When my mother died this past winter, I was offered countless words of comfort. I was told to cherish the memories I had made with her. People quoted precious words of scripture. I received sweet cards and letters reminding me that I will see my mom again and that she is always close. I sincerely appreciate all of the comfort given to me during those first weeks of loss. But the single most useful thing anyone said to me was this:
No matter how you are grieving, the hells will tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
That might not seem like the most comforting statement in the world, but it has gotten me through so many low points in my stages of grief. I have turned to this phrase time and time again as the hells have attacked my grieving process at each and every turn. And there have been a lot of turns. This truth has become one of my smooth round stones with which I can slay the Goliath that tries to make me feel small and weak in my sadness. After all, being able to call out the hells is vital in fighting against them.
The following is an open letter to the hells in response to their relentless attacks on my grieving process. My hope is that it will serve as a useful tool for others who are navigating loss.
Attn: Grief Manipulation Department
What the hell?
Such a greeting has never been an appropriate start to any other letter I’ve composed, but it sure suits this one.
How dare you attack me at such a vulnerable and painful time in my life? No matter how I try to process this loss, there you are telling me that I’m not doing this right.
If I’m soaking up my blessings, you are there to tell me that I’m in denial about how big this loss is. If I haven’t cried in weeks, you tell me that I must not have loved my mom very much and I’m not missing her enough. If I do cry, you tell me I must not truly believe that my mom is in a far better place and that I will see her again. You call my every move into question until I feel utterly paralyzed and so unbelievably small. Your web of lies and self-doubt is one sticky mess and I’m sick of it.
Sometimes I think I’m doing fine but then your whispers start to infiltrate the cracks in my contentment. You whisper at first, so I almost don’t realize that it’s you talking and not me. I try to ignore you, but then you get louder.
When my voice breaks and the tears come, you roar in my ears and it takes a host of angels— on earth and in heaven— to remind me to listen for the still small voice. The voice that doesn’t mock me, push me, prod me, break me, shake me, twist me. The voice that guides me steadily through the fire and wind and crashing waves. The voice that shows me that the web of lies looks strong, but can be destroyed by a single deep cleansing breath. The voice that says that grief is hard. Grief is weird. Grief is unexpected. Grief is confusing. And even though it’s not okay, it also somehow is. The hardness, weirdness, unexpectedness, and confusion of it all is just as it should be because there is no right way to do this. No matter what you say.
So you might be convincing as hell, but you forget that I’ve got an extra angel on my side these days. And now, more than ever, I feel how close the Lord is and how you cannot touch me or break me. I know you’ll keep attacking. I know you’ll try new tactics and sometimes I’ll fall for your tricks. But consider this a warning. I’m paying attention. I see you sneaking in the shadows. I hear your vicious lies. The Lord comforts those who mourn and no matter what you throw my way, you can’t change that.