Picture this: You've had a normal life. Normal things have happened to you. You've felt normal feelings about those normal things. Things were normal. One morning you wake up normally, only to discover you're missing an arm. An arm. Gone. You had two arms yesterday. Today you have one. You're devastated. You have no answers. All you know is you had two arms when you went to sleep, and now you have one. You try to go on as you once did, but everything is so much more difficult. You can't eat. You can't drive. You can't type as fast. You can't hold your coffee in one hand and your phone in the other. Your arm is missing, and you'll never get it back. Eventually you realize you have to do things differently in order to get them done at all. You can't go on like you have two arms, you have to live with only one. You rearrange everything for the simple fact you need to function. Things will never be the same, but you're doing the best you can with your "new normal".
At first, people are sympathetic. "Sorry you lost your arm." Then they start to expect from you things they always expected from you. They invite you to play catch. They reach out to shake your hand, and even though they know you're missing that arm, they still expect you to shake their hand somehow. They reach up to give you a high five and you have to set things you're holding with your one hand down, so you can reach across and high five them. You do whatever you can to accommodate their idiosyncrasies and try not to make them feel uncomfortable around you, even though you're the one with the missing arm. You grow tired of their ignorance, and eventually start to remind them, "You know I only have one arm, right?" "You do realize I'm still missing my arm." These reminders start to grate them. After all, it's been a long enough time, you should know how to live with one arm by now. You need to quit being sad about it, and just get on to the next thing because that's what people do. They start to look down upon you for being so weak-minded.
One day you're walking down the hall, carrying everything you can under your one arm. Someone not paying attention bumps you and you drop everything all over the floor. They keep walking. You've reached your breaking point and you start to cuss or cry as you helplessly try to gather everything in a pile so you can pick it up again. Someone bends down and puts a hand on your shoulder. Finally, someone to help. Someone who understands. you think. Instead they say these words: "Have you thought about taking an anti-depressant?"
I don't know about you, but I might leave my pile as it were, and haul off and smack them with my only hand. Twice. Chuck Norris style. I ONLY HAVE ONE ARM! HOW AM I NOT ALLOWED TO BE UPSET I LOST ONE OF MY ARMS?!
Such is grief. Such is losing a loved one. Such is losing Harlynn.
Personal disclaimer: I know about clinical depression, and I know and agree that there are people and cases where prescription anti-depressants are appropriate and absolutely necessary. I used to suffer from PMDD myself, and I've seen the importance and impact of medications. My point in this post is this: there is a difference between grief, and clinical depression, and it is important to realize the difference. Please seek medical advice or help to further explore the possibilities of depression. Noting the difference between the two conditions, I think it is important people stop pushing pills, and start allowing grief to be expressed as it is: grief.
The morning after we delivered Harlynn, the on-call doctor asked if I wanted her to prescribe me anti-depressants. Still in disbelief from delivering our daughter without a heartbeat, my disbelief was furthered that the doctor would immediately suggest "masking" my personal pain with the prescription of a pill. I declined. Some prescriptions can take in the neighborhood of two to three months before one is able to notice their impact, or even side effects for that matter. The way she was offering it up, it seemed like it would be some magic mood-enhancer that would begin to work immediately and mend my broken heart.
My last hospital stay, coincidentally that same doctor released me. As I cried, explaining how stressful this was to be admitted and sent home, admitted and sent home again, without having a baby, and so close to the one year anniversary of losing Harlynn, her response was a calculated, "Would you like me to prescribe you an anti-depressant?" I shook my head and prayed she would just quickly get out of my room. Apparently, after a year, I'm not allowed the freedom to be stressed out, or upset, or still grieving the fact that the last baby I carried, the little sister Little Miss was anticipating so much, died. DIED. Obviously, silly me, there's just a pill for that.
I believe, for whatever reason, we've lost the ability to feel or express feelings without being judged. Without being measured. Eventually, people who haven't lived through it, tire of those of us who have, and just want us to get on with life already, so they don't have to be uncomfortable. It's a stark reality, and a bitter truth, but it is, in fact, truth. Live it, deal with it, get on to the next thing. Why? When did that change?
In biblical times, this is what people in mourning did:
- They tore their clothes. Ripped them apart. Ruined them.
- They covered themselves in ashes and/or sackcloth.
- They shaved their heads. No more hair. Gone. Full, flowing locks, to sunless-white bald.
- They wailed in the streets. Wailed. Loudly. For days.
- They had others, some even hired to, wail with them. Public display of weeping.
Public display of everything. There was no question one was in mourning, and everyone who witnessed it, knew the person had every right, and every freedom, to mourn as publicly and as intensely as they needed to.
What we do today:
- Cry. But only a little bit, and only because we've been trying not to cry, but some tears still sneak out.
- Plan/attend a funeral.
- Hide our pain from everyone else.
- The moment that pain resurfaces, have someone offer an anti-depressant.
Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this? I lost an arm - our daughter. Why is it not okay for me to be sad about that, or express that sadness?
Jesus (and no, I am not comparing myself or anyone else to Jesus) knew what he was going to face. He was prepared for the suffering he would endure, and he knew the entire time it was coming. Even as He prayed in the garden, He asked that the cup be removed from Him. On the cross, He cried out to God, "Why have you forsaken me?" He was not taken by surprise by anything that happened to Him, yet he still, our mighty Savior, cried out to God in his physical and emotional pain and anguish. What would you say to Him? "Well, you knew this was going to happen, Lord. So....maybe you should just own it and get on with saving the souls of mankind. Forget all this emotion stuff, because...I mean, what good is it?"
Ecclesiastes 3:4, one of the verses that the Byrds sang in their "Turn, Turn, Turn" song, reads "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." For so many years, I was guilty of interpreting this as "cry for a little bit, then be happy for the long-haul." That is not what it says at all. It says there is a time. Not "one and done". Time goes on and on, and the sun rises and sets. Repeatedly, in fact. So if there is a time for the sun to rise and a time for the sun to set - every single day - then surely we are allowed periods of time to grieve one moment, celebrate the next. Grieve again. Celebrate again. There is no set time. There is simply set-aside time. "When the time comes" to do whatever it is your heart needs to do, do it at that time! Then, do not be ashamed or confused when that time comes around again.
One of my new favorite people was talking to me the other day and asked if I "took anything". I shook my head. She commented that lately she'd been having some angry days (she lost a baby as well) and felt like she just needed to start taking medicine again. I don't know her history or her chemical composition, so I have no place to comment, especially since she is the only one who has experienced her happenings. It did get me thinking, though. The reasons she provided were, she was having "angry days". She was catching herself getting emotional at random times. She was just trying to go on and do her job, and she kept getting choked up because she would think about her baby. I wanted to ask, "and what about that isn't okay?"
Later in Ecclesiastes (7:2-4), we read this:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Proverbs 14:13: Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.
There is a time to grieve. To feel. To question. To suffer. And when that time comes, do not disallow yourself that expression. Do not get mad at yourself for having feelings of brokenness. Do not hesitate to cry out to God. Do not let pride, or someone else's expectations, get in the way of your path to healing.
To be continued...