And there is grief over the childhood I didn’t have, and the way my teen years unfolded as a result– missed opportunities, missed support and direction. Of course, many of these losses led me becoming a Christian, and for that I rejoice — but it doesn’t erase the grief over people, circumstances and aspects of my life that need to be mourned and then put to rest. Hope this makes sense!

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      • When Jesus wept when Lazarus died, it wasn’t because he missed Lazarus, its because everyone else was weeping and He felt for them. Lazarus He just raised from the dead, that was the easy part. Do we need to mourn things, or can we simply trust that someday God will give them back to us? It still hurts to lose something, but it might be a little more bearable if we believe one day we will get it back. God is love, we are His children, nothing escapes His attention, I believe nothing is lost. God cannot lose anything, if He could He wouldn’t be God. If God knows something is precious to us, why would He not give it back to us? He didn’t withhold Jesus from us, anything else is easy, God is a giver, God is a restorer. 🙂

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      • I don’t really dispute anything you’ve said. But, I believe our comments can be shallow…because there is an element of “Holy Ground” here. By this I mean, grief exposes a heart that is open – like the unguarded heart of a child. It reveals the heart of God…yet, we know that God’s heart will not be left undone because all fullness and all wisdom is in Him. We are not this perfect. I believe that only God knows the mystery of the lessons to be learned – and shared with Him – here. He is creating a deeper understanding here; an understanding that takes time…and is beyond words – and sometimes beyond conscious understanding.

        Heaven alone will reveal the fullness of His intent.

        Grief can cause discontent in those who have to dwell near it. Sometimes for good and wise reasons…and sometimes not. God alone understands all this complexity.

        What I do agree with you on on this: I believe that, once this Holy Working “fruits”, there will be a deep sense of wholeness in its place…a “walking on the water”, so to speak. Once Jesus has accomplished His conversation with us regarding the issues of pain…and a greater awe of Jesus dawns in our actual experience…will we “be like Him, for we shall see Him as He really is.”

        Marilyn: the gift you bring, is the gift of putting into words something I cannot express for myself. Through your experience of pain, all that I’ve learned rises in me…but, more fully, because yours adds “dimension.”

        Thanks (both of you!) for this conversation!

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      • Thank you for your comments, I grieve too, I’ve just been made redundant after working with people for 6 years and I’m going to miss them. I’ll probably never see them again in this life, the only time I had to see them was while working. I cried when I left, but I believe I’ll see them again in a next life. This makes it easier for me to deal with 🙂

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  2. Wholeheartedly agree with Hiccup, “there is an element of “Holy Ground” here. By this I mean, grief exposes a heart that is open”….you are sharing with countless people, many of whom will very likely not comment…thank you for blogging your journey.

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