A side effect of a summer full of travel surfaced recently. Hours after midnight, I’ll sit straight up in bed and fumble for the lights in a mad panic. My disoriented mind attempts to discover if I’m in a hotel in Brazil, a condo by the ocean, or a sleeper train on my way to Scotland. In the dark, I could be anywhere. As the light suddenly fills the room, two questions pop into my head:
Where am I? How did I get here?
My eyes quickly find familiar objects…my lamp. The picture on the wall. My dresser. My wife. Those answers give me perspective. Context. Even though my heart is racing, the adrenaline begins to subside. My breathing slows. Awareness of my situation helps me move on. I am not entirely unchanged…even though I’m safe at home in bed, this is disruptive. I’ll be a little extra cranky tomorrow. The memory of panic will return throughout the day. Yet the truth shines through… I’m home.
Experiencing the same grief again is a similar emotional process. Self help sites and well-meaning friends may tell us grief is something we process, move through, and get over. At some point we should be better. We can expect life to be normal again. The truth is, when we lose someone we love dearly, their absence leaves a hole in our world. It’s possible to stumble into that hole again and again for the rest of our lives. When we do, we find ourselves disoriented and confused, like my panicked fumbling in the middle of the night. To find our way through it, we ask those same two questions:
Where am I? How did I get here?
Recently I found myself in that familiar pit again. Like most of us, I’ve experienced loss. Grief is familiar. I’ve recently learned that when it comes, accepting and pressing into it is much healthier than denial or avoidance. Acknowledge it for what it is without minimizing it or giving it more control than it deserves. Understand that the deep hurt is a reflection and validation of love known, experienced, and lost.
Just like the whimsy of love can drop in at any time, grief can as well. That’s what happened this time. I was staring blankly at my screen. When my screensaver kicked on, my mind snapped back to the present. “This is a familiar darkness…hello again, grief.”
Although the weight had settled into my soul the day before, I finally recognized it for what it was. I was in the pit. Oh, but I knew that first key answer. Where am I? I’m in the pit. I’m mourning. Recognizing my surroundings was vital.
There hasn’t been a personal loss in my life lately, though. So the next question became key. Just like in my jet-lagged panic, I first had to answer: How did I get here?
Our minds work in strange ways. Although mysterious, they aren’t entirely unpredictable. As autumn approaches and the daylight hours decrease, I tend to drift toward melancholiness. This was different. It was triggered by something. I realized social media had been showing me memories of my past.
This time, it wasn’t the anniversary of a loss that led me to the pit again. Instead, it was the anniversary of the beginning of a relationship that ultimately left me heartbroken. I had been revisiting the start of a life-changing relationship that would be cut short mere months later. Seeing the beginning prompted my mind to revisit the entire journey, including those familiar feelings about what might have been.
The wounds became fresh again. I’ve heard a broken bone become stronger than the original once it has mended. I don’t think that’s true of our emotional breaks. Years later they can still be uncovered and be once again raw and sensitive. Falling into the pit of grief reminds us that the wounds on our heart never fully heal. The pit remains because the love remains, which can be a freeing thought. Grief is a consequence of love, and love is worth it. Understanding this key helps validate our time in the pit, even years later. It frees us to feel the pain without the self-condemnation that often accompanies it.
It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to mourn again. In that way, these wounds that remain fresh do ultimately strengthen us emotionally by allowing us to revisit that love and acknowledge the loss. When we allow ourselves to feel the loss again, we also give ourselves permission to experience the joy, too. The scars we live with aren’t unlike those on Christ’s hands and feet, which the Bible tells us are eternal. Those scars are a reminder of the permanence of love. He thought it was worth it. We should, too.
My time in this particular pit had a wonderful outcome this time. By allowing myself to feel the loss, I began to remember why the loss was so deep. It wasn’t because of the way that relationship ended. The reason I find myself in this pit again is because of the joy, good times, and love. I don’t miss the ending, I miss the during. So I reached out, because in this case I can. An incredible conversation followed, and a bit of a reconnection happened. A ray of light broke through the darkness of that pit.
Even though revisiting the pit is ultimately beneficial, it’s important to remember that life does go on. Although it is vital to allow ourselves to feel the emotions of grief and loss when they return, it is just as important to press forward into the remaining days we have been given.
Although we glance back over our shoulder at times, our life is meant to be lived looking forward. The keys to the journey out of the pit are similar to flipping on the lights in my confused state in the darkness. Answering where am I and how did I get here was the first step for me in this new journey through this old pit.
I’ve walked this road before. I’ve been in this particular pit before. Although it’s not exactly pleasant, the familiarity makes it easier. Remembering the love that was found…the special times we shared…these things cast light into the pit. Light illuminates the path.