Many years ago, I was on vacation on the east coast of the USA with some girlfriends. While we were there, a hurricane was moving up from the Caribbean. Thankfully it never made landfall, but we felt the effects of it none the less. It was dark and stormy, the ocean was incredibly strong, and the winds were like nothing I’d experienced before. We were only seeing the edge of the storm, but even so, it was rough.
I was watching hurricane Irma on the news last weekend, and heard something very interesting. The radar imaging showed dots that were actually flocks of birds caught up in the eye of the storm. Apparently this often happens. They cannot escape the storm as the raging winds around the eye are too violent for them to fly through, so they are stuck within the eye, travelling with the hurricane until the storm dissipates.
Hearing about these trapped birds reminded me of grief. My experience of grief was the mother of all storms, violent, raw and raging. Like the birds, I was trapped at the centre of my storm, at the mercy of the elements, surrounded completely by unrelenting wind, rain, darkness and death. No way out, and powerless to help myself. Yes, powerless. Now for those of you that are more spiritual than I, you may be thinking that is such a negative statement, after all, we can do all things through Christ right? Well, I respectfully beg to differ. Grief, depression, despair, loss, trauma can leave you absolutely paralysed, unable to help yourself in any way. The birds couldn’t escape the storm, and neither could I.
It’s been 2 years now since my mum died, and I have had periods where I have been lower than the lowest place possible. I’ve been repeatedly plagued by passively suicidal thoughts (I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable) I have been alone in the dark, afraid, terribly afraid, and have felt cut off even from God.
You know, not all of those trapped birds will survive the hurricane. They have to keep flying within the eye as the storm follows its course. They cannot rest until the storm ends, and they become exhausted. Grief is exhausting, utterly, utterly, I’ll say it again, utterly exhausting. If you are in a dark place, this may be hard to hear, but you have to wait, you just have to wait. I was talking to my therapist this week, and she said ‘it takes faith to wait in that dark place’.
I’d never thought that before, and honestly, at no point did I feel that I had any faith at all. I still don’t think I’ve got much faith if I’m totally honest. But whether you feel it or not, you are being faithful in waiting, and showing immense bravery.
It’s sad, but very few people will understand your grief, and even fewer will want to be there for you. It’s hard to see someone struggling for a long time, we naturally want to ‘fix’ people. Sometimes that’s because we genuinely want people to feel better, but sometimes it’s because we just don’t want to look at their pain anymore.
My therapist asked me recently what would have helped me when I was in the very depths of depression. My answer? I just wanted someone to say ‘I see you, and I hear you, and I’m with you’.
It reminded me of a situation that happened not long after my mum died. I was extremely low for a number of reasons on top of my grief. I really was in a desperate place. I sent a text to a dear friend who lives far from me, saying something like ‘I wish you were here’. She replied that she was heading out, but would call me the following day. At the time, I was sitting on my couch with a bottle of wine in one hand, and about 150 antidepressants in the other. When I say I was desperate, I really mean desperate. Well only a few moments after my friend had texted, she called me. She was just heading out the door but felt that calling me back couldn’t wait. I couldn’t speak through my tears for about 10 minutes, but she stayed with me on the phone. She……..Stayed…….With……Me. In that moment, she was my connection with humanity, my connection with life. In that moment she shared my grief, it was a raw, and profound, and holy moment, and I will forever be grateful for that moment in time.
If you’re struggling right now, let me tell you, I know where you are. I’ve seen that place, and I think you’re incredibly brave. Know this, at some point the storm will abate. Please just hold on. I’m not permanently in that terrible place anymore, but I do still find myself there sometimes. It’s just the nature of grief, it’s life altering.
Those birds that survive the storm end up displaced. Maybe they started out in Cuba, and ended up in Georgia, the storm has carried them far from home. They are alive, but their lives are completely changed, and so is mine. Grief is for life. I don’t mean that I will forever be grieving with the intensity of those early days, or that I will be depressed and despairing forever. I simply mean that grief has changed the very core of my being. I see things differently, I have learned valuable and painful lessons. I have experienced the best and the worst in people. My world is different, there is a part of me that will always, always be sad, and I’m ok with that. Grief is for life, it’s just an indication of how much I love my mum, and how deeply I miss her.
Despite all this, I now know, that in the darkness of my storm, I was seen. Seen by my closest friends. Seen by God.
In the eye, I am seen, and you my friend are seen too.