Once a month, I convince someone close to my heart to guest blog. Because these amazing people are all super interesting, intelligent, and amazing, I’ve given them free rein. I don’t mind whether they blog about something brave, what’s on their mind, or whatever. I can’t wait for you to meet them.
Today, we’re taking a break in the middle of the Ask an Author series to hear from Rosie Paulson. Rosie is literally one of my favorite people. I met her a year and a half ago during one of the roughest times of my life. She loved me anyway. You know those “insta-friend” people? The ones that it’s hard to believe they haven’t been in your life forever? The ones that get you on a soul level before you even know their last name? Yeah. That’s Rosie.
And this is one of her stories . . .
Thirteen years ago my father took his life. He walked outside after leaving a choked up message on my mom’s cell telling her not to enter the garage and hung himself. She and my sister were an hour away at the family beach house, and I was in New Mexico, journaling about one of the most vivid dreams I ever had. In it, a black dragon and a red phoenix were having a race. Someone fired a gun, signaling the start, and they shot up into the air, neck and neck. But instead of one of them pulling ahead, they suddenly twinned themselves together and exploded into a black cloud, something I could not describe, and fell to the ground. I sat in a castle, by a fire, with the black thing smoldering in a box next to me. I knew the dragon was my father. I did not know the dream was about that day.
The exhaustion of grief is a surprising thing. If you haven’t experienced a traumatic grief, you may not realize the full extent of this. It weighs down every word and gesture. It makes your limbs leaden and walking seem impossible. Daily tasks become heavy and fraught, and the temptation is to go numb, to stop feeling.
Sometime after my father took his life, someone said to me: “I know a friend who lost a son to suicide. That is something you never get over.” In my muted state, I just looked at her. What a mean thing to say, I thought. What a terrible curse.
People say the worst things in tragedy, but it’s better than nothing at all. I watched a Ted Talk where a woman spoke about all the horrible things people said to her after trauma. Her anger was vivid, visceral. I understood, but my experience dealing with it is different. All the worst things people said—and I had a few doozies—I would turn into questions. Why do we say that? What common trap can this help me avoid?
The “never get over it” remark illustrates the alarming way our society has in handling grief. “Grief is a mountain that you must climb, child, and although you are so drained and more tired than you can ever imagine, get up and plod away.” For sure, if you frame it as a mountain, it is indeed something you can never get over.
But grief, like most emotions, is a cloud. Don’t get me wrong, it is a teeming black tornado cloud, full of ice storms and hundred-mile winds and debris from whatever it has cherry picked from the forgotten attic of your life—but it is still a cloud. There is no getting over grief. There is only an anchoring in and a letting it pass though you. And this anchoring, this letting it pass through, my friends, is the only thing that brings real freedom. It is the only thing that can beckon you beyond grief to joy and gladness. But, it is the most terrifying experience of all.
Terrifying because that cloud looks endless from the front end. And often from the middle. But if you don’t allow it to pass though you, it will push against your heart all the days of your life. The emotional clouds we don’t allow to pass though us—or I could say, that we don’t fully mourn or process—remain inside of us. Still. Hidden in corners of our bodies. Reeking havoc on our hearts and spirits and physicality. They consume us. It’s only because we are afraid that we let them.
It is terrifying to sit on the floor and embrace the cloud descending and cry heart-wrenching sobs and say all the things the cloud entails: Why didn’t you call him after that dream? You should’ve let him take you to the train station that Christmas. You should have visited him in rehab more.
I am so aware of all the ways that I failed my father, failed him endlessly. But when I give myself fully over to tears, they end EVERY TIME. And the calm comes EVERY TIME. And it is surprising EVERY TIME. And I pick myself off the floor, and start washing the dishes where I left off, and go about my day.
But this too: We never have to be alone in that cloud. I think it might even be impossible to be so. Even if my awareness is dim, Jesus sat with me on that floor, holding me and my pain EVERY TIME.
So, my friends, do the terrifying thing and grieve. When you feel the cloud descend, find anything you can that reminds you of the person you lost. I always played a Sam Cooke CD. It brought my father close to me. I played it and surrendered to the waves of grief and sobbed and shook and mourned with all I had. I don’t know how long those episodes lasted. If I was at work and the cloud descended I would say to the cloud, “I feel you, I am SAD. I am not running from you, I will deal with you when I get home.” And I would.
Those were some of the darkest and scariest places I’ve ever been. But I was anchored in Love, even though I could not name it, and I clutched the floor with all my might as the tornado winds blew through me. After a couple months, it didn’t happen every day. And after a year, it didn’t happen every week. And then one day, I thought about my father and I felt only blue skies and the wide beautiful breath of freedom. The cloud had dissipated. The cloud had moved through me. I was still standing. I was stronger. All the fear and anger and guilt and shame and sadness and regrets were with it, and not with me.
Last year I cried about my father, which was surprising. But it was brief and almost sweet, a remembering of the most important lesson of my life. And a missing of my sweet dad, who loved animals and cutthroat Uno and was so, so funny. And who once gave my friend the worst haircut I have ever seen.
So now, breathe deeply, and ask the Spirit to show you one thing you need to grieve. And then ask God to hold you—He always does—and then cry. And cry. It’s the skies beyond that are worth it.