Honoring our Losses

By Jeri Howe

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.

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10 Comments

  1. Keturah Harris on 2021-09-08 at 12:43 PM

    Thank you Jeri…this resonates so much. I’ve been trying in vein to find a way to articulate the heartache that I have been carrying from all the horrific tragedies and personal traumas of these past 18 months. This blog helps tremendously and perhaps, by trying my version of your cue card reflection exercise, I will find renewed strength for today and hope for the uncertain tomorrows that still lie ahead. Yes indeed, the Lord is near. Let’s stay afloat in His ocean of grace, Keturah

  2. Nicole Anthoo on 2021-09-08 at 10:07 AM

    Thank you for sharing Jeri. I’ve overlooked my ‘smaller’ losses. Not realising until now that they are as impactful as the big ones which seem to cast a shadow over everything else in my life right now. You’ve reminded me that God is there for me through the big and small. Take care. Nicole

  3. Jennifer Strickland on 2021-09-07 at 3:13 PM

    I really appreciate this post. I have felt very down at odd times lately. I am so grieved by what’s happening in Afghanistan. The brutalization of the women and children bothers me so much. Our ministry has been teaching girls forever that “every woman has value,” and seeing them stripped of their value and demoralized while our country has failed them truly makes me nauseous. Living in TX, my children are in school, mask-free, and very happy. But seeing what parents and kids are going through around the nation and world breaks my heart. Close relatives now feel distant. First it was over Trump, then over BLM, then over Covid, and now they are publicly claiming that we are stripping women of their “rights” in TX by getting rid of abortion. I feel like I have to constantly defend my position, and I know that I don’t. There’s so much division in our extended family. It hurts, and I haven’t considered the possibility that I could be grieving and should allow myself the space to do so. Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to give myself permission to grieve the pains and losses.

  4. TRACY DAYTON on 2021-09-07 at 2:11 PM

    Thank you Jeri for permission to grieve. So much in our culture is geared toward pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps. To stop, reflect and grieve may feel selfish, self-serving when so much is going on. I can see how important this is to keep life balanced. Maybe the 80/20 rule? 80% to think on things positive, lovely, kind, faithful, etc… and 20% honest evaluation of our experiences. The harsh results from living as fallen creatures in a fallen world. And I don’t mean intentional wrong decisions, just because the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Ultimately leaving all the bad and the good at the foot of the cross. Thank You Jesus for all You’ve done for us. Amen.

  5. Becky Tesone on 2021-09-07 at 11:06 AM

    Jeri, You spoke to my heart! Years of caretaking and 3 months since my husband passed. I have not cried once like in the way so many others around me have. I keep asking what is wrong with me? My business plan is untouched, and I am left with half to’s from a flooded basement from April. Thank you.
    I will take your method and try to work on it.

  6. Carolyn Potter on 2021-09-07 at 9:40 AM

    Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing! I work with a very traumatized population and I am my staff experience vicarious trauma as well. It is daunting, but, this year has been especially difficult. In the midst of two building projects, developing a new program for children, putting together a manual of operations, and writing a book, I also experienced great personal trauma. My son has battled addiction for years. He was doing well but had an accident in the Spring where people were hurt and he faces charges. Thankfully, both his drug and alcohol tests were negative. My husband’s mother died suddenly 3 months later, then I became sick and was hospitalized, and I am still battling the illness. Most heartwrenching was the death of my 37-year-old stepdaughter from cancer that we had hoped would go into remission. In the midst of the grief, we must deal with the custody matters of her children since she was a single parent with little interaction from the other parent, until now! Some days I feel as if God has abandoned me and yet I know He has not. I so hope to see His purpose behind all of this pain. I am well aware of the conditions of the world as I see evil reigning daily. Today, I literally will be on a call trying to convince a “faith-based” organization of which I have been a key member to embrace God and His ways fully and reject the progressive thinking that is a distraction from God’s ways and the mission of the organization. Yes, I know that My Redeemer Liveth and I so long to see Him! You’ve provided great tools for self-care. Thank you.

  7. Tess Scott on 2021-09-07 at 8:55 AM

    Thank you! This is such a good explanation and makes so much sense.
    Tess

  8. Kim Edgel on 2021-09-07 at 8:11 AM

    This is really good Jeri. Thank You for your vulnerability.

  9. Deb Dufek on 2021-09-07 at 7:42 AM

    Thank you, Jeri. I think I’ll try to do the same. We’ve just been in “new normal” auto pilot for so long now and maybe some of us aren’t taking this time for ourselves you’ve written about. I know I haven’t. One of my greatest losses is knowing my precious grandchildren (the one who are still little) are growing up with so many restrictions on healthy day-to-day life. Between our restrictions and technology, how does a child be a child anymore? I grieve that loss for them, but I think, inside me, there’s much more grieving that must be done. Adding to that, I want to create ways I can make their childhood healthy, normal, and full of joy. You’ve given me food this morning, Jeri. Thank you.

    On this journey together,
    Deb Dufek

  10. Renee Fehr on 2021-09-07 at 7:25 AM

    I had the same experience except it took a counselor to point out that I needed to grieve all the losses. I love your suggestion of writing them on a card. Thanks for putting this in writing. I know so many others need to grieve their losses too and haven’t given themselves permission to do so. Thanks for giving us all the insight and permission to do do.

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