Life after loss is, well, a lot of things. The loss of a loved one is often compared to an amputation. The death of a loved one is permanent. There is no re-growth of a limb. Of late, however, I’ve described child loss akin to a house fire where one’s house is literally burnt to the ground with only the foundation left. (Yes, I’m a “This Is Us”
After loss, you have to decide to rebuild. See, the only other choice is to sit in the ashes, never rebuilding, never recovering. (Of course, we must sit in the ashes for a time; allow ourselves time to process our loss. But at some point, we have to rise up and begin the rebuilding process.) It is much like recovering from a house fire. Grieving loss is like sorting through the ashes, the rubble. It takes time. It takes intention. It requires help and outside resources. Can you do it alone? Sure. But it will take longer and you will miss the benefits they provide. (And there are many!)
Rebuilding after loss is incredibly overwhelming, every step painful, but necessary. The process is not quick, and once the ashes have cleared, monumental decisions remain. One has to answer the questions, “Who am I now?” “What is my life going to look like?” “How do I want to rebuild?” As with a house fire, loss destroys everything. But loss doesn’t always involve material items. Loss causes one to question one’s identity. Bereaved parents often wonder, “Who am I?” and “Am I still a mother/father?” after their child dies. The loss of relationships and friendships after a loved one’s death is also common. Daily life and certain routines, too, never get back to what they once were. Assuredly, just as a house is recognized as a house from the outside, the reality is that the inside is drastically different. Suffice to say, grief is complicated.
Rebuilding is complicated, too. For the bereaved, it is a process of redefining one’s self. You are no longer the person you were before your loved one died. That person died the day they did. But the foundation remains; you, your physical body. Now the question becomes, “What is this new me going to look like?” This is the question I’ve been asking myself for some time now because the death of my son stripped me of who I was. It’s taken time to figure out since loss also creates insecurity, fear, and mistrust.
This is why rebuilding and reinvesting is so difficult. It’s one thing to build and reinvest when one has confidence and assurance. It’s another when one’s not sure they can trust the future, or be secure in themselves. Can you blame them? Their once secure world came crashing down into a billion pieces. They are never again a naive participant in the world.
This is where many of my bereaved parent friends and I are at right now, this reinvesting in the world. We navigate with caution, confusion, and hesitance. Do we, essentially, want to risk having our world crash down upon us again? We’re not ignorant any longer, we now know that, indeed, the unspeakable can happen. And we’re not talking smack or exaggerating. It’s real. We speak from experience.
So this? This post from Ann Voskamp the other day spoke volumes to me, made me cry, in fact, when reading it: Told You’re Too Much? Or Feel Like You’re “Too Much”? Dear Me: Lifelines to the Person I Long to Be
See, child loss makes you question everything. It causes you to doubt who you are anymore and question whether certain parts of you even still exist. You wonder if any part of you remains, if anything in the foundation of the “old” you remains. I am, I believe, coming to the conclusion, at last, that yes, one thing, at least, remains: My strong personality.
I think the biggest thing I’m learning lately is that, as Max Lucado puts it, “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you there.” (Just Like Jesus) Meaning that I am a “strong” personality; that’s how God made me. And it is 100% okay. BUT, I have to also temper it, learn to be gentle, patient, humble, and speak for the right reasons, not just to win an argument or prove a point. Losing my son definitely humbled me; grief will do that. But after Matt died, I sort of lost my voice, if that makes sense. I’ve been afraid, really, to reinvest in people, in life. I no longer care to discuss surface issues; trivial matters grate on me. Yet so much of building new friendships and relationships rely on this, so I have avoided them altogether. Additionally, I no longer have the desire to prove a point or win an argument. That sort of pride died when my son died. (Not that I don’t, on occasion, fall into the temptation! But as a way of life, it’s pretty much been stamped out.) While humility is good thing, the flip side is, because of that, however, I stopped investing in relationship, in pursuing earthly connection with those outside the realm of grief. Grief has a way of silencing one’s voice like a fire extinguishes the living, leaving only ashes.
I recently realized I was afraid to be that person again, the vocal one. I have been fearful of reinvesting in relationships, of risking depth. Deep hurts, like child loss, can make a person withdraw from the world and from others. Pain has a way of making a person feel invisible somehow. I can’t explain it, but pain is isolating and lonely, even if you are surrounded by a plethora of people.
So this reinvesting is hard. The me I used to be? In some respects, I still feel like a pile of ash, and reinvesting is like blowing on those ashes, trying to rekindle a flame. Or, it’s like the frame of the new me is in place; built on the foundation that remained, but the inside needs furnishing yet. Again, I don’t know how to describe it. I’m trying to find my voice, establish my place in the community of life once again. To be honest, I’ve resisted reinvesting. I didn’t want to invest. Investing takes energy, energy I didn’t care to expend. I don’t want to risk loss, risk losing any more relationships. Yet I know that this is reality in this fallen world; not everything lasts. People move away, relationships change, and life on this side of heaven is not perfect.
But reinvesting is necessary. As a believer in Jesus Christ, we are called to community. We are, like it or not, a part of a body. Each member of the body has a part to play, something to contribute, a responsibility to fulfill. Fear cannot be an excuse to excuse myself from stepping into others’ lives. God is calling me to invest. He gave all for me, experiencing grief and sorrow for my sake, willingly. And so, I, too, must willingly give all for the sake of others and to glorify my Father in heaven. With His grace and strength, I will triumph…and the house, this earthly tent, will some day be finished…and beautiful. Because of Him.