Category Archives: Grief

Things I Said I’d Do (And Haven’t)

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lack of follow-through in myself. By ‘lately,’ I mean basically ever since my dad passed away. I wish that didn’t sound cliche or excuse-like, but there it is.

I’ve talked before about how grief has changed me. How the trauma of suddenly being thrust into some of the hardest parts of adulthood has changed me. But, I don’t know if I’ve really talked much about the shame I’ve felt about that. I used to have a solid sense of who I was. I was a doer. A responsible, reliable, follow-through type of person. Maybe, deep down, I wasn’t actually that person. But either way, I know that I’m much less that person now.

Post-trauma, I’m more anxious, and that has practical and real effects on my abilities. My memory is worse. My attention is worse. My ability to deal with stress is, generally, worse. My ability to relate to people on a shallow level is substantially worse. And my ability to stick with things has definitely been on a decline.

Right after my dad passed away, I had more responsibility than anyone my age. I suddenly had to call lawyers, accountants, hospitals, crematoriums, tax experts, federal retirement agencies, etc. I handled it all, somehow. Sometimes, I think I spent all my responsibility and mental capacity on that period of my life. I wonder if maybe my current state is a primitive rebellion against all that required responsibility. Somewhere in my brain, I’ve shut down those qualities for a while.

Of course, I’m not a total disaster. I get to work on time. I am still a generally reliable employee. I pay my bills on time. But my capacity for stress is simply diminished. I cannot trust myself the same way I once could. I doubt everything I do.

This is hard to deal with, especially when I’m surrounded by seemingly ‘normal’ people who have the capacity to do all the things I used to do. I start to feel like a failure because I didn’t do this or that project that I got excited about. When it comes to my ‘career,’ it’s especially crushing.

My heart is constantly telling me things that I would love to pursue. Then, my head gets involved. It tells me how I’d hate that. I’d be overwhelmed immediately. I’d crumble under the pressure. So, I explore the options, then I get dissuaded by fear and shame. I know it is holding me back.

But what do I do?

I do the things that are vital and hope I’ll have time to do the tings I really want to do. I spend all my energy on survival. On basic normalcy. So far, nothing much is left over to contribute to my own fulfillment and creative projects. I’m not sure where to get more mental energy from. They tell you exercising gives you more physical energy. But mental illness is tricky.

As I write, I’m in the process. I know I’m not alone in these feelings. If you are struggling, I’ll tell you what I try to tell myself. Survival alone is impressive. Being content is amazing. Life is a constant cycle of ups and downs. Sometimes we will be stuck in dark moments, but that doesn’t mean it is forever.

We can wait out the storms. We can patiently stare the hard stuff, the shame, the depression, in the face and tell it, “I see you. I know you’ll feel better in a little while, and I’m ready to wait.”

Resurrection in the Living

Growing up, I don’t know that I ever fully appreciated or understood the meaning behind the Easter holiday. I loved chocolate and bunnies, and I liked that the season was one of beginnings and joy. But this year, the idea of re-birth and transformation hits home in a new way because, unlike when I was a kid, I have contemplated the first step in resurrection: death.

The sermon at my church today asked us to consider what part of us is stagnant and needs resurrecting. As I sat listening to the rolling r’s of my Scottish minister’s words, I realized that grief is its own process of death and resurrection. I have been slowly coming back to life since my dad died two years ago, and this new person, with new perspectives and a permanently altered existence, takes some getting used to.

When my dad passed away, some pieces of me froze, some parts disappeared, and some broke into unrecognizable shapes. The depression of grief is like an emotional and mental death (though it also has many physical aspects as well). I lost touch with who I was. There was serious stagnation and hopelessness in my heart, and key pieces of myself seemed unreachable.

The hardest part of any change is the loss. When that loss is a fundamental and formative person, such as a parent, it permeates every aspect of your identity. But following death and loss, we have the potential to grow into something entirely new. Sometimes, people like to simplify this and say it ‘makes you stronger,’ but the reality is more complex.

Starting over is a long process, and it’s scary, lonely, and difficult. Maybe we end up stronger in some ways, but also more sensitive or more guarded in others. Maybe we aren’t better or worse, just different. A few more jagged edges, a new scar or two, and our insides completely rearranged.

It took me at least nine months after my dad passed away to start to feel emotions on the positive end of the spectrum again. It took another six before my shifting pieces seemed to begin to settle into their new homes. And now, two years and two months after my dad passed, I can finally start to peek inside my sensitive newness with a gentle and open-minded wonder.

Like opening a box after its been rolled down a flight of stairs, I don’t know what to expect.

My point, I suppose, is that the original resurrection story takes only a few days. Renewal and transformation seem to be presented immediately to the world. Humans do have a fascination with the big reveal. Makeover shows take advantage of this, as do diet and exercise programs. We like being able to have a date to declare a ‘new’ personhood. But my experience is not like that at all.

When you’ve died in some way, approaching life again can feel like inching your way out of a dark cave. You need time to adjust to the light, the air, the rain, the grass. And even when you finally reach the open world, you will be unsteady on your new feet.

Like a baby, we have to learn to do everything again as a new person. I think it goes a little faster the second time around, but that doesn’t mean it happens in a week. Or a month. Or a year. We slowly discover where each piece has fallen, which parts of us are nowhere to be found, and where there may be new nooks and corners to explore.

Maybe resurrection is more about the left behind than the deceased. Whether or not you believe Jesus was physically resurrected, it is apparent that his followers were forever altered by his death. Their personal journey of loss and renewal is its own resurrection story, and it’s one I think we can all relate to. Grief is one of the most unique and vital of human experiences, bringing us to our lowest despair, our fullest love, and perhaps, our truest resurrection.