“He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted.” Luke 4:18
Today l return to the topic of broken hearts and coping with grief. In October I mentioned Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s book Mourning Into Dancing. He says, “Grief is the grace of God within us.” Then he adds, “Grief is itself the knitting of wounded souls . . .” I believe God heals us by putting our wounded soul back together; never again will the soul be the same, but still mended.
Just for sake of review since it’s been several weeks since that post and every teacher knows that you have to review students/readers when you’ve abandoned a topic. (You just can’t take the teacher out of my blood!) Wangerin divides the grieving process into acts.
Act 1: Shock
The emotional forces are marshaled so they are ready when the pain comes with all its strength. A person may swing back and forth in the stage of shock by doing the right thing but feeling nothing at all.
Act 2: Fight (Wangerin calls it Wrestling with the Angel)
This stage may look like mood swings because we fight our battle in different ways at different times. We may fight with our physical strength, with our heart, or with our intellect.
- With all our strength we deny our loss whether it is a death, a divorce, the loss of a job or a friendship.
- With all our heart we fight against what is with rage, anger, or fury.
- With all our mind we try to bargain with ourselves or with God by thinking or arguing death away, “If I only things were different . . .”
Fighting is frequently displayed as denial. During the first night of Jennifer’s death Larry and I would wake up and say, “It’s true; she still dead.” We were in shock and had to remind ourselves we weren’t dreaming. And yet days and weeks after that we still would say, “I can’t believe she is gone.” Our mind can play such tricks on us because we want to believe so strongly that a mistake has been made. There were times when Larry and I returned home that I would imagine there would be a message on the answering machine from Jennifer.
She would tell us that she had just been away. Jennifer’s roommate had a horrible nightmare in which she dreamed Jennifer came into their apartment and told her she really had not died. It was such a vivid dream to her and of course, when she awoke, it was not true.
Denial takes a lot of work; it’s a struggle to gain control when life is spiraling out of control. I’ve read may experts on grieving who emphasize that there is no prescribed sequence for any of these stages. I would abandon one stage and move to another, only to return months later to the one abandoned. It’s one of the ways that grieving keeps a heart unbalanced — emotions can just be hijacked with a song or by seeing an old friend. Rereading my journals provides evidence of the swings of heart break and peace for me.
Clutching a Life Preserver
Just a few months before Jennifer died in April, 2002, I began a three year course of studies at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville to earn a doctorate in education. One of the unique things about the program was its organization into a cohort plan. Students were carefully selected for each new class in groups of 25. The cohort group remained together throughout the course of three years. The advantage of such a plan soon became evident to me – we were in classes together fall, spring, and summer. Another distinction of the program was that we began our dissertation right away. As soon as a topic was approved we began writing Chapter 1. By April I was already in the first stage of writing the first chapter; the writing became my life preserver.
Journal Entry, 2 months after her death
Friday, June 14, 2002
Jehovah Raphe, the Healer,
You have been faithful to hold me up and support me in this pain. Today completes a week of depression – a heaviness in my soul from missing Jennifer. Tears seem to wash my soul; I am listless, passive.
BUT through it all I have been able to write and concentrate on Chapter 1. Thanks be to God for this incredible blessing. I have sat for hours at the computer with complete absorption in the subject. That has to come from You and the prayers of faithful souls.
I continue to need Your support and healing – I cannot do this alone, but friends are not enough either. I can feel Your hand working through these lonely times.
Please keep Your hands over and around Josh and his family. Give them what they need as we all heal. As always, guide Larry through this journey in ways that heal him.
Besides finding a refuge in my studies for Trevecca, during those early months I fought with my intellect to make sense of Jennifer’s death. I looked for books on death; I read laments from the Psalms and wrote them in my journal. I searched bookstores to find writers that made sense to me. I wasn’t so angry emotionally at that time; I was trying to clarify, understand, and seek the advice of others in ways to cope. I’ve quoted from my favorites in these Friday blogs and will create a booklist of resources for this blog. I’ve recommended and given away many of these helpful books.
To demonstrate how my feelings shifted from day to day, here is an entry just four days after June 14.
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Jehovah Raphe, I am healed today. Sunday was so hard and I cried all day. Life looks so bleak and hopeless on those days. I praise you that yesterday and this morning the sadness was lifted, and there was joy. These groanings are so painful and being with the saints on Sundays sometimes makes it worse.
Psalm 25:6 “Lord, remember your mercy and love that you have shown since long ago.”
Sunday, June 17 was Father’s Day. I’ll share that entry in a later post because at the time it felt like I was in Wangerin’s Act 3: Sadness and Despair.
July 6th we began our summer session at Trevecca and lived on campus for nine days. It was intense academic work, but also extremely healing for me. In one of our courses on leadership we studied The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. Our cohort grew stronger and bonded during those days by practicing the habits we learned, frequently affirming each other through notes and encouragement as we worked on projects.
We had to write mission statements and create a plan for our lives that included all dimensions – physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. When you have to explain your plan with a Power Point presentation in front of professors and fellow cohort members, you realize you’ve made a public declaration that holds you accountable.
My plan included a trip Larry and I planned to take later in July. We wanted to hike the trail and climb the mountain that Jennifer fell from in April. We needed to see the place where she died. We were fighting with our intellect to understand her death. We made plans to meet Josh at his family’s cabin near the Cherokee National Forest.
Next Friday’s Heart Lesson will share that journey.
I wrote these words in my journal referencing My Utmost for His Highest.
“The clouds are the dust of His feet.” Nahum 1:3 Sorrow, bereavement and suffering are actually the clouds that come along with God. He does not come in clear-shining brightness. He does not want to teach us something in our trials. He wants us to unlearn something. “His purpose in using the cloud is to simplify our beliefs until our relationship with Him is like a child.” (Oswald Chambers, July 29)
Counting the joys of fellow students at Trevecca who encouraged me during some very hard days.
Counting the joy that I was able to write my dissertation and complete the program.
Counting the gift of higher education and the joy of learning.