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grief is weird. the loss of those close to us can stir up all kinds of hard things in really unexpected ways. while i have seen death, i have yet to lose someone super close to me other than my grandparents who had lived a long, amazing life. at the same time, one thing that i keep observing is how grief crosses beyond the loss of a person. the loss of a relationship, a marriage, a job, a church, our faith, all kinds of other things all have some of the same dynamics–you just never know when the reality of the loss will sneak up on us.
meet my dear friend riley*. we all know that sometimes our greatest pains become our greatest strengths. in her case, the loss of both of her parents (but mainly her mom) inspired her to become a grief therapist and help other kids navigate through the sea of loss with more love, support, and compassion than she was able to find. listen in on how she is finding hope amidst her reality.
- grief is weird. it sneaks up on us in all kinds of strange ways that are unexpected. you lost your mom 9 years ago and the grief still comes in waves now and then. how has it re-emerged during this season?
This past year has been one of the most incredible, challenging, and life-changing ones in my life. These exciting transitions have transformed me at my core, and there have been so many milestones that have left me deeply longing for my mom’s presence. I have wanted my mom’s support for the person I am becoming, and the life that I can no longer share with her. My mom died a month after I turned 22, and I am such a different person than I was at that time. I so want her to be proud of who I am, almost 9 years later, and the fact that I can’t ask for her or hear her voice, makes me sometimes ache for her even more. Losing your mom in your twenties is difficult in that you are at the age where can look back and see qualities in her that one would value in a friend. I really miss not only mom, but the close friend that never will be.
- as a grief therapist, you know all the right answers on grief, but we all know that grief is not a science. what are some things that have surprised you about your grief?
Grief bursts, I realize, are super normal, and the knowledge of that has really made me feel less crazy. The actual intervals between grief responses do lengthen over time, for sure, but the longing never goes away. However, the depths of my heartache has taken me by surprise, and how even now I find myself in with tears over missing her. After my mom died in 2001, I saw a fabulous therapist and experienced so much healing around the loss. But sometimes new seasons bring new pain, too. I have had to give myself way more space than I would have anticipated to grieve in different ways this season.
- what are some of the things you cried out to God in these past months?
I have asked God on several occasions to take away different strains of jealousy that sneak in now and again. I desire to be a part of a family so very badly, and it actually annoys me how often I have wanted to feel irreplaceable and a special part of one. I have prayed for comfort and for my ability to allow myself to feel–and not explain away– the incredible love and support that I truly do have in my life. Still, I can’t deny that’s what I want, that’s what I wish I had. Also, “they” seem to market Mother’s Day earlier and earlier each year, haha, and since I don’t want to avoid life altogether during this season, I also ask for lots of strength through it. My birthday, Mother’s Day, my mom’s birthday, and the anniversary of her death are all within about a 30 day period, so I know that I need to practice great self-care during that time frame.
- what is it like to grieve in community, to be honest with others what you are thinking and feeling and experiencing?
Being so independent & not having any family for so long has now been a bit more of a double-edged sword. My independence has really become a part of who I am, yet it can become dangerous if I don’t choose to let others in on my process. The really beautiful part of our Refuge community is our collective ability to allow the freedom to deeply feel. I love that The Refuge is not a place where we would try and comfort with only words, but with presence. I definitely don’t need or want answers or verses or helping phrases, but real presence. Our community is so great at that, and that is why it is really a safe place to just be. When my mom died, I feel like I did my “grieving” in private, channeled my energy into a big memorial event for my mom that my friends were a huge part of, and tucked the public piece far, far away. While I try not to talk about her too much, I feel like I have mentioned her more in the past year than I did publicly the year she died. It feels very liberating to be in a community of friends who are willing to hear, not just listen when things come up. It feels really comforting to have such an integral part of my story to be truly known.
- in the midst of darkness, hope always seems to pop up in the strangest of ways. how is hope emerging from the darkness for you?
I feel like this new layer of healing has made me appreciate how &%$^ hard I have worked to get to where I am at, yet to give myself the grace of still being in process. I can honestly say that even though there have been some rough grief patches, I have never been happier in my entire life. While there are so many factors that play into that statement, I believe that a huge piece is due to allowing myself to be authentic with this integral piece of my story. I tried for so long, somewhat subconsciously, to “protect” others from my grief story. Sometimes I just want to talk about who my mom was, and it is risky to share my heart about it. That perceived projection left that part of my heart lonely, and I am finding so much hope that it does not have to be that way. I have so much confidence that my community embraces all of me, not just the happy parts.
- what has this easter season been like for you? what has been stirred up through it?
It has been a lot of bumping up against my pride and my desire to always point to all the healing that has been a part of my life. The secondary issues connected to grief and loss have been stirred up in new ways for me during this season. Instead of brushing them under the carpet, or letting them rule my life or day, I have been allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to talk them through.
- hope can be dangerous. how are you holding on to it despite its risks?
I believe that continuing to lean into my own story, especially the dark patches, is continuing to not only allow me to be a more compassionate therapist, advocate, and friend, but also a more real me. I have found that I have been able to live out my life from a deeper, more powerful place as I step into this next leg of my journey.
thank you, riley. yes, grief is weird. and good. and healing. to all those out there grieving losses–of loved ones, or lost dreams, of relationships, of faith-as-you-knew-it, of all kinds of other things–as you let yourself feel, may you some how some way experience God’s hope & new life in the midst.
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ps: i’ve got a new little (and short, yeah!) post up at communitas collective called questions in the now
ppss: one of my fav bloggers rachel held evans recently asked some other bloggers “what is the good news?” she asked me to participate. you can read everyone’s responses here; there’s some good stuff. this is what i wrote:
“to me, the good news is that Jesus is alive and well flowing through average, ordinary people who reflect the image of God in all kinds of wild and beautiful ways. it’s a reminder that the ways of the world are counter cultural to the ways of the kingdom—that in God’s economy, the poor are really rich and the weak are really strong. the good news is that what the world sees and what God sees are two different things. what we call ugly, God calls beautiful. the good news is the spirit of Jesus carried into dark places, bringing light where there is none, advocating for justice & equality for the poor and marginalized, passing on love to the unlovely & lonely, bringing healing and restoration to what’s broken and divided. the good news is that the life of sacrifice, humility and love that Jesus embodied–when reflected, encouraged, nurtured, valued, extended–changes people, neighborhoods, communities, cities, the world.”