My father died a little more than a month ago. He died suddenly, quite suddenly in fact, from a blocked artery. He was 50 and enjoying a career with the same company for 28 years, a job that he loved. He never had an issue with his heart nor was there ever a question of his health. He didn’t stress over his job or bring it home with him. His life was his faith, and family followed by his job. He was given clean bills of health at all his physicals and many of his close friends socialized with him just hours before his death. I say all of this to communicate just how unexpected his death was to everyone, and why I struggle so much trying to understand it.
I am only a month into grieving, and activity, I am not at all experienced or equipped to handle. Grief can be so unexpected, and it can raise many questions. How does this work? How do I act? Is there a right way to grieve? So as I am seeking understanding in these emotions and as I process through these feelings, why do I feel so smothered with advice?
I have felt too many emotions to count. I haven’t been able to understand why a man like my father would die. I am sometimes furious at my father, thinking that he perhaps could have lived if he had chosen. I wonder why I am so often angry or apathetic to what’s happening around me. People tell me that these frustrations are normal, yet I still don’t know what to make of them. I’ve explained this feeling to so many people, only to have them give me their “golden” advice. It was at this point that I had one final feeling—or more so a lack of feeling.
I felt numb.
People, work and relationships suddenly became so trivial. I just didn’t care anymore. It was as if emotional Novocain was coursing through my body, but I never gave the dentist the “okay” for the shot. Nothing fazed me, and I couldn’t understand why.
It finally occurred to me a couple days ago that although we need community during times of mourning, grief is also a very personal experience. It is just as personal as the relationship you’ve lost with your loved one. It is as personal as a first kiss or a broken romance. It is as personal as the last time I said goodbye to my dad. Whether it was a book, a Bible verse or a “how to grieve” pamphlet, everyone had the “right” way to grieve. I heard so many times that if I only asked “the right questions” I could grieve properly, and if I read the “right” Bible verses this would make sense. But nothing changes when you’re numb.
I didn’t care about people around me, let alone the advice they wanted to give. All of their books and verses were unwelcome comforts and their 8-step grief programs seemed so rehearsed. I really wanted to fit into one of those models, but in the end it just wouldn’t happen? I would watch my sisters cry at the sound of my dad’s voicemail and the sight of his photograph; my mom would insist on my reading of grief-help books, and I would sit and wonder why I didn’t cry and why these books weren’t helping. That’s when it hit me.
I am not my sisters, and I am not my mother. I am me. I am unique. Books and “step” programs, although helpful to some, were not of use to me personally. I am my father’s son, my relationship with my father was personal, and I had to find a personal way to grieve.
I’ve come to believe that grieving and mourning are these painful yet beautiful emotions that are so difficult for many to understand. And like so many beautiful things that we don’t understand, we try to control them with formulas and programs. It is in this way I have come to understand my grief; a perfectly normal and necessary emotion—one we must face in life, one I must find a way to confront, because if I don’t, it will return.
So I am beginning to discover that it isn’t in books or advice that I feel comfort in times of grieving. My comfort has come from a quiet and free spirit, one that welcomes Christ’s presence and waits for the calm. My comfort has come in trust; trust that I am in God’s hands and that my life, just like my father’s life, is valuable. My prayer last night was not “Lord, send someone with the right advice.” Instead, it was a prayer for comfort and presence as I search and process, feeling His hand in my life while I continue to ask the tough questions for my grief. It’s a journey that I’ve just begun, but I think I’m finally asking the right questions.