Stages of Grief

Grief in the Discovery - Part 6 - The First Laugh

It's that awkward moment of grief, when you feel so full of hopelessness, angry tears flowing, when suddenly something makes you...laugh.

Here's a great example of the grief cycle in a short 2.5 minute clip, taken from one of my favorite movies of all time, "Steal Magnolias".

 

Just look at the expression on Sally Field's face when her crew begins laughing, at her daughter's funeral! That scene still gives me a strange feeling in my belly, and I wonder whether or not I was supposed to be laughing at that moment. While laughing is not a stage in the grieving cycle, the first laugh has to happen eventually, and when it does, it might feel awkward.  

Grief had a way of swallowing me up so deeply in pain, that when I laughed, I questioned whether or not it was appropriate. 

I had only been home for two days, after the two week separation from my husband, when we experienced this awkward moment.  The kids were tucked in bed, and Burris and I had enough arguing and crying for the day, when we turned on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. 

With my husband on one end of the couch and I on the other, we didn't even make it half way through the monologue when Fallon was able to get a chuckle out of us. We made eye contact, and the question came as instant as the flip of a light switch, is it ok to laugh?

A couple of thoughts came to mind in that moment on the couch. First,  I wasn't sure if I was honoring my pain by laughing. That sounds silly, I know, but I couldn't deny that laughing felt good, and I had been feeling so hurt for such a long stretch that it caught me off guard. Second, and perhaps this is where I felt I was dishonoring my pain, I didn't want to communicate to my husband that my laughing meant what he did was "ok". 

It was not ok, but man, did it feel great to laugh.

Those first few times I laughed and played with my husband again, taught me some big lessons; 

  1. Laughing doesn't cancel out grief. It just gives a momentary break. It's a gift. Enjoy it.
  2. When the laughing is over, you might go back into heavy grieving again. Just because you laughed or had a good day, doesn't mean that you should be "over" your grieving. This is where it is imperative to receive the compassion of Jesus for yourself.
  3. Laughing in sorrow is a picture of the hope to come. Jesus says in Luke 6:21 "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." Most of us are aware that life here is hard and painful, but for those who are in Christ, there will be a day where there is no more sin and we will laugh in joyful perfection. 

Grief in the discovery will usher us into our first laugh, and may the laughter be like a cup of cold water to a parched soul. Thank God for his kindness in all things funny, even when a part of us feels like it has died. 

Do you have a memory of laughing for the first time in the midst of grief? How did it make you feel?

 

Grief in the Discovery - Part 5 - Depression

I arrived home and saw my husband’s face for the first time in two weeks. If you will allow me to be honest, it was not a favored moment in the history of our marriage. Sure, while I was away I had plenty of time (for me) to mentally grasp the idea that things would never be the same. To actually see his face and feel that truth was an uncomfortable experience. It was almost like blind date awkwardness; I wonder what this guy will look like or how he will act? Well, he looked awful and we were both feeling nervous about where to start.

As I stated in the previous blog post, acceptance doesn’t mean I love our story, but it freed me to face it head on. Now that I was home and had help with kid duties, acceptance wasn’t the only thing freeing me to face our mess. Now there was tangible free time to sit and reflect on what happened.

Enter, depression.

When the reality sets in that tragedy has occurred it is a natural response for depression to take over.

This kind of grief enters on a much deeper level emotionally and feels like it will never go away. I began to withdraw from anything that would bring laughter or happiness to the home. The heaviness of (what feels like) infinite sadness clouds every decision and I was choosing to sit in my room all day long. I couldn’t even pretend that I wasn’t depressed, so instead I embraced it. And I embraced it hard.

By the grace of God I was halfway through pregnancy with my third child, so “embraced it hard” means that I sat in the sadness and allowed myself to feel hopeless without self-guilt. This was incredibly hard for me because I had never dealt with any trauma in a healthy way before. I had only known self-medicating through substance abuse (drinking, smoking, drugs), over eating/not eating, or my medication of choice; pretending nothing ever happened. Pregnancy at this time was a (scary) gift because it forced me to face the demon of adultery and kiss it on the lips.

Depression in the discovery, without a crutch or coping mechanism, freed me to be out of control.

Knowledge that I was not in control, actually put control back into the hands my Rightful Owner; God Himself. This truth gave me permission to feel whatever hit me in the moment and not hold back. It was the first time I ever felt that God was not fickle. He could handle me, He could handle this mess, and He could be trusted to hold me with His might no matter what I did.

And boy, that supernatural trust in the bigness of God allowed me to start the grief cycle all over again; and in my deepest depression yet, I was going to do business with Him and my husband.

 

Grief in the Discovery - Part 4 - Acceptance

(Disclaimer: When I speak of the stage of acceptance, in no way am I suggesting that anyone “accept” verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. If your spouse is abusing you please contact your local authorities and seek to get out of danger. You are worth it and your soul is precious.)

It was nearly 10 days of my being in Michigan when I realized it was time to go home. The initial blow of the news has settled in and my mind was adjusting to my new “normal”. By no means was I done asking questions about the details of what had gone on between my husband and the other woman, but I had come to accept that this event had taken place.

Acceptance in grief is both scary and freeing.

On one hand I was scared that my choice to stay married would communicate that I condoned what he did to me. That essentially I was saying it was “ok” that he cheated on me. On the other hand, no amount of crying, yelling or wearing the hat of a detective was going to change the fact that our marriage was forever altered. Adultery happened. And facing this was going to be the foundation for reconciliation.

A necessary part of grieving is acknowledging that something happened and therefore is acceptance.

Adultery is not ok. Let me be clear, acceptance in grief does not look like a free pass to do it again in the future. It is merely admission that this event was now a part of our story. In no way do I accept further betrayal, I am only saying that I can no longer deny that it happened, but instead face it.

Do I love our story? Absolutely not. I am writing this entry nearly 8 months post discovery and I am still grieving. I have these things called “triggers” (something I have slated to write about in a few weeks) and they send my body into frenzy of emotion. However. No emotion too great can over power the transforming grace that God has on my life at this very moment.

The greatest of betrayal can bring us to our knees in order to see Jesus in ways that an easy/pain free life cannot.

I am being pressed in such a way that begs me to rely on the God who made me and came to rescue sinners like my husband and I. So while I do not love our story, I accept what happened to me and allow it to drive me to the cross. Acceptance frees me to have candid conversations with Jesus, rather than pious “Christian” jargon.

Truthfully when acceptance came, I felt like I could breathe. I felt empowered to sit in the mess my husband created and desired to deal with it head on. This encouraged me to pack up our children and make the long trip back to Denver.

A clear mind was the reward for acceptance, and yet a clear mind was what drove me into the final stage of grief in the discovery (for me): Depression.

 

Grief in the Discovery - Part 3 - Denial

Never before had I thought of denial as a sheer gift of God’s grace.

Quite the opposite, really. Before adultery hit me personally, I judged those who lived in denial about their circumstance and deemed them unwise or foolish. Now I see that at the time of discovery this stage of grief acted as my life vest in the sea of devastation. Hardly foolish or unwise.

Before I got to the place of denial, however, you must know that the days leading up to that involved an unleashed fury aimed at my husband. It wasn’t my “first stage” as many suggest. The night before I was set to travel to Michigan to “clear my head”, I told him to get a hotel room. His things were nicely put in a bag out on the stoop for him to come and pick up. I didn’t want to see his face (I wanted him to live). When he requested a certain pair of shoes I threw them out in the middle of the driveway for him to retrieve.

It wasn’t pretty. I was weak. Unable to deny this incessant pain.

When we arrived in Traverse City, MI (my home town) late on a Sunday night, it had been two long days of driving and nothing about it was normal. While the kids thought we were on an adventure, I was falling apart inside. While we were all quite excited to see our dear friends, it was under circumstances that were uncharted territory for my heart. I longed for Monday.

I just needed to wake up and do something familiar.

Upon waking up Monday morning, “normal” was exactly what we did. I wiped butts. I made breakfast. I played blocks and watched endless movies (I mean read books – of course). We took a nap. And had a bath. Prayed at bedtime and sang the usual bedtime songs. I jumped into our usual routine with full force because there was only so much trauma I could handle.

That is the very nature of denial. It settles in with shock to help pace the feelings that are flooding in. What a gift! Never before had I felt such comfort in mundane tasks. Denial of what was happening helped keep me from exploding and committing murder. There is only so much a person can take, and God designed our bodies to know our limits.

I didn’t know at the time that I was in denial and shock.

In the thick of tragedy one doesn’t sit around calculating which stage they are in because they are occupied in coping with the news. Looking back I can clearly see how God bestowed on me the gift of denial in a time of catastrophe.

Did denial give me a false sense of control? Maybe. But I am thankful that while in utter brokenness Jesus brought glory to himself through our ordinary routine.

 

Grief in the Discovery - Part 2 - Bargaining

Our counselor looked me square in the eye and said, “Leslie. You are not to blame for your husband’s adultery.”

I felt disconnected from the first session entirely.

Shock was having its perfect work and I felt like I was floating above the three of us in that room, looking down. I sat there replaying the images over and over of all the data that was collected in the prior two weeks of my being in that chair. Texts, phone records, the dark cloud that now hovered over any good memory from the last 18 months and the red flags that I had subconsciously ignored.

“Leslie, I will say it again. You are not to blame for your husband’s adultery.”

Wait. Was he talking to me?

The disconnection I was experiencing in that session was really just distraction. I was distracted by my thoughts. You see, while the counselor was telling me it wasn’t my fault, those two weeks post discovery I was busy thinking over everything I could have done to prevent this betrayal. Thoughts like:

“What if I had given him sex more frequently?”

“If only we had gone on more date nights.”

“What if I am not attractive enough for him?”

“If only I wasn’t pregnant at the time, maybe I could have been there for him more.”

Hundreds of dollars later, I found out that this distraction was not uncommon in grief. No, in fact, it was necessary and included in the cycle...

I was bargaining.

I wanted to go back and rewrite the history of my marriage in order to keep this pain from happening at all. I didn’t want to be in this seat. I didn’t want our marriage destroyed. I thought everything was fine up until…. Well, you get it.

I was already angry with God for not hanging my husband on that cross to pay for his sin, but I also would have done anything to go back in time and do things differently rather than start our marriage over from the ground up. The “what if’s” and “if only’s” were what I was clinging to as a coping mechanism for my grief. I didn’t want Jesus. I wanted a do-over.

Could I not get away from self-justification for just a moment!

No. I could not. Bargaining, while necessary and normal in any tragedy, was just another way that I was able to see utter dependence on myself to save our marriage rather than depending on Someone Else to make all things new.

There is only One Person who was unafraid of my bargaining. He sat with me while I was busy trying to assess the rubble and decide how I was going to fix it. And He let me do that. Not even one time did He tell me how wrong I was for wanting to fix everything myself . Nor did He stop me from entertaining the idea that if I could go back to do things again, I would be spared from all this pain.

In all our mess, Jesus sat with me.

And when I was ready to give up fixing my marriage (and if I’m honest, my husband), He would be there to whisper, “I love you. As if none of your self-salvation projects ever happened. You own my perfect record of obedience and so does Burris. I am willing to sit with you both and weep over this. I’ve got you.”

If only it hadn’t taken me so many months to listen to Him…but then again, that’s bargaining for you.