How long does this heartache of grief last?

Last week the world wept.  We mourned a tiny Syrian child who drowned.  Only the father survived.  He collapsed in tears and was unable to breathe after identifying his family. All he wanted to do was sit by their graves and didn't care if he died too.  

Maybe you know this kind of pain.  How long does this terrible heartache of grief last?  Do we ever get over it?  

It is different for everyone but it takes longer than most people think.  It depends on your relationship, the circumstances coping style and more.  Pure raw pain can last for weeks, subsiding to a deep exhausting ache but flaring up at any time.  When my son Ben died, it felt like my arm and part of my heart had been ripped out and I was hemorrhaging emotionally.  It felt like I had been flattened by a truck.  Your strength is gone and often, so is your will to live.

The first year is like no other.  Sometimes it feels unreal, like a vague nightmare, and other times, it is so real and the absence of our loved one so tormenting, that it crushes our heart till we can barely breathe.  It is a time of rehashing our story over and over as we try to make sense of our world, our relationship and how this tragedy could have happened.  Three months after Ben died, my manicurist only had to asked, “How are you” and my whole story poured out.   We have been forced into a new life, one without our loved one.  Some days we resolve to accept it and some days we hate it.  

Do we ever get over it?  My friend’s son was killed 20 years ago when he and other teenagers were “playing chicken” with an oncoming train.  Her answer was, “Not really.  But eventually you don’t think about it when you wake up first thing, but it doesn’t disappear.  You loved them and that is forever.”   Our love is so much a part of us that it cannot be carved out of the deep places in our hearts and histories.  Nor do we want it to be, it is too precious. 

The edges of grief soften as we heal but there still are moments.  The Christmas after Ben died, I wept realizing my family Christmas photo was now me and Ben's gravestone.  When I was invited to his friend's wedding,  I sighed, thinking, “That should be Ben, so handsome, so happy with a stunning bride!”  

When I met his rugby teammate, Ryan, tall, athletic, sandy hair, just like Ben, he was holding his cutie patootie baby girl.  I imagined this is what Ben would have looked like too if he lived to have a little daughter and it was sweet - and sad.  We face life now with a desperate homesickness for our loved one and what might have been.  

We Christians view death as a new life in heaven, a relocation, a dimensional change. The bible encourages us not to grieve as those without hope, but we do still grieve.  Our loved one is not far, in the cloud of witness, cheering us on (Heb. 12:1).  In fact, sometimes, I sense Ben’s presence right beside me.  That’s so sweet and comforting but leaves me yearning for a fuller reality.  Sometimes, he “turn ups” in shining white heaven-wear, complete with a sword, other times, t-shirt and jeans.   Sometimes, I ask God to send him to help me with my computer problems, really.  He was a such an amazing techy-wizard.  

 Ben, in Rwanda with his friend Richard at Wellspring Academy

Ben, in Rwanda with his friend Richard at Wellspring Academy

But sometimes, out of nowhere, the pain of missing him can strike like a dagger in my heart and I have a little cry before I go on again.  That’s okay, “Crying is the most healing thing of all: It bathes us, hydrates us, baptizes us, and waters the ground at our feet, for new life to emerge. “ – Anne Lamott.

It may surprise some of you to hear that the grief of this Syrian father could take years - even with help.  Others of you may already know it is true.  Healing dawns gently, so long as we stay away from the pitfalls.  We gradually give up with the unanswered questions and "if-onlys".   When we tell our story, it is without the anguish and desperate heartbreak. Sad memories fade and better ones move forward.   We have weathered the worst storm and we carry a precious and beautiful cargo in our hearts, a love that will never die. 

Blessings, big hugs and keep moving forward, 
For more helpful blog articles scroll down.  Included are:  Birthday Parties in Heaven, He is not here, Just tell Me What Happened and The Worst Nightmare plus helpful Renewing Resilience Tips.  
If you are facing loss, get the support you need.  For additional resources, including a no-obligation personal intake coaching session, Helga Bender MThS, click here.  
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