Saturday, November 11, 2017


Grieving people often talk about ¨waves of grief.¨ It seems to be one visual that we all agree is a common experience.  Grief rises and falls, can appear unprompted or triggered, be a slow, rising swell or appear suddenly and knock you off your feet. Sometimes the waves are continuous and other days they are more intermittent.

Then there are the tsunamis.  I haven´t yet heard anyone use this term but I´m pretty sure lots of people will agree with me that they are very real!

When I was young and learning to body surf, my Dad (who was 6´5¨ and gave me tons of confidence) taught me to study the sea and its awesome waves. Together we learned to calculate their height, strength, how close the next one was, how they were breaking and many other things.  There were never two days the same and only learning to depend on your instincts and much practice made me confident in those Atlantic waves. My brothers learned, too, and we were almost fearless - but we learned respect through hard, scary tumbles.  The sea could change suddenly and you had to know and be aware of where you were at all times. I´ve been to many different beaches over the years now and have seen foolish people rescued because they were unprepared or not respectful students of that particular beach.

In a similar way, I have grown accustomed to waves of grief and kind of know how to roll with them.  This does not mean I like them!  But I can often sense them coming and try to prepare space for time to deal with the inevitable. Sometimes the triggers, though, are unexpected and I must react quickly to roll with a wave and not fight it.  Fighting it usually ends up much worse.

This last month, however, I was blindsided by a powerful tsunami. It was the biggest grief wave in a very long time and it thrust me into overwhelming sadness and exhaustion. It was utterly discouraging to be back in darkness; I felt like I had regressed two years in my life.  I struggled to get out of bed and do the simplest of things, my motivation for all I had been planning for the fall was completely gone. Nothing seemed to make me happy; the slightest thing could make me cry. 

None of this made sense to me; I had just finished a wonderful and productive summer in the US (albeit exhausting).  God gave me lots of strength for the many demands of travel and being ¨on¨ with people. I was excited to return to Málaga, resettle, have some rest and then begin the joyous process of what I had planned to be a new season. A season of writing, of reconnecting with people here, of accompanying Jordan in his new stage of two very demanding high school years, supporting Dani from afar as she adjusts to life after college and of learning with Bruce what a season of writing (and doing less with him) would look like for our marriage.

But I was exhausted.  And when your body starts to ¨talk¨ to you, it´s always worthwhile to pay attention.  Whether it is sickness, fatigue or pain crying out for attention, your body will always be honest. Emotions may be trickier to get to the bottom of but the body speaks clearly: I am not well; slow down and listen to me!  So I did. And the emotions that were under the surface bubbled up like Vesuvius.

I can´t share everything here but after spending more time listening to my inner world I realized a number of things had overlapped and caused a deep sense of loss, insecurity in transition, feelings of guilt in my inability to manage my numerous relationships, changes in my community here, recognizing the deeper meaning of Dani´s graduation for us as a family, and an underlying exhaustion after an extremely full summer with very little down time for our family. I carried a lot of anxiety about my kids´ faith walk and where it was going. I began spiraling downward, scared of still being stuck in grief, missing my parents and brothers and in-laws in a terrible way. I wanted to ask my Mom things I wondered about, my Dad´s advice over hot chai, I yearned for Jenna´s input on yet other things and I was sad that there was hardly any immediate family left to visit in the US.  I felt very vulnerable and alone.  Bruce was traveling and normally I am fairly independent but I felt so very fragile without him. I wondered if I ever would be able to ¨write that book¨ people kept asking me about.

Once I could identify some of these things, mourn them and express them to a friend or to God, I felt better. I began writing again and that was therapeutic. Whatever was blocking the floodgates opened and my emotions poured forth. This is a big part of healing in grief: recognizing and expressing emotions. It is hard, hard work. It is humbling work. It is exhausting work. It is necessary work. There is no way forward but through it and no one can do it for you.

I am facing the waves. I am studying each one and making a plan. I am rolling with some and getting knocked over by others. But my Father is beside me, and trust me, He gives me great confidence.

I still have a long road in front of me; this tsunami hit me hard and I need time to restore and rebuild.  Grief is clearly ongoing business and the seasons and waves will be ongoing. I WILL write that book. It´s just a matter of time...

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