The Outside Looking In: An Unorthodox Way of Grieving
Valentine’s Day is always a day of reflection and appreciation. Not because it is the day that we celebrate our significant others and shower them with gifts, but because it is the day that makes me realize at the drop of a dime, life can change. February 14, 2011, I was in my office while stationed in the Netherlands when I received a call that I will never forget. My sister sent me a message and told me to call her as soon as possible. She said, “Go to Facebook immediately and see what is going on.” I did, and I could not believe my eyes. I immediately busted into tears and picked up the phone to make one of the most difficult phone calls that I would ever make. I did not know what I would be met with on the other side of that call. I honestly did not know what to say or how to say it. However, I did it! I called my best friend to say, “I am sorry for your loss.” Not just any loss, but the loss of her almost five-month-old baby boy. Her response was something that I did not think could be possible. She had a level of understanding and acceptance that was unimaginable.
I honestly cannot remember all of the details, but I knew that I needed to be there for her. All I can remember is kissing my two-year-old and three-month-old goodbye. I immediately hopped on a twelve-hour flight from the Netherlands to New York to attend a funeral that I was not prepared for. As I went on this journey, I prayed to God, “Please give me comforting words to say to her.” I knew the struggles that she had experienced in her life and that this was not the first loss. I just believed that this one would take her down a road that would be difficult to recover from. With all these thoughts running through my head, I closed my eyes for the first time and heard God say, “Read Job.” I got my Bible out of my bag and immediately started reading. As I began reading the book of Job, God started revealing to me that He is keeping my friend, just like He kept Job. Honestly, she was built different. She literally lost her uncle, mother, child, career, car, friends, and other possessions in the span of just three years.
See, Job was a man after God’s heart: he was blameless, compassionate, caring, loving, and had a reverence for God. I believe Satan was bored, looking for someone to devour. So when Satan came to God and expressed his thoughts, God asked him had he considered his servant Job. Of course, God put parameters around what Satan could do to Job, but the weight was still heavy. Job lost his children, his riches, his health, and his livelihood.
At first, Job’s friends sat with him while he was grieving for seven days without saying a word. Just being present. After the seven days were over, they began to speak. From the outside looking in, everyone thought Job had done something to be “punished,” due to the severity of events that happened to him. After several months, their perspectives changed, and the questions began. His own wife questioned his commitment to the Lord. Every time they would come to Job, and they speculated that he was to blame for his situation, Job would not question what God was doing in his life. He refused to sin against God, and his heart was still full of love for the Lord. Don’t get me wrong, Job had some moments where the agony almost took him out. Having the people closest to him continuously telling Job that God had left him wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. However, his response to this situation and circumstances was different than expected. Job never questioned God in response to his friends. For 38 chapters, and an unknown number of months, he dealt with the loss of almost everything without comfort or compassion from the outside world. No one understood his commitment to God. No one understood his acceptance and understanding. No one understood his level of peace.
Could you imagine losing almost everything and then being constantly told that you did something to deserve it? Could you imagine going through the worst season of your life and God not speaking to you when you are crying out? Maybe you can imagine it. Maybe this has happened to you. When people do not understand how you are grieving, they create a narrative for you. What people do not know, they assume, usually for the worse.
As I finished reading Job, it helped me realize what type of friend I needed to be. When I got off the plane and rode with her to our hotel room, I sat silently. I listened to what she had to say. I did not try to explain what I didn’t understand. Were there tears? A few. Were there fears? Of course. Was there peace? Yes. As we prepared to go to the funeral the next morning, my best friend came to my room, laid across my bed and cried. The day had come where she was about to eulogize her five-month-old baby. The pain and task that no mother wants to face. As we began to converse, I told her what I had read in the book of Job. I believe it gave her peace.
Everyone around her thought she was going to go into a deep depression. Everyone questioned if she was truly okay because of how they saw her grieve. No one understood how a mother could find peace after the death of her child. No one really knew what God was preparing her heart for, or what would happen when she lost her mother the same day she found out she was pregnant. No one really understood the financial situation she was in, and how she was barely making it by. No one really knew everything that was going on in her life. And if I did not read Job, I would have responded just like everyone else. I would have been that friend who convinced her that she was not grieving properly. I would have labeled her as someone that would end up in a psychiatric hospital if she did not handle this loss how I thought she should handle it. I would have told her that she needed to take time away from everything and every one and really go through the five stages of grief in a particular order. I would have said something out of good intentions that could make her question God and lose her faith in Him. In the end, I saw her lose almost everything but her mind. Despite the conclusions I came to, I also saw God restore her just like He restored Job.
People respond to grief in different ways. The social misconception of grief is that it needs to look a certain way or that people need to grieve properly. Take Chrissy Teigen, for example. She made a choice to post on social media after the passing of her newborn. Everyone had something to say about her decision to grieve publicly. They labeled her grief as an improper way to respond. Little does everyone know, Chrissy’s openness about her loss may have reached someone struggling with the same pain and saved them.
In today’s society, we are grieving from the loss and tragedy happening all around us. You might still be processing the passing of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, and George Floyd or the countless lives taken by natural disasters. You might be suffering a financial loss and are experiencing stressful times of unpaid bills or homelessness due to COVID-19. However, you should not feel confined to a socially acceptable way of grieving.
I leave you with this: grief is unpredictable. You do not have to respond the way society believes you have to respond. Jesus grieved too, and his response was unusual to the people who questioned him! You do not have to justify how you are processing your grief, as long as you are processing it. Yet, keep in mind that numbing grief with substances, compulsive behaviors, and isolation will not bring that person or thing back into your life. It is okay not to be okay. It is okay to be at peace amid chaos. Realize that in all things that we experience, people will always have an opinion about how you should react or respond. From the outside looking in, they just do not know how to respond to your grief. Always remember your grief is as unique as you are.