Schedule Your Grief

grief is like a jellyfish

I try to be as honest as possible with those in my inner circle. That’s why when it was my turn to “share” in my spiritual direction group almost two months ago, I told them what was really going on—I felt depressed.

After one is finished “sharing” in spiritual direction group, it is time for silence. The group becomes quiet and prayerful for the next 5-10 minutes, while each person tries to listen to what God has to say on behalf of the person who is “sharing”. Then everyone in the group shares what they “heard”.

That night there was a strong sense that my depression was rooted in a deep need to grieve.

I followed my honesty policy and gave them my biggest excuse.

“I don’t have time,” I told them, “I can’t grieve for days on end like I did a few years ago.”

“Schedule your grief, Archer”, said one of my friends in the kindest voice.

What came to my mind when my friend said “schedule your grief” was the Google calendar app, 30 minute time blocks, and a plastic red grief button that I could turn on and off with my index finger.

“That’s just not going to work,” I told the group. “I can’t go sit on the couch with God, think about my mom, and start crying about my life. In fact, anytime I think about my mom and what happened, I feel zero emotion. I feel nothingness.”

“No, nnno, noo, Archer, you let God schedule your grief.”

That sounded even weirder. Let God schedule my grief? Perhaps they meant that God had a special button that he could start and stop, and it was called, “Archer’s Grief Button”.

“You tell God you’re ready to grieve, and you ask Him to help you grieve, on His schedule,” said the leader of our group, who chimed in to help me understand. I need the obvious spelled out in step by step detail, so that I could do this grief thing perfectly.

God has my grief, on His schedule?!

I had no idea what this would look like. It seemed scary and managerial of Him to control my grief like this, with so much of how it would happen left to the unknown. Yet in my heart, I felt like God was whispering, “I know everything that has happened to you and I so deeply desire for you to be healed of it.” I felt God’s palpable tenderness towards me in my heart, something I rarely feel.

A few weeks after that night at spiritual direction group, a phrase of words kept coming into my head on my commute home from work. I now call that phrase of words a “trigger phrase”. It was a very specific sentence, something that spoke to some very sad things in my childhood. When I said the trigger phrase to myself in my head, I physically felt a deep sensation of sadness swelling in my vocal cords. Before long, my face turned into Victoria Falls, and there was no holding back. Once I got home, the crying was over and I went on with my night as usual.

Then a few days after my Victoria-Falls-crying-in-the-car incident, I told the Wendy’s Eating Husband about the trigger phrase. I could barely get the words out, because that swelling throat sensation came back immediately, choking my ability to speak. That’s when I realized that this “trigger phrase” was a clue. A clue to accessing my grief.

Grief is sometimes like a jellyfish: ominous and full of sting. But there’s also something beautiful about it, especially the freeform and fluid movement it embodies.

Later that night, instead of writing a blog post, I decided to journal about the trigger phrase. What ended up coming out of me was a story about meeting my step-dad when I was 4 and losing him when I was 16. The grief came out of me in sobs, groans, gasps, and then that coughing you get from crying too hard. The next morning, my eyes were drier and puffier than cotton balls.

My grieving is by no means complete and the trigger sentence still gets me. But as weird as it sounds, God scheduled my grief, and it allowed me to move more freely.

step dad and kids with sparklers

This picture was taken within the first year of knowing my step-dad. I did not intentionally pick a fourth of July photo, as I have very few photos of him. I feel sad when I look at this picture because I still miss him. I cried all over again when we uploaded it on here last night. Can you guess which one is me?

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