Grief

A Time Of Grief and Sorrow

»Posted on Nov 21, 2016 in Grief | 0 comments

Grief is a funny thing.

One minute, you’re laughing so hard that you’re snorting, and the next minute, the terrible, yawning emptiness in your heart hits you like a sucker punch to the solar plexus. It takes everything in you just to breathe through the pain.

Grief is jagged. Grief interrupts. Grief takes you on a u-turn. Every single time.

So I’m learning to give myself space and grace. To forgive myself for the unexpected flares of anger and moodiness. To let myself weep when the loss overwhelms. And most of all, to stay in the pocket of grief with courage, even as everything in me wants to run away or numb myself.

Because how else do you find meaning in your grief? Grief is teaching me to cherish each moment with my loved ones. It’s teaching me to count each treasured day as a gift. It’s teaching me to live with gratitude and deliberate joy NOW, rather than waste my days in bitterness or regret, pining away over unfulfilled dreams or unresolved sorrows.

Grief’s dark shadow accentuates the vibrant colours of life and love.

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Facing Sexual Abuse ◆ Finding Joy in the Midst of Trauma

»Posted on Mar 28, 2015 in Abuse, Grief, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

abuse

One of the most difficult aspects of my job as a psychologist is having to venture into the depravity of mankind, particularly as it brings about unthinkable harm and unbelievable trauma to others. It is something that can be so unfathomably dark that if feels like a sucker punch to the gut each time. I never get used to our human capacity for evil, even as it keeps me humble and ever so grateful for the grace of God who can come into any darkness and bring about hope.

And THAT is why I continue to do what I do – because I have seen God heal, I have seen him bring about immense joy in the midst of pain and suffering, I have seen his beautiful, grace-filled, redemptive work in the lives of many people.

YES, there is hope – great hope for all of us.  For all of us who have experienced trauma, abuse, loss.

One of the most traumatic forms of trauma is sexual abuse – especially if it is perpetrated by a trusted family or friend. What makes it even more difficult is that it tends to be cloaked in secrecy and shame that can forever mark the victim as “garbage”. But that is not from God, that is a lie straight from the pit of hell.  Finding joy and healing after sexual abuse is the theme of the video in today’s blog.  If this is you, please take the time to watch the video and then choose to reach out for help.

My personal mission is to bring hope and healing to many people, not by my efforts – which is so inadequate in the face of such pain, but by being someone who exemplifies Jesus Christ in how I love deeply, show compassion and acceptance, and create a safe place for the sufferer to heal.  If you’ve been injured by abuse, please choose to reach out for help.  You can break free from the chains of abuse. You can be whole again, free to enjoy healthy relationships and a full life.

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Healing of Trauma

»Posted on Jan 21, 2015 in Grief | 0 comments

Healing of Trauma: The last few weeks have been a time of profound impact for me. I had the privilege of journeying to Bangladesh and India to visit local pastors moving  to remote villages to show the love of Christ to people who’ve never heard the gospel. I also had the heart-rendering joy of visiting an after-care home for girls rescued from human trafficking.

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I am still reflecting on all that I have experienced, but one thing is for sure: human suffering is universal, as is our God’s grace in times of great darkness and his redemption of our pain. I was brought to tears multiple times – not just because of the sorrow I felt when faced with the depravity of man and the grievous injuries we can do to one another, but mostly because of the rampant love of Jesus Christ that I saw expressed towards the broken by our brothers and sisters in Bangladesh and India.

 

The biggest surprise from my trip? That the predominant emotion I experienced was JOY. And HOPE.
The people I met were not charity cases to be pitied. They were beautiful people with stories that were rich with themes of God’s redemption. They were living examples of God’s love and power to heal, even in the face of overwhelming trauma.

 

If you’ve experienced trauma in your life, please know that healing is possible. You don’t need to remain trapped in fear or isolation. Please choose to reach out for help. And as you do, may you experience overwhelming grace and healing from the One who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
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Short Stories: Living with Grief

»Posted on Apr 23, 2013 in Grief | 0 comments

 grief and loss

George stared blankly out of his office window, ignoring the messy stack of unprocessed forms sitting to the right of his elbow.  A fly buzzed loudly against the window, frantically searching for a way out.  It’s buzzing drew George’s attention and his gaze began to follow the fly’s erratic travels as it bounced against the grimy panes.  A faint beam of sunlight pierced through the dirt on the windows but did little to lighten the dreariness of the small office.

With a start, George suddenly noticed the quiet.  The buzzing had stopped.  Looking around, he realized that the fly was lying dead on the sill, one more ill-fated carcass littering the base of his window.  I really should clean that window one of these days.  George sighed deeply, knowing that he wasn’t likely to do that.  What did it matter anyway?  Glancing at the clock, he was startled to see that more than two hours had passed.  The last thing he remembered was coming back from his coffee break.  And then now, it was already time to go home.  What had he done all afternoon?

Groaning as he looked at the large stack of work that was unfinished, George knew that he was going to have to ask his boss for yet another extension.  He just could not seem to concentrate and he knew that he was getting further and further behind.  Formerly a top performer, George was starting to feel overwhelmed and guilty because he could not seem to get his act together.  Ever since… quickly he stopped his train of thought.  No, don’t go there.

Just then, his assistant peered through his glass door, but then with a sympathetic wince, quickly backed away.  George could see her through the door standing with some of the other office assistants, talking.  As he watched them glance at him and then look guiltily away when they noticed him watching them, George knew that they were talking about him.  Again.  Why wouldn’t everyone just treat him like normal?  He was getting tired of the way they were all tiptoeing around him.  And he could tell they were avoiding him too.  No one knows what to say to me.  It’s like I’m making them all feel so awkward.

Sighing again, George packed up his work into his briefcase, even though deep down, he knew that he wasn’t likely to get to it at home.  It all depended on how Meredith was doing.  And how bad the mess was at home.  Seeing the disaster in their home these days, it was hard to imagine that they used to have a showcase home that Meredith proudly and lovingly maintained.  But that was all before The Accident that changed their lives forever.

Forcing his thoughts away from anything painful, George focused on tidying up his office and making his way home.  He stopped by the local pizzeria to pick up dinner, after calling ahead to place his order.  Pizza, fried chicken, Chinese take out food, that was pretty much his repertoire of meals these days.  Looking down wryly at his growing gut, George thought longingly of the delicious homemade meals that Meredith used to make before The Accident.

Shaking off his thoughts, George entered through the garage door of his home, juggling his briefcase and the pizza.   He noticed the laundry piling up on the laundry room floor and made a mental note to take care of it on the weekend.  As he walked past the wilting plants in the hallway, George paused to listen.  Silence. His heart sank.  It was another bad day for Meredith.  Not that there were many good days, but he had hoped that 8 months after The Accident, she would have been able to move on with her life.

I miss Jenn too, but life has to go on. Even as he thought of his daughter, George was startled by the painful lurch in his heart, and the sensation of tears prickling behind his eyes.  Stop it.  Thinking of her won’t bring her back.  We have to move on.  Forcing himself to think about all the tasks he had to do this weekend, George went upstairs and knocked on his son’s door.  No response.  Knocking again louder, he opened the door without waiting for an answer and saw Alex lying back on his unmade bed, army boots still on his feet and propped up on his pillow.  He could hear loud, screeching music coming from the ear buds tucked into Alex’s ears even as he was playing Halo on his Xbox.  Empty coke cans littered the floor, next to the crumpled chip bags.

Wanting to avoid the inevitable screaming match that would occur if he tried to say anything to Alex, George quietly closed the door once again.  I don’t have any energy to deal with him right now.  He shook his head sadly, thinking about how much his son had changed since The Accident.  His fun-loving, athletic and sweet boy was no more.  Now he was a virtual stranger, a surly and angry teenager who seemed to hate his family and do everything to avoid them.  Nothing George said or did was right anymore.  Meredith was always the one who got the kids to talk when they were upset, but now she spent most of her days isolated in their bedroom.

Moving on from Alex’s room, George quietly opened the door to their bedroom.  Immediately, his nostrils were assaulted with the sour, stale air mingled with the scent of the toast that he had left with Meredith that morning.  Still untouched.  George could see Meredith rolled up in the blankets and as he drew near, he saw that she was asleep.  His heart ached as he saw the ravages on her face, the dried tears on her cheeks, her swollen nose and red eyelids.  Her hair looked stringy with her gray roots showing, and she looked and smelled as if she had not taken a shower in days.  Oh Meri, when will you stop crying?

Next to her bedside was an assortment of pills that the doctor had prescribed to help her sleep.  He hated how dependent she had become on those pills, but that seemed to be the only way she was able to get through those long nights when she could not stop keening for her daughter.  Those long nights he had to force his pillow over his ears to avoid hearing her agony.  He couldn’t listen to her anymore because it reminded him too much of all that he had lost.

Lord, help us please!  I don’t know how much longer we can continue on this way.  I want my wife back.  I want my life back.  Forgive me for being so selfish but I need Meri!  George fought his growing feelings of frustration, even as his heart ached for his wife.  Ached for his family and for all they had lost.  When would life ever be normal again?  I’m so tired, Lord.  I’m trying so hard to be strong for my family but I don’t know how much longer I can go on. Even as George prayed, he knew that he was fooling himself.  His faith was now as dead as his baby girl.

Some days, it was almost impossible to come home, because everything reminded him of his baby girl.  And when he thought about how he would never see her running down the stairs ever again, or hear her singing loudly or giggling with her friends, he felt the unspeakable loss like a sudden knife to his gut.  And to think that he would never watch her graduate high school or university, or walk her down the aisle at her wedding – the anguish of his loss when he thought of what would never be was unbearable.  Sometimes, George hated to remember her, because the kaleidoscope of memories would assault him and leave him breathless from the grief:  remembering the wrinkly, red face that he fell in love with when she was born, seeing his princess twirling around in her Snow White costume, thinking of all the times of cuddling and praying for her when she had a nightmare, watching her score the victory goal in her school’s soccer tournament.  Even as he hated to think about those memories, he found himself poring over them like a stingy hoarder, fearful of the day when the memories would fade and he would be left with nothing.

Just then, the phone rang, interrupting his reverie.  Checking the screen, he saw that it was a 1-800 number.  Just another marketer.  It seemed that was all they got these days.  No one seemed to call anymore.  Life just goes on, I guess.  At first, after The Accident, their phone wouldn’t stop ringing with all of their friends calling to give their condolences.  Church members were regularly bringing by meals, many of them offering their help.  George knew that they were well-meaning, but after the initial flurry of calls and visits, they had all died down as everybody got busy with life once again.  Secretly he wondered if people actually avoided them now because they didn’t know what to say, but also because seeing their loss reminded them of what they could lose themselves.  And who wants to be reminded about how fragile life is?  I know I’d much rather pretend like tragedy won’t happen to me.

George gritted his teeth as he remembered the inane comments people made to him and his family:  “Your daughter is in a much better place now”; “You should celebrate that she’s with God now”; “God will never give you more than you can bear”.  Ha!  That was his personal favourite!  If that was no more than he could bear, why did he feel like he was being crushed under the weight of his unbearable loss?  Why did he feel like he wanted to die too?  And the number of people who kept quoting Scriptures to him and preaching at him drove him nuts.  It was a big part of why he avoided going to church now.   He just wished someone would invite him to go to an open field to scream curses as loudly as he could, until his throat was hoarse with a pain that equaled the agony in his heart.  Or maybe someone who would offer to get stinking drunk with him so that he could forget his life for a brief moment.

George sighed.  He knew that he wasn’t being fair.  People were trying to do the best they could.  In their shoes, he would have done the same thing.  He had done the same thing.  How his perspective had shifted when he was the one walking in those shoes.  When he was the one who had lost.  Would life ever be normal?

——

Is there anyone you know who has experienced tragic loss recently?  Think about who you could call, visit or send a card of encouragement.  The grieving process can be a very long one, and all too often, those who are grieving tend to isolate themselves, rather than reach out or ask for help.  Consider reaching out the them and letting them know that they have not been forgotten.  Whether they present as angry, sad or emotionally empty, be sensitive to the different manifestations of grief.  And be patient with those who question the goodness of God – or even the existence of God – as they wrestle with the disconnect between God’s love and why he allows loss to happen.  These grievers need our compassion not our judgement even when they’re angry and seem to reject God.  Just as God is able to bear up under their anger and continue to love and woo them back, so can we demonstrate his grace and love to these sufferers.

If this is you, my heart aches for your loss and your pain.  Please consider reaching out to others to help you through the long and lonely times. Beyond counselling, there are many wonderful grief groups that can help you feel less alone in your loss.  While your pain may not lessen, having the care and encouragement of others can give you the needed strength to endure, until you can begin to accept your loss and embrace life once again.

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Ask Dr. Merry: Husband’s Suicide Wife’s Fault?

»Posted on Sep 14, 2012 in Ask Dr. Lin, Grief, Marriage and Relationships, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 2 comments

grieving woman

I was married to my late husband for about 25 years when he decided to end his life (suicide).  My husband and I met in a church, and within months we were married.  It wasn’t until we were married that I discovered his many struggles with pornography addiction, mental illness, borderline, and bipolar disorder.  Years of having to carry the weight of two in a marriage where my husband was absent emotionally or through several hospital admissions left me tired, drained, resentful and vulnerable.  As a Christian, I never considered divorce or adultery as a possible outcome. However, when I met another man at our church who seemed healthy, stable, and showed me attention… I just fell for him and started a two year affair with him, with all the justifying and rationalizing that goes with it.  When my conscience finally got the better of me and I could no longer rationalize it, I saw a therapist at our church. In the first session he said that if I wanted to save my marriage and end the affair, I had to expose the affair to everybody I knew, including my husband, and then had to cut off all contact with the other man. I immediately told the other man that I could no longer see him, he graciously understood, and I have not seen or talked to him ever since then. I then told my husband. I’m not sure how he felt, since he refused to talk to me after that. Several days later, he shot himself.  Three years later, I  still feel guilty, I feel shame, and I feel so alone with the thought that I may have caused my husband’s death. Can Jesus forgive me for what I have done to my husband and my kids? I hate myself and wonder if I have any right to even expect relief from the consequences of my own actions?  Help… Please.

Oh, my friend, my heart goes out to you because I can hear your pain and feelings of deep shame and self-hatred.  I can hear that you want very much to do the right thing but I’m sure you’re feeling so alone right now, condemned and desperate.  And then for you to bear the weight of the responsibility for your husband’s suicide and the tragic aftermath….  I am so sorry for your pain and what you’re facing with your husband’s choice to end his life.

Before I go any further, I just want to comment briefly about the advice you were given by the counsellor at your church.  I know that he was trying to help guide you to redemption and accountability to stop your affair, but I have to be honest with you:  I hate that the counsellor focused first on the SIN and not on the person – clearly you are a hurting person who has chosen to do the right thing in coming forward and confessing.  But in giving you the advice in the FIRST session to go public – before even getting to know you, your entire story or understanding your husband’s mental illness and instability – is, in my opinion, professionally negligent.   It’s focused more on legalism than it is on grace.  Yes, you needed to stop the affair but there was still much to process and understand and healing that needed to happen before moving forward to exposure.

This is in such contrast to how I think Jesus would respond.  Interestingly, in the story in the Bible where an adulterous woman was brought forward to Jesus to be stoned (John 8), he only said to her go and sin no more – he never brought up the details of her affair or shamed or exposed her in front of others – if anything, he offered her grace.  I think with Jesus, it’s always about the state of the heart and not so much about the outward behaviour or sin.  Remember he said, neither do I condemn you.  In another encounter with someone else who completely messed up (Peter), he responded in the same way; even when Jesus met up with him after Peter denied his Lord three times, Jesus NEVER brought up his mess-ups or asked him why he did it (John 21) – can you imagine, what are you, nuts, to deny me not once, not twice, but THREE times (said in a Yiddish accent).  Instead, he greeted him with love, fed him some fish, asked Peter if he loved him and then asked him to take care of his sheep (his people)!

When I work with people who’ve had affairs who are clearly repentant and want to do the right thing, I know that they need LOTS of grace because their feelings of self-condemnation are already beating them up enough – it’s different if you’re working with someone who is flagrantly having an affair and refuses to stop or excuses or justifies their actions.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences or steps that need to be taken to restore the damage done, but it does mean that they are treated with dignity and grace, as fellow brothers or sisters.  Grace isn’t ignoring the reality of mess-ups and pretending like they never happened, but it’s going into a situation with my eyes wide open, knowing the weaknesses and mistakes and sins of the one with whom I’m in relationship and saying, I still choose to be in relationship with you.

You don’t need penance (that’s what the cross did for our sins), you need grace to heal– when you mess up this badly and go to Jesus and receive only love in response – that is when you truly understand what grace is all about.  Jesus already knew about your sin before the beginning of time and he already chose to love you and accept you as his child even knowing the worst about you – this affair doesn’t change at all how he views you.  The Bible tells us that as God’s children, we are holy and blameless in his eyes (Ephesians 1:4-5) because when God looks at us, he sees Jesus in us and HIS righteousness.  My friend, please hold onto the truth that you are a beloved daughter of the Most High King.  Don’t turn away from the love and grace he is offering you because the enemy is whispering lies to you about your “unforgiveable” sin.  I promise you, God will never turn away from you if you go to him with an open heart; instead, he will offer you the compassion, forgiveness and love that you desperately need.  Don’t wait any longer – go now.  And find yourself a godly Christian therapist who can walk with you to a place of healing.

By the way, please listen to me:  your husband’s suicide was not your fault and there was nothing that you could have done to prevent it if he had made up his mind to kill himself – it was a choice that he made.   You can’t be held hostage by a person’s threat to commit suicide and somehow make yourself responsible to always prevent that from happening; that isn’t at all a healthy way for you or your husband to have lived.  While your revealed affair may have been the trigger, it was still his years of unhappiness and inability to cope with his own tumultuous emotions that ultimately led to his decision to end his life.  I don’t know why he chose to take his own life, but many times, there is a lot of anger and a desire to “punish” loved ones; or if he was indeed borderline, it meant that he was subject to very black and white, all-or-nothing thinking which can lead to very wrong conclusions about relationships and whether they can be redeemed (they can, by the way).  You need to lay down the responsibility for your husband’s choice to kill himself – instead, choose to grieve his decision and the impact of that decision on your family’s life, work through your own emotional responses to your difficult years of marriage, take ownership for your own emotional well-being (that led to your decision to have an affair), learn from your mistakes and then move on to the future that is before you.  This experience will change you but it doesn’t have to define you or prevent you from moving forward and experiencing hope and joy once again.

 

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