Did you know that it’s actually possible to feel inextricably happy and sad at the exact same time? It’s definitely possible. I learned that this past week. I “researched” Google to see if there is a word that describes feeling both of those emotions at the same time and my results seemed to come up a bit skewed. The closest word I could find in the English language to describe feeling both happiness and sadness, simultaneously, was: “bittersweet”. However, I don’t find that word actually provides me with the satisfaction I require today. It just doesn’t seem to convey what I feel…precisely. Google’s mixed results also suggested the words, “saudade” – a Portugese term referring to “a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for something or someone that one cares for and/or loves”, and “elatasad”, which apparently means, “feeling sad but also happy and excited”. I don’t know if the Oxford dictionary recognizes those terms or not, but frankly, I don’t care. They’re exactly how I’m feeling right now, so I’ll go with them.
As you most likely already know, there are seven stages to the grieving process. You also are probably aware that those stages rarely are experienced in any order…and those stages are likely to repeat themselves at any given time. The seven stages of grief don’t care one iota about order. They just hit you hard, usually when you least expect them. I won’t bore you with providing an exegesis on those seven stages, rather, for the sake of some brevity, I’ll assume you know most of them.
Anger. I’m so angry that I don’t even know what to type at this very moment. You know it. You’ve felt it. I mean REALLY felt it! There have been times where the anger you’ve felt has made you want to vomit, to shake, to scream profanity into the freezing cold, dark night. And then…you realize there is nothing you can do. So you just stare. At nothing really. You just feel…empty. Angry. Unbelievably depressed. Wondering if there is something, anything, you could have done to help prevent the current events that are swirling inside your mind. But that’s just it. You couldn’t. There is/was nothing you could do. And that’s when you stand in your friend’s empty house, making sure the pipes haven’t frozen in -40 degree weather, staring at the emptiness around you, recognizing that the emptiness you see before you, matches the empty and gaping hole left in your heart. They’ve gone. And no amount of questioning or re-running conversations in your mind will bring them back. And there you are amidst all the “empty”, left to figure out how to grieve it all.
For me, my anger and despair arose this week from saying goodbye to a friend. Not through death, but from a long-distance move. You might think that I’m being overly dramatic. “Your friend moved away? Seriously? Anger and grief because of that?” I hear you. And something inside me snarls that I know nothing of real grief. But the real me knows that I do. We could discuss my childhood friend dying in a horrific and tragic car accident when he was only 5 years old…before I could say goodbye. We could discuss watching my father leave my childhood home while I begged him to come back…before I could say goodbye. (He didn’t.) We could discuss the time I booked my plane ticket in the middle of university finals to fly to Ontario…to say goodbye…to my grandfather, just to be informed the next morning he passed away. I made it for the funeral. I have a profound hatred for goodbyes. I wonder why….
But, we don’t need to get into all that. I do know grief. In my own way. And you know yours. But here’s the real thing: My anger/grief/emptiness/whatever you want to call it, doesn’t stem from the saying goodbye…this time. It stems from the reason my friend had to leave.
I’ve said goodbye to two friends in the last three years due to very unjust and unfair circumstances. This one? Abuse. Does that make you cringe? I hope it does. Because of abuse that had gone on for way too long, my friend and her husband had to pack up their family, their belongings, their whole life, and move away. Her husband quit his job and they are moving from a beautiful, new home to a bat and mice-infested home far away. Why? Her words to me were, “Because it’s better than abuse”. That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I’m devastated. It’s so unfair and unjust. If I’m this angry, how must my friend feel? She’s the one having to say goodbye to everything. I’m angry, not only for me, but also for her.
“Every heart has its secret sorrows which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The burden of grief weighs heavily, doesn’t it? This past year has afforded me the privilege to provide care and a listening ear to two women who have lost their husbands. I’ve had the opportunity to sit with both ladies – to listen to their hearts, to hear some of their grief. And that has been an honor for me. I don’t take those opportunities lightly. I appreciate them. Those moments are sacred. They remind me that our life here is short. Our time is not unlimited. Our relationships and friendships do not and cannot last forever. At least, not here on earth.
But THAT is where we have hope! Our hope lies in Jesus Christ – the One who comforts us and grieves with us. The One who knows grief intimately. The One who said goodbye to the riches and beauty and comfort of His heavenly home, to take on human form, to give us eternal life – forgiveness of sins and the hope and assurance of heaven, where we will never have to say goodbye ever again.
That is why I can smile tonight. That is why I can feel grief and inextricable happiness at the same time. Not only because of the hope we have of heaven and no more “goodbyes”, but also because I love my friend dearly and desire the best for her. And right now, the best thing for her is to move away from her current situation to a more peaceful one. When you love someone, it hurts to say goodbye, but you also can’t help but rejoice to see them encounter freedom and peace in their lives. You rejoice in all happiness for them and their new-found home and hope. That’s just what friends do.
When was the last time you experienced it? Grief, that is.
The sad reality of life here on this planet is that we all do and will experience grief more often than we would ever desire to. But…God is gracious. And yes, I may have to keep reminding myself of that fact (every day), but it’s true. I won’t, even for a moment, pretend to have answers for you on the topic of grief, how long it will last, when it might overwhelm you, or what constitutes the appropriate situation to cause grief, because we cannot be the judge of one another’s grief…ever. I would argue that grief is sacred. It’s a process that must be honored and respected by all and never given a time frame.
I believe it was Dr. Seuss who penned, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” There is profound truth to those words. It seems like just yesterday that a co-worker of mine told me (when discovering I was moving to my current home-town) that his nephew’s wife lived there and that I should really meet her because we’d get along great. I nodded and agreed, having no clue how I’d actually get in touch with or meet this woman, but God did. I found myself sitting in a very random group of ladies one evening when I overheard someone whisper that the woman sitting directly across from me was “so-and-so’s nephew’s wife”. Immediately, I terrified her by excitedly asking her to confirm that remark and by stating how I was told we were supposed to meet and be friends. Thankfully, the surprise and fright that I caused her didn’t last, and by God’s grace, we developed a beautiful friendship over the last few years. One of trust, mutual respect, and love. Although I hated saying goodbye to her this week, I’m profoundly grateful and thankful for the time God allowed us to be friends. And by His grace, we will continue that friendship with the wonderful use of technology. A blessing. Absolutely.
For now, my heart hurts. And that’s ok. Because I know that God is not only with me, but He’s also with her in this move, guiding her steps, filling her with His peace, and being her Providence. And He does that for each of us when we ask Him to. Regardless of our circumstances, regardless of our current pain or grief or heartache, He is our peace. Lay your head on your pillow tonight, resting in the knowledge that He will provide for you, that He is your Peace…in every situation you face. Rest in the hope we have of heaven: a place where we won’t have to say goodbye ever again.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”– John 14:27