When we did finally get good news about my mom’s condition—namely that her pancreatic cancer was in REMISSION (which is a rare miracle)—I did not feel the excitement or relief I expected. I cheered and clapped, but inside I felt like all I really wanted to do was retreat by myself and cry a while.
This inner response was unexpected and surprising, and I asked some trusted advisors what it could mean. They were all in agreement. I needed time to grieve. I needed to “honor the losses.”
I wasn’t really sure what it meant to “honor the losses.” I didn’t have any memories or experiences of “honoring the losses” to draw on so I did what came to mind. On my next free day, I drove to the McDonald’s parking lot, one of the few places one can be alone during restrictions in a pandemic, and I parked by the garbage dumpsters where I thought I would not bother anyone. I sat in the car and pulled out my 3 x 5 cards. (3 x 5 cards are my go-to for most spiritual exercises.) I prayed and asked the Lord to help me remember the losses, and I started writing down every loss that came to mind from the whole last year, one per card. Some things that came to mind did not surprise me, because I had grieved them already:
- My mom’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.
- Stepping back from my position on staff at church.
- The jail ministry, for which I volunteered, shutting down due to COVID.
The losses that surprised me were the smaller ones, so many of them:
- That nothing was easy anymore. It was so hard to navigate errands and groceries and just getting a birthday present.
- That my son didn’t get to celebrate with friends when he turned 21.
- That we could not have my son’s best friend stay overnight like he usually did.
- Packing a bag for the hospital so I am always ready in case my family has another emergency.
- Not being able to show hospitality to my in-laws.
I cried more for the smaller losses, the ones that I now realized were not so small. They were painful, and I had ignored the pain.
On and on the losses came to mind. The pauses were short. I would pray and ask the Lord to bring to my mind any other losses, and more would come.
I filled 41 cards.
41 cards filled with pain and loss.
So much pain.
So much loss.
I began to feel compassion for myself, to feel compassion for this person who had experienced so much loss this year. It makes sense that someone who had endured so much would be struggling.
I sat in the quiet car not sure what to do. Had I honored them enough? Would this fix my emotional constipation?
I decided to visit a cemetery I often go to. (Yes, I like to spend time in a cemetery. Cemeteries are quiet and pretty, and people don’t think you are odd if you cry.) I spent time going through each card and praying, offering up the loss to God.
I experienced some interruptions there and did not feel “done” so then I went to a nearby park. It was not busy, and I found a bench deep in the park where I sat alone for close to an hour and never saw another soul. It was so good. I just sat there. I didn’t really try to think about anything. I just sat and looked at the early spring earth around me. Nothing hurried me. There was space to hurt and be. I was with the Lord and we did not need to say or do anything.
I think that’s one of the most generous things I have ever done for myself.
And that was it.
I left the park and went back home.
But I felt like there was a stillness that came with me that I carried in my heart.
I can’t say that anything changed dramatically that day or even the next…but I think it was an important part of keeping my heart alive and soft, even through suffering.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (ESV)
Questions: Have you honored your losses from the last two years? Could you use some time to reflect, offer them to God, and grieve? I look forward to reading your comments.