By Johanna Duncan
There was a time in my life when I prayed for God to teach me how to grieve. It was a time when things were going a bit too well for me, but my grandfather was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and I wanted to prepare myself to grieve. Everything to follow was out of the ordinary. I graduated college and suddenly everything in my life shook-up. My family moved abroad, my holy boyfriend went astray, and as I had just graduated, I was trying to find my place in the world while in the midst of a terrible heartbreak. I felt alone and shattered in pieces as never before. I felt abandoned and as if God had taken away every good thing and person in my life. Why would a loving Father do so?
Eventually life went back to normal. I quickly landed a good job, made good friends, got my first (beautiful) apartment, but crying was a daily habit. I would often cry on the phone to my mom, my friends, my spiritual director; until the latter connected me to a therapist because it was time to bring in an expert. The therapist was brief and revealed to me that what I was going through was grief. No one had died. Not even my grandfather who miraculously recovered from stage 4 cancer while in his 80s, but the life that I had before graduation and the life that I expected to have post-graduation were over and I was grieving them. Her words brought me back to my initial prayer after my grandfather’s diagnosis and I realized that my heart was caught up counting and mourning the losses, while my brain was focused on the present challenges. I was moving ahead in survival-mode; responding to the crisis, and often disregarding how I was feeling inside simply because the pain was unbearable.
In the midst of this I realized that there are things we may never move on from. Losing a child, a parent, surviving a tragedy. You won’t forget; perhaps, you shouldn’t forget, and thinking about it may always crush you. But this is a time to be molded and transformed by the Lord. It’s a time to cling closer to the cross and experience the type of love that comes with suffering. You won’t forget the facts, but you’ll leave behind the sadness and embrace the goodness in God’s plan for each one of us.
How may I find joy again?
Grieving is a process. It takes time, and it is up to each one of us to ensure that that’s not time spent in darkness. Instead, time spent grieving is time for one to stand in solitude and belong fully to Christ. It's a time of discovery and true belonging, which eventually leads to a deeper relationship with the One who made you and Loves you the most. That’ll fill you up.
One of the most courageous women I’ve known once said “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” (St. M. Teresa). A broken heart is an opportunity to love more. It’s an opportunity to give yourself to others and find Christ in new people and places. That’s a joy.
Realizing that what I was going through was grief was a game changer. I seemed incapable to acknowledge the generous outpour of love in my life; but at the end of the day, Our Lord is always more generous than demanding. As much as His will may at times fill us with pain, God is not out there trying to screw us over. Once we gracefully accept His plan for us we may eventually see new beauty and acquire a renewed faith.
Living in grief is quite a cross. The heartache makes us see loss and pain everywhere we turn, often failing to gratefully acknowledge the gifts and graces present in ordinary things.
Nonetheless, coming to this realization is not enough to calm the pain. Knowing that we must heal and move on does not relieve one from the pain. But acceptance is a first step. Sisters, acknowledge the fact that the world holds enough tragedy to deeply scar a heart, but healing is a choice. Find meaning in the ordinary things, make a conscious effort to gratefully acknowledge all the good things in life, hold tight to the rosary and remain hopeful, for “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.” (Luke 1:45).