Posts tagged ‘Grief’
By Toni Lepeska
The coronavirus pandemic has elicited a new catch phrase – “stay safe.”
I hear it on the telephone with doctor’s offices and in text messages from friends. It has replaced “take care,” “see you later,” and “be careful.”
How essential is safety? Where can we find it when our world has been turned upside down?
The urge to secure safety was my initial knee-jerk reaction to COVID-19 and stay-at-home measures. I wanted my mother. I wanted to “circle the wagons” with her. But she’s been dead almost 11 years.
Interestingly, I also hunted for safety after my father’s death. My mother, terminally ill, became my responsibility. She could not be the source of safety and comfort that she’d always been. I cried out to God, “Send me a protector!”
We often overlook the essential need as human beings to feel safe until we feel threatened or at risk physically or emotionally. The desire to secure safety is hardwired into us, on par with shelter and food.
Our first source of safety is our parents, especially our mothers.
The loss of a loved one is difficult enough but what often follows are impossible questions, bitter anger and self-accusatory thoughts that nag us with what ifs and should-have-dones.
What lifts us out of the quicksand of such a situation and puts us on the path of healing? What puts lingering questions to rest and transforms pit-sinking sorrow into peace?
I believe the course of our grief changes with breakthroughs, aka epiphanies, or “aha” moments. I adopted the term “revelations” the year after my dad died. Whatever the name, these are sudden, transformative thoughts or realizations that shift our perspective and give us healing.
I experienced a series of breakthroughs that helped me forgive myself as a stressed-out caregiver to Mom. I accepted the inability to be perfectly loving and knowing. I accepted her dire need to control things. Her world was falling apart. She was trying to cope, and I was, too, in our individually different ways.
I thought I needed to get around people. What I needed was to be alone.
I’m a loner of sorts. A homebody. An introvert. I was raised by a woman who left the house only two or three times a year. When the stay-at-home orders came down amid COVID-19 fears, I thought “I’ve got this.” I was right – for about a week.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my husband, and I love his company. The primary breadwinner, he took over my home office. I willingly gave up my chair, but I itched to go to the coffee shop and hang around perfect strangers. And go for walks. Alone.
And then as the days wore on, I got angry. Not at my hubby. I believed I was angry at being confined. Have you ever been sad-angry? Or angry-sad? I think that was my affliction. I wasn’t afraid. I was angry.
We hear the phrase slip out of the lips of well-meaning friends at funerals – and we hear it now that a pandemic seeds fear and anxiety into our hearts and lives.
But what does “God is in control” really mean?
First, what it does not mean?
It does not mean God sets out to harm us. He is not pitted against us. He is not a puppet master out to get you, to poke you until you bleed. Nor is He uncaring.
That’s what we hear sometimes, though. A husband, brother or father dies and someone tells us “God is in control” and we think, “God caused this death? God caused him to suffer? God wants me to suffer?”
Are you focused on your lack today? Maybe you feel too broken to measure up to standards set by your spouse, your parents, your career or even yourself.
Maybe you look around and everyone is chuckling. You wear a fake smile, but inside you are wilting. Your soul begs for comfort. For understanding.
One word dominated my childhood interaction with peers. Inadequacy. I couldn’t measure up to the giggling girls with the perfect hair and the perfect things to say. I felt lack. I didn’t have their social skills.
I also didn’t have as many crayons as they did. I think the biggest box I got had 24 colors in a box with two short rows. They had boxes of rows and rows of colors, 64 crayons total. Adult equivalent: A one-bedroom apartment compared to a mini-mansion with a game room and pool.
Daddy was my first Valentine. Superman was my second.
I cleaned out my parents’ house after their deaths and found a baseball card-type picture of Superman. I’d scrawled inside a cartoon bubble “I love you.”
I spent the next four decades looking for a real, huggable Superman. For a man to sweep me up and rescue me from all harm and woe.
At 25, I thought I’d found him. He was a police officer. I didn’t make the connection then to Superman. I expected a lot. I learned he was too busy rescuing other people to rescue me.
Dad died the summer of 2006. Overwhelmed with duties as caregiver to Mom, I cried to God for a protector. I meant a husband. I was 39 years old and still thought a Superman could rescue me.
Are you in the winter of the soul, a season of darkness and barrenness? Maybe you wonder if there could ever be a spring again.
January is cold, even here in the South. The trees are bare. The ground is hard. The grass is pale. Life is asleep.
Sometimes my inner life looks like the winter landscape. Someone I love is gone, I feel rejected or deserted, and circumstances have sapped my hopes. The cold wind of loss whips at the tender skin of my cheeks, and I seek out shelter. A safe place.
Last week, I looked at my dead lawn and the naked oak tree limbs. And I suddenly realized the irony – we celebrate the New Year inside the season that brings us lifeless terrain. We celebrate new beginnings during winter, a time of death.
I remember times my life felt burned down to the ground. Lifeless. I wondered how I could get through the devastation. I wondered if I’d ever be happy again.
But in the midst of that winter of my soul, I clung to hope. And I clung to God. I’d lived long enough to know that spring isn’t just possible but probable.
How do you begin again in the middle of a personal winter?
Change. It’s the time of year we embrace it. Change our weight. Change our attitude. Change our career path. We make resolutions, determined to be different in the New Year – to change.
Other changes we fiercely resist. Familiarity is a comfortable companion. While routine rules, different drools. We like status quo. But change, as they say, is inevitable.
Death ushers in the most severe change to our lives. We may face financial changes. Housing changes. Widows may be ejected from couples groups. And be forced change friends.
While we struggle to manage the outward changes, our inward state of living has been upended. We felt secure. Now we feel unsafe. We felt needed, useful. Now we don’t know our purpose.
I’m embracing changes this season. I think my internal desire to change, to do things differently in 2020, is being mirrored in the rooms of my house as I purge belongings and tidy up spaces.
I’ve experienced seasons, however, when I fought change with ferocity. I didn’t want to let go of my parents’ home. I loved sensing them there, among the belongings they left behind.
Change is difficult, and when it is forced upon us, it is unsettling. But I’ve found that the best time to change things that I want or need to change is to coordinate with the change that is being forced upon me. I know it sounds a little crazy. Add more change to change? Yes.