Grief is grief. But grief travels with a few friends that have taken up residence in my life. Anxiety. Insomnia. Social withdrawal.
The phone is ringing. Dinner is bubbling over. Kids are running through the kitchen. All normal activities of a busy family. But the combination of those normal activities have the muscle to kick me into a torrent of overwhelming anxiety. Anxiety that induces panic. Anxiety that compels me to run away. Anxiety that closes the walls in around me.
Finally the kids go to bed. I can relax. I can get a break from all the anxiety. But I lay in my bed restless. Pregnancy reminds me of by body’s limitations. Grief reminds me of my circumstances. My mind races. It’s not even always about Azaiah, but my mind locks on something and runs. I don’t sleep.
With exhaustion and stress berating me, I just feel like I have to get away. Church is one of my great escapes, but there are moments that the faces coming at me look like they are amplified by a magnifying glass. The voices sound more like cannon blasts than the gentle greeting of a friend. My skin crawls just sitting in a room full of so many people.
The National Institute of Mental Health says that 10-20% of the bereaved are at risk for developing “complicated grief.” “Complicated grief occurs when grief becomes chronic, disabling and more intense. This is often seen as a progression of grief into major depression, with some features of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as nightmares and flashbacks.”
Grief may cause:
- weakened immune system
- chronic illness
They call it complicated. But I think to those of us who watched our children die, we call it normal. We will never be our old self. We will never get over it.
The holy scriptures record a snap shot of King David’s life that God saved just for us. David was a humble servant of God turned King. As his family grew and so did his children’s hunger for his throne. His son Absalom rebelled. His scheming against his father culminated in battle. But even through that fight, David’s love for his son didn’t change.
“What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?”
Then the man from Ethiopia arrived and said, “I have good news for my lord the king. Today the Lord has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.”
“What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?”
And the Ethiopian replied, “May all of your enemies, my lord the king, both now and in the future, share the fate of that young man!”
The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.”
Word soon reached Joab that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom. As all the people heard of the king’s deep grief for his son, the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness. They crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle. The king covered his face with his hands and kept on crying, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” (From 2 Sam. 18)
We know the pain that David carried don’t we? We know those cries when the only words we can utter are, “My SON!” “My DAUGHTER!” We know the deep grief that set in David’s bones that day. We know it intimately.
David was changed that day, as were we.
Absalom was the third child David buried. 2 Samuel 12 tells us his 7 day old infant son died. 2 Samuel 13 records the death of his son Ammnon at the hands of Absalom. David knew our pain.
Knowing that God saved those pieces for us, for me, brings me reassurance. Just knowing that the feeling are Ok. Knowing that the feelings of grief are normal makes me feel a little less crazy and a little less overwhelmed. Likely written after the death of his infant son, David shares the brokenness of his grief in Psalm 6.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long…
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes…
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer…
David’s heart helps me realize something else too. I don’t want to just stay there in the overwhelming grief. I don’t want to give Anxiety, Insomnia and Social withdrawal an open invitation. And I don’t want to excuse them when they show up. I don’t want to keep them because David didn’t. David gave them to a God that was able.
Psalm 9 tells the rest of his story of grief. Some believe David penned these words just after the news Absalom was dead.
Psalm 9 :”Death of the Son”
I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High…
The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation…
But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortal.
You may be days into your journey of grief, maybe years, but you are still stumbling through as if it were day one. I want to leave you with some words of hope from another one of us. I got this message yesterday from a new reader.
“My son went to be with Jesus 22 years ago next week. Even as I write the number 22 I find it hard to believe it could have been that long ago. I have lived without him long enough to see much joy in my life. Yes, as life still journeys on. I have had more sadness but none like the loss of my Garrett. At the same time no life experience before or after has taught me as much about the love of Jesus.”
Don’t her words sound something like David’s. Nothing changes us more immediately than the pain of the loss of a child. Yet there is still hope. There is still joy. And, truly, nothing else seems to turn up the volume on those messages of love coming straight from Jesus like our loss.
I hear his whisper through David, and through this woman. “I will never ignore you. I will never forget you. Trust me. It’s going to all be worth it.”
*Professionals advise “If you find that your grief is making it difficult to function for more than a week or two, contact a grief counselor or bereavement support group for help.” I see a Christ-centered therapist. If you are looking for a support group or counselor, a Spirit-led program will serve you best.