Today would be my 23rd wedding anniversary. I’ve lived nineteen months without “my person.” In those nineteen months, my grief has manifested in several textures. It has been raw. It has been fear filled. It has been angry. It has been insecure. It has been clingy. It has been heavy. It has been light. It has been colorful and it has at times been black and white.
For all the ways I have grieved Pete, I am thankful.
While reading Gerhardt’s new book, Swallowed Up, I was yet again affirmed that we all grieve differently. None of our losses are the same. She graciously offered me this paragraph:
“Maybe you’re reading this book and you have more reason to feel abandoned than I do. Maybe the person you loved and lost left you before they died. Maybe they’d stopped trying to love you even as you loved them. Maybe they died by suicide and you can’t shake the feeling that they just wanted to get away from you. I can’t speak to your pain with authority or experience. You’re probably feeling that right now, listening to my simple story and saying in your head, “you have no idea, girl.” You’re right. I don’t. I’m sorry. Maybe you’ll find some comfort in knowing God’s been where you are. And maybe it’ll bless you to know that when God felt abandoned, God did a lot of crying.”
When I read that paragraph, I put the book down and cried. And I knew God was right there with me crying. And none of this was new. I had cried and had known God was right beside me crying many times. But this author had faced me square on and she saw my grief. She saw that my grief was different than hers. She saw me. And in that moment, this book grew arms and legs – arms to hug me and legs to walk just a little bit ahead of me as if to say, “come on, you can keep going.”
Gerhardt says, Swallowed Up is “in part, a book about a girl who decided in the face of death, that she didn’t want to die. That’s my grief story, and I’ve had to choose it again and again.”
I haven’t written a lot about the deep sadness I have felt since Pete’s death. I guess I haven’t written a lot about it because it’s sad. And I wonder what limits people might have for sadness. I haven’t written about it because some of my sadness has questioned the value of life and I didn’t want people to reach out to me and try to talk me out of my feelings. Here’s what I know this side of Pete’s death – thinking about dying is a lot more normal than I ever thought. Considering the idea of calling it quits is a reasonable, critical thought when faced with having to live without your “person” for the rest of your days. Thinking about dying is sometimes easier than thinking about living. Thinking about living is hard.
And then once again, this book stepped out in front of me and said, “even if you don’t struggle with the impulse to die, you probably find yourself tempted to be less and less alive. We mourners get out of bed later and fall into bed earlier. We stay in more. We go out less. We talk to fewer and fewer people. Maybe we eat less. Maybe we eat more but stop paying attention to the taste. We take fewer showers and fewer risks."
She’s right. All of those things have been true of me.
But her grief story called out to me to “stay alive.” When our instinct is to "respond to death with death. To stop seeing. To stop exploring. To stop doing. Stop feelings. Stop wondering. Stop dreaming. Stop wanting. Stop connecting. Stop loving.” I found her encouragement to “stay alive” to be strong enough to use as a stepping stone. Right foot. Stay alive. Left foot. Stay alive.
But what does that mean? That’s the best part of her book. She lists dozens of big and small things that are ways we “stay alive.” Here are some of my favorites:
“Stay alive means –
Life is love. And loving after loss feels uncomfortable and awkward. Loving after loss feels a little like faking it and a lot like making hard choices. Loving, or just plain facing the day after loss feels a lot harder than I ever thought it would. I’m so grateful for Gerhardt's story, for her honesty, her vulnerability.
This book is an unapologetic, faith-fueled journey through heartache. I commend it to you or to a loved one who may need a companion alongside heartache.
Get your copy HERE.
Books I'm currently reading:
The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation