Thoughts on Grieving

Hi friends! How was your weekend? I hope it was fun with the Super Bowl festivities.

We're talking about a bit of a heavier topic today, but one that we think is really important to discuss. As many of you know, my husband's father passed away 2 years ago. The anniversary of his death was just last weekend, which is what sparked my husband and I to write this post. I often get emails from readers asking how they can support their spouse in losing a loved one, or how to deal with grief after losing a loved one themselves. For every personal email I get, I bet there are so many others out there wondering the same thing, but just not in a place to reach out. We thought by writing a post about grieving, it could get an important conversation started, shed some light on a rather taboo topic, and hopefully encourage you if you're going through loss. 
Just to preface, these are our personal thoughts on death and loss and dealing with the grief that follows. There's no one right way to grieve and everyone will not experience the same feelings and emotions in their journey. With that said, we'd love to share a few thoughts with you. Also to preface, McCann's father battled cancer for around 12 years, on and off and ended up passing away just a month after we got engaged. Our obvious devastation was heightened even more by the reality that McCann wouldn't have his dad at our wedding. I was so, so grateful he saw us get engaged! I only wish I would have shown him a picture of my wedding dress before he passed. I think that would have been so special, but the thought didn't even cross my mind. It's easy to fall into "should haves" when processing death, but all we can do is trust that God is good and He's in control.
A Few Thoughts on Grieving:

1. It’s okay to not be okay. Today, next month, next year. It’s okay to be upset and sit in sadness. I even believe it's okay to wrestle with God, crying out to Him with your true feelings and questions. He knows the depths of our hearts anyways and wants to hear our cries. God is close to the brokenhearted; that's a promise. He wants to know you, he wants to hear you. The feelings you experience will come in waves. I think the balance here is that while you wrestle with what happened and sit in the valley of death (which truly is a valley), remaining hopeful is key. There is hope in eternity through Jesus. Don't lose sight of that.

2. If you are the one caring for a person who’s lost a family member or friend (like I was in my husband's case), remember you need care and rest, too. I think this is worth mentioning, because I remember caring so fiercely for my husband, that I barely remembered to check in on my own heart. This experience was very distinct for me, because I remember about a week after the death of my father-in-law, I couldn't believe I was still going. I cried when my husband cried, comforted him and somehow had energy to help with meals and try to serve his family in other ways. But one thing I hadn't done was cry and grieve for myself, for the loss of my future father-in-law. I hadn't paused. I was in complete "fight" mode (fight or flight) and it was a shear miracle I was fighting, because my natural reaction is to flight. I had an unexplainable strength come over me during this time which I'm so thankful for, but my mom reminded me that I needed to rest and be cared for (or at least take care of myself) too.

One moment I will never forget is about a week after his death, my then fiance and I thought it'd be good to go look at apartments for our first place together. He hadn't been out of the house in a week, so we thought getting some air would be helpful. Note to self: it's not helpful to go look at apartments (aka something semi-stressful). We were both very tired and still very much in the midst of grief. When we got back to my place after looking at these apartments, I lost it. I completely broke down, for the first time. I couldn't believe I was doing this in front of my fiance, but it just happened. Right there, in the midst of his own extreme pain and sorrow, he cared for me. He wrapped me in his arms and consoled me, when I should have been doing that for him. It was selfless and compassionate. 
I tell this story to say, in order to not let grief come between you and your significant other, you need to find ways to comfort each other and provide safety for one another together.

3. Co-suffering and community were two things we learned were essential. Friends who entered into our suffering with us, listened and just sat with us was a kindness of God I couldn't have made it through without. I started reading the book The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, shortly after his death and one of the most beautiful pictures she illustrates is community and what it looks like to be together in the midst of pain. God never made us to be alone! Compassion literally means "co-suffering". This quote has always stuck with me:
"Co-suffering — has the power to evict suffering— because Love moves in.

When people move into other people’s suffering — love fills the place and suffering moves out."

I'm incredibly thankful for the kindness of our friends and my family, even from afar.

4. Counseling is not a weakness. Don't ever let someone tell you that! This isn't a last resort or a thing you turn to when you're on your last leg. Counseling, therapy...whatever you want to call it...can be extremely beneficial during hard times, mostly because they listen without judgement, can help you navigate tough waters you've never walked through before, and give you tools to cope. We went to a Christian counselor at our church once after my husband's dad's death and it was so good for us. He reminded us of the hope we have in eternity and gave us so many wonderful tools. I also went a few times by myself, to learn how to best support McCann during this time.

5. If you are a friend of the person grieving: listening > talking. Listening always wins. When you do speak, speak kindly and tenderly. Even when you don’t fully understand. Asking questions about how they feel and where their heart is, is a good place to start. Giving advice right out of the gate, being harsh in any way, or saying phrases you've heard before that seem helpful to a person grieving, is not usually helpful. Ann Voskamp also offers this advice "when grief is deepest, words need be fewest." 

My husband had two friends (one was a roommate of his at the time), who had each lost a family member and they were both extremely helpful to him during this time. The one who had lost his dad many years before this, told him that when he was ready to talk about it, he'd be there for him and he just sort of walked him through the grieving process. That was such a blessing to him! Both friends filled him with encouragement and sometimes even sat and cried with him. Showing emotions, instead of stuffing them, is so important. We're big on letting things out in the open. No good comes from pretending you don't feel a certain way, when in actuality, you do.

6. Often when someone dies or someone is grieving anything (doesn't have to just be death), the griever isn’t in their right frame of mind. They can’t function properly and things that used to be easy for them or normal for them, aren’t anymore. My husband had a very hard time remembering things in the months following his dad's death. I would tell him something multiple times and it still wouldn't stick. This was so frustrating for me, and really tempting to become angry and feel like he wasn't paying any attention to me. What was really happening was he was still in the turmoil of grief. I had to constantly be reminded to give grace, then more and even more, when I thought I had run out. The months following his death were almost harder for me than the initial shock, because now I was having to navigate life with a fiance who was still grieving (and not remembering things!), while I was trying to plan our wedding. I often didn't feel heard or feel special, because his thoughts were preoccupied. I don't say this to make my husband look or feel bad (he's writing this with me!), but just to show you the reality of pain and trying to find a new normal after someone you love passes. 

7. If you're a friend of someone struggling, just show up. Send a note or a thoughtful gift. Don’t wait for them to reach out. We received so many meaningful cards and notes from my family and friends during this hard time, letting us know they were praying for us and specifically for McCann and his family. McCann's family received gift cards to restaurants, edible arrangements, kind gift baskets, visitors and many other encouraging things. Our church sent the two of us a generous gift card to go get a fancy dinner together and just go on a date. I'll never forget this generosity! One thing I recommend is checking in with people who are grieving months after the actual experience. That is usually when they could use some additional encouragement!

8. If your spouse loses someone (like me in this case), be prepared for multiple feelings to unleash. On one hand, you lost an in-law. But on the other, your husband lost his father. Your wife lost her mother. Seeing that emotional and loss in them is almost equally as painful as the loss you feel of loosing an in-law. I wanted so badly to do anything to take this pain away. But all you can do is love them and be there for them in the midst of the pain.

9. Joy will return. One thing I kept asking God was "will we ever be the same, will joy ever return, will our wedding be a joyful celebration, even in the midst of pain?" And the answer is yes, joy will return. You might not be the same as you were before the death (as with any traumatic experience, you're typically changed!) but you will find yourself again and things will start to feel more normal. However, when grief pops up when you least expect it, it's okay. That, too, is normal. I remember about a year after his dad passed away, I was praying in bed with McCann one night and I just burst into tears about his dad's death and was crying while thanking the Lord for his life. You just never know when it'll hit you. Thankfully, God promises us He is with us. We don't have to fear, because He is with us. It's not that we don't have to fear because everything will be perfect. No, friend. There will be struggle. There will be pain. Grieving is okay and we believe it's good. And we also believe good can come from pain and grief. Good can come from communing with friends who hold you up when you have nothing left. Good can come from clinging to your spouse and sharing in hard times. Good can especially come when you trust in God with your pain. He sees you and knows you and loves you. So much. Keep holding on, joy will return.

Over the last few years, we've gotten a few questions from friends, family and readers about my husband's grief. He's going to answer them below.
How did you see your community come alongside you in the days and months following your dad’s death and how did that impact you?

During those last few months when my dad was really struggling, my housemates were very intentional about asking how he was doing and how I was doing. It was so amazing and comforting to have a solid group of guys around who have gone through similar experiences with loved ones that I could be open and honest with. Coming from a background of not having a lot of deep, relational conversations with others, it took me a while to be able to open up about how I was really feeling. But I don’t think we were ever meant to go through situations like these alone and by actually being vulnerable, it did encourage me to be a better friend and brother to others who were going through similar experiences/trials.

If you could tell someone who is grieving one thing, what would it be?

The first thing I would say to them is to take time in grieving and fleshing out all emotions/feelings during that time. There is no formal grieving “process”, each person handles grief in different ways, large or small. For the first few weeks after my dad passed away, I had this feeling of disbelief and numbness of what happened, mixed with the feeling of being stuck in a bad dream, in denial of the reality that he wasn’t here anymore. After a good while of mourning and processing, the deep sadness I felt turned to a profound praise and thankfulness for the blessing of having a father for 27 years who loved me so well. Of course, I still miss him and get sad sometimes thinking about the times I wish he was here to experience with me (like our wedding and future birth of our children), but I cling to the hope of seeing him again someday and the truth that pain and death is only temporary.

What do you think about the notion that “time heals”?

That’s a very hard question to answer because I believe each person heals in different ways over time from losing a loved one. I suppose the question is how do you define “healing”? If healing to you is summarized as forgetting about the person you’ve lost or never being sad again from losing them, then I don’t think anyone is truly healed from going through a loss so great. But to me, “time heals” in this situation means that you’re not in a constant state of mourning anymore. It doesn’t mean that time takes away your pain; it just means that with time, the pain is lessened and bearable. It means that when you look back on the times you’ve had with the person - good and bad - you can remember them for what they meant to you, see how God was working in them, and how that time shaped you into the person you are today. It’s probably not a super helpful phrase to say to someone who just lost a loved one.

If you could tell the spouse of someone who just lost a parent or loved-one something about how to support their significant other in this time, what would it be?

I would say just love on them by listening and grieving alongside them. Sometimes, we just want someone to be present with us in the sorrow and grief that we’re going through – not in a “misery loves company” sort of way – but in a way that says “I see and understand why you’re suffering. I’m affected and hurting seeing you this way. I am here with you and feel it too. I love you.”

We hope this helps you in your journey of grief or better understand our journey, so that you can be there for friends and family who are experiencing pain due to death. The thing that gets us through our pain is always, always our faith and what Jesus has done for us. Because of His death on the cross, we are offered eternity with him if we place our trust in Him. When we die, we will go to Heaven with Him forever. We have hope in seeing our loved ones again! We also have hope here on earth, while we are separated from our loved ones, that God is WITH us. He will never leave us alone. 

If you are struggling or walking through a season of grief, I'd love to pray for you. You can always email me or comment below so I know how to pray. I'd love to hear your thoughts on grief below as well, because I like I said, this is just our experience.

A little heavy for a Monday, but oh-so-important to talk about! Thanks for reading.
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  1. This is beautifully written Michaela (and McCann). I could not agree more with the statements you have shared. We lost my MIL last March, she was 98 1/2. My husband is an only child. While my parents are both still living, she was my rock, the one I went to with everything.

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful, caring post! I always appreciate reading about “deeper” stuff - you never know who you’ll reach. I lost my dad when I was just six but there is STILL grieving involved. It’s multi-faceted and layered and lifelong, but it sure helps to have a strong, loving partner by your side. Hugs to you!

  3. This is so beautifully written by both of you. Thank you for opening up with something so personal.

    My husband lost both his dad and mom. He lost his dad just before we got engaged, and then his mom, 8 years later. She was living with us at the time. Her death was sudden, while his dad's was from a short battle with cancer.

    From a spouse supporting her husband point of view, I think you nailed it. I think, for me, one of the hardest parts of the entire process was people not understanding how close I was with my in-laws. The grief was intense, and I think that some people thought to support my husband more than supporting me. I don't say that to sound selfish, like I needed it more. I say it to show that the spouse has a dual-role with trying to support the loss of a parent while also trying to grieve (am I making sense?). And I agree, times creep in when you least expect it when you get lost in the grief again. It's okay, it's healthy, and it's another way to remind you of your connection to someone you deeply love in heaven.

  4. This is such a beautifully written post, and something so important to share. Thank you for sharing your hearts to help so many others x


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