I’ve had some heavy things on my heart this week. I’m still processing, struggling to find the right words to say, and I don’t really know how much to share. But I do know this:
Grief and joy can coexist. We do not have to choose one or the other. We can be grieving something and still find joy in the midst of it. We can feel happy when a sad thought or memory pops up.
And did you know that sometimes when life settles down, things we haven’t dealt with can resurface? When life is busy or stressful, we’re in a bit of a survival mode. Our bodies will suppress old stuff as a way to help us get through. Then, once life settles down, our bodies have a way of reminding us that we have some emotional things we still need to work on.
One of those things for me has been the death of a close friend that happened when I was 19 (I wrote a little about that here). I was going through a lot at the time (you can read a little bit about that time of my life in this post), so I pushed the grief of my friend’s death aside as much as I could. I didn’t know how to process, so I didn’t. I just shoved everything down in an attempt to do what I needed to do each day.
I’m not saying that’s the best way. But it’s what I did.
Then, as my life started settling down this year, it kept resurfacing. Reminders of my friend kept popping up in ways they hadn’t in a very long time. My mind kept rejecting the death – my heart would stop, just for a moment, and I’d think I saw my friend before remembering I’d never see my friend again. I knew it was time to face this head-on instead of trying to shove things down again.
14+ years after the death, I needed closure.
I regret this now, but I didn’t go to the funeral. I’d also never been to the gravesite. I thought maybe seeing the gravesite in person would help – I knew it surely couldn’t hurt.
So, on Monday, I took the day to remember. I drove past my friend’s old house. I know the exact place we met, so I drove there too. I got out of my car and just stood in the spot. It felt so odd – I felt like my friend should have still been there, alive.
I climbed to a lookout that we used to go to with a group of other friends. We could see the entire town from there, including the fairgrounds. I remembered the busy-ness and activity of fair week. I could almost see it all lit up with the Ferris wheel going around and around in the evening, us above looking down at it.
Then, finally, I drove to the cemetery. My brain kept telling me I’d done enough, that I didn’t actually need to see the grave. I spent a solid 15 minutes searching for it and almost gave up, but I made myself do what I’d originally set out to do.
Finally, I saw it. The force of the impact literally brought me to my knees. I ran my hand across the gravestone, I felt the raised letters and numbers with my friend’s name, birth date, and date of death. Tears soaked my face, my shirt, the ground. All the grief I didn’t even know was pent up inside me kept pouring forth.
I laid on the ground above the body and cried some more. I grieved the loss, grieved that my friend will never have a chance to marry, or have children, own a home, or have a grown-up job.
I’d thought I’d stay there for just a few minutes. I had to force myself to leave an hour later.
When I ate dinner that evening, tears flowed into my food. My friend will never taste another meal, see another sunset, or feel another breeze.
Finally, I fully feel and understand that my friend is no longer living.
And my heart is sad.
I’d lived in guilt and denial for so long. I’d kept thinking maybe I could have done something to help prevent it. I know now that it wasn’t my fault. I don’t want my friend to feel dead to me, but I know I have to accept what happened. I have to stop living in denial. It’s been long enough.
The day after I actively remembered my friend’s life and acknowledged the death, my kids and I listened to the book of John while I cleaned the house. I needed normalcy, needed my hands to be busy, my mind to let familiar words wash over me.
I needed to remember that Satan and death don’t have the final say.
“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.'” 1 Corinthians 15:52-54 NKJV
Maybe you have something you need to deal with too. Or maybe you’re in survival mode. Either way, your body will tell you when it’s time to process any past or present heartaches. And when it’s time to process, remember that your feelings aren’t right or wrong – feelings are just feelings. It’s how we direct those feelings that really matters.
My friend died by suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, do not keep it a secret. Find help. People love you and care about you. You and your life are valuable. You have a purpose. You are important.
The national suicide prevention lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255. It’s free and confidential, and they can provide you with help and resources for yourself or a loved one.