Brokenhearted: Act 3

Heart LessonBroken Heart

The third act of grieving according to Wangerin is sadness and despair.(Act 1 is in the post of October 5th, and Act 2 is in Dec. 7th) This is a hard act to write about – it is hopelessness, a passive surrender. These were the days I felt as though I was in a pit or walking in the valley of the shadow of death.

This description from Mourning Into Dancing made sense to me — not that I felt this way every day, but in the swing of grief that has you up and down with no warning. The author says that sadness is an intensely private affair when it may be impossible to communicate. Crying may be more like “leaking” tears; even small things can trigger tears because you have no resources.

There is just nothing when you feel hopeless. To be without hope is to despair.

This journal entry from Father’s Day, 2002 tells of my despair:

So I’m in the 3rd act – sadness, despair. My tears have leaked all day. During worship I could not sing, after hugs, I could not talk. The concrete blocks are heavy today. Yesterday, I thought of my own death. I wished it had been me to die instead of her. Sure she would have missed me, but she and Josh would have been together, living to the fullest, blessing so many lives.

Now I question whether I can teach this fall — what if I stay in this despair? I am so tired today. How will I face 8th graders every day?

God’s grace is all I have It’s all I had more than 25 years ago when I thought I would never have a child. What a different life it would have been without Jennifer. How different we would be!

So I call on Jehovah Raphe to heal this pain and guide me through it. Place your arms around me and hold me, Abba Father.

Going to church continued to be one of the hardest times of the week. I just kept feeling all those emotions building and building until they just poured out in tears and sobs. There were times I could not bear to look at her picture. I talked to David, my brother about this, and he sent this email to me. David is a counselor in West Tennessee.

Sis,                                                     July, 2002

It is amazing how many times I hear people say how hard it is to go to church. “I’m doing fine all week long, but then on Sunday’s I slide back into the dark hole,” or similar statements. My conclusion about that phenomenon is that we keep our defense mechanisms in place during the week in order to function in our various roles (work, student, etc.), but on Sunday we let all those defenses relax, as we let our spirits and emotions go. In worship we are very introspective and open a part of us that is intensely intimate. But that opens the flood gates for every emotion we’ve been holding in check all week.

What I’m saying is that what is happening to you is normal.

For a while you may occasionally have to sneak into worship at the last minute and leave before dismissal. or you may have to stay home occasionally. Your damaged spirit will need some time to heal itself.

Hope this is helpful.


I took his advice and we always sat in the very back of the church. We often left before the last “Amen” to avoid the crowd. When I was in really dark places, I stayed home. But I didn’t feel guilty about missing worship. David’s advice was like “permission” to miss. I was learning how to take care of myself, guarding my heart.

And yet, I would go from despair to faith. The next day I could put pictures in an album without sadness. Journal entry: And so I can abide in the love of Christ. I can remember His peace and find comfort in His presence.

My practice of daily meditation and quiet in July found me on a bench beside a pond on the grounds of a hospital complex near my home. LakeParkOn July 25th I wrote about a moment that I still treasure.

As I focused on my breathing, I stilled my thoughts and then they drifted. I had the clearest image of Jennifer watching and knowing how hard it was for me to meditate. I saw her speak to the Father and ask Him to give me a healing touch. I could see the Father reach down and touch me on the shoulder. My tears flowed in grief and joy that she could do this for me but also in love that the Father could see my pain.

I’ve never had a “vision” from God or actually heard God speak to me, but this was such a clear image to me. Did I see it? Could I prove it occurred? None of that matters to me. It made a difference in how I felt that day, and continues to assure me that my Father in heaven understands this grief.

The other piece of this third act is about dying yourself. Another book that gave me a window of understanding is No More Words by Reeve Lindbergh. She is the daughter of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Reeve’s first son died before he was two years old, and she knew her mother’s similar experience might help.

At the time of my son’s death, when I asked my mother what would happen to me as the mother of the child, how that part of me would continue, she said, “It doesn’t. You die, that’s all. That part of you dies with him. And then amazingly, you are reborn.” (p, 16)

My journey of grief was still in the early days – the first half of a year. I look back in my journal of August 3rd and 4th and find these words: Just when I think I am doing well, the bottom falls out. Pictures are reminders, and I welcome them because sometimes she is just a name and not a vibrant joyful person. She is truly frozen in time at the peak of beauty, energy, fitness, love, and life. 

Counting Joys 

  • I thank God that telling my story has helped others on their journey.
  • for that moment on a park bench when I saw Jennifer in heaven
  • for the words from Mourning Into Dancing that gave me insight
  • the love and support of my three brothers and their wives throughout this journey
  • God’s selfless act of redemption when He sent His only Son
  • His own grief over the death of His Son so that He shares our own suffering



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