This past September, I was dangerously close to walking away from my faith. I was SO angry at God, railing at Him because my son was sick. Again. Not just a cold or a stomach virus, but sick. The kind that involved doctor’s offices, recurring labs, scary medications, and procedures. And I was so ticked at God for allowing this to happen. I needed someone to blame, and God was at the center of my bullseye.
At that point I was scared. I was scared that if something worse happened to me or those I love, I could turn my back on God and walk away from Him forever. FOREVER. I understood the anger and bitterness that many feel when they experience devastating, heart-breaking life events. And it scared me that I would consider walking away from the Heavenly Father that I loved so much. I was (this) close to just being done with God.
I didn’t understand the source of my anger but I felt that it had something to do with grief. My teenage and adult son (he’s 19) not only has a chronic illness from childhood, but he also has autism. That means that my family and my parenting journey was drastically different than most. It means that there is a wounded part of my heart that may never be fully healed. And I have been walking around with this broken, gaping heart for sixteen years. No wonder I was angry.
When a child receives a diagnosis of a disability such as autism or down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy, parents grieve. Mothers grieve the loss of intimacy and connection that she should have with the child that grew for 9 months in her womb. She mourns the loss of dreams and hopes for that child – the hopes and dreams that also grew in her womb. She grieves the sudden change in her family life and structure as time, attention, and finances must now be turned from fun family experiences to therapies and interventions.
But for me, I really didn’t have time to grieve as I was thrust into 40 hours a week of therapy for my son. So instead of grieving my losses, I buried them.
These types of losses are called “ungrieved losses.” Pastor Gavin Adams, in the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast Episode 103, explained that when we grieve a loss well we are able to bury it well. But any loss that is ungrieved still gets buried because burial isn’t an option. So ungrieved losses, like mine, get buried alive. When something triggered my ungrieved loss, it did not come back from the ground as nicely as it went in. It came back angry.
My ungrieved loss was the hidden source of my anger. With this knowledge, I set out to properly grieve what I had lost. I took the month of October, cut back on ministry activities, laid aside my morning Bible study, and took an hour each morning to process the past and the present and to grieve.
I used a lot of Kleenex. I bravely wrote out my feelings. I unashamedly journaled about my fears. I read books by other parents of children with autism. I read books by professionals about how parents of children with autism deal with the stress of raising a child with autism.
I was an avid scrapbooker when the children were little, so I read my son’s scrapbook from before he was diagnosed with autism, when we thought he was just like our friend’s children. I wept. And then I read the part where we learned that he was different. And I wept. Again.
October has now come and gone. I was faithful to do what I set out to do. I grieved. As I write about my experience, the tears still come to my eyes. But the unbidden sobs have quieted. The anger has dissipated. And a tenuous kind of peace has come. I have grieved, I have accepted, and I believe I am now ready to move on. I have mourned what could have been, but I have also embraced what is. My current life with my son is an adventure.
You, my dear readers, have lost, too. Perhaps you have lost a loved one, lost a treasured relationship, lost a job, lost your career, lost your home, or lost your marriage. You are carrying around unmet expectations that have grown into big black holes in your hearts, just like mine. If you have taken the time to grieve, then those areas of loss will slowly heal and you can somewhat move on. But if you find that unbidden sobs and anger live close to the surface all the time, then perhaps you need to take some time to grieve what you have lost, too.
Set aside some time. Fix your coffee and grab your journal and pen. Look through pictures and re-live your painful experiences. Sob. I mean really, really sob. And then sob some more. Take the time to pull out and process what you had to stuff down before. In time, I believe that you also will learn to accept what you have lost.
It was a difficult process, but I’m glad that I did it. I am now holding tightly to a tenuous peace. My prayer for you is that you may find a tenuous peace as well.