My body holds memories of its grief.
Sometimes it manifests as anxiety, bubbling up as a slow simmer. Sometimes it is triggered by the news, or hearing someone else’s story that brushes up against mine. That is the pain that feels sharpest. Sometimes it comes out as anger, when I haven’t taken time to just feel sad and I’ve pushed it down and down and down and then it lashes out with an angry tongue. But more often than not, it is an unexpected wave that comes over me–a surprising sadness on an otherwise normal day or week.
And then I look at the calendar and I realize what is happening. Every February, heartache swells over missing my grandfather–my dear Poppy. Sometimes in April, the anxiety of a particular trauma rises up in my chest as my body recalls an event that changed the course of my life. And in early October, there is a sadness over a wedding anniversary that is no longer celebrated, and a painful heartbreak that occurred years later in the same month.
One morning this week I woke up with a dull ache, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I received a message from my cousin, letting me know she was thinking about me this week. Her validation that this might be a hard time for me was so comforting, and gave me space to grieve. The tears that had been lingering below the surface finally came out. I let my body just feel the pain and grief it had been holding.
Sometimes it is a lot easier for me to extend grace and kindness to others than to myself, so my counselor and I have been working through a series of letters that I am writing to myself. Letters to baby Heather, little girl Heath, the Heather who has made mistakes in the past that needs to be reminded of grace. So this week, I wrote my body this letter. And I thought it might be helpful for someone else today too, so I am sharing it here.
To my body,
Hello sweet girl. I want to tell you something. I haven’t always been kind to you. I want to whisper kindness over you today. You’ve been so strong, and you’ve endured so much. You have danced across stages and smiled at strangers, but you’ve also been bruised and scarred. You ran a half marathon and bring me nourishing rest each night, but there have also been seasons where I neglected or criticized you. You once withstood trauma, but at another time you also birthed a beautiful baby boy into this world. You carry me to work, sit in the car for road trips, savor new foods, offer hugs to loved ones, and lead others in worship with strong breath against vocal chords. However, in the times when grief has arisen, I have not always given you the space you have needed.
So today, I am making space for you. I’m slowing down for a little while to just listen.
Is today hard for you? How are you feeling? I’m here and I am listening.
I have tried to rush you past those very feelings. I have gotten wrapped up in justifying thoughts or trying to be further along in processing your grief. There have been so many times when I have used busyness or slapped on a mask of “happiness” to try to push past what you were feeling. I’m so sorry for that.
To the days when you feel echoes of trauma… I trust you. I believe you. It breaks my heart to think of what you went through, and I’m so sorry it still hurts at times. It’s okay to still be angry or scared or sad when you think of that. It’s not okay that that happened, but you are not broken because of it. You are compassionate and tender-hearted, and it has given you a sensitivity to others in their pain. You are able to share your story with others and let them know they’re not alone.
To the seasons where the grief rises to the surface… I’m here. There is healing in tears. When the tears burn just below your eyes, let them come. In survival mode, I know that I have pushed those tears down or moved quickly past. But I’m making a safe space for you to let it out. I will try not to numb those feelings with busyness or other coping mechanisms. I will try not to minimize those feelings and brush quickly past. Today, I will let myself feel sad if I need to let sadness come.
I know you’ve heard me say things like, “I should be further along in processing this,” or “I shouldn’t feel sad right now when I have so many blessings!” Those simply aren’t helpful phrases, Heather. Grief takes time and space. And it is possible to feel joy and sadness at the same time. Yes, there are things to be thankful for and blessings to count, but they do not negate the parts of your life that carry wounds.
But Heather? Even though these parts of your story and your life and the wounds you carry are true, there is another TRUTH that stands with you in all of this. You have a Savior who is with you in every experience, every joy, every sadness, and every ounce of pain that occurs. I want to remind you of these words today, even in the midst of feeling your grief.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 38:4)
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 38:17-18)
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
The Lord is WITH you in this. He can handle the grief. He can handle the sorrow. Bring it all to Him.
I’m proud of you. I love you. I’m here for you.
P.S. Special thank you to Lex Sirikiat, Autumn Mott Rodeheaver, and Aaron Burden for the beautiful autumn leaf/tree photos that accompany this post (all three photographers generously share their work via unsplash).