My grandmother had a dream to have children. The longing to be a mother… to nurture and hold dear, to feed and clothe and have the ability to raise and feel that sense of innate purpose that many who grow up with this longing would understand. To make a long story short, my grandmother had a few losses through miscarriage, which is an unimaginable grief that only one who has experienced it might understand. Thankfully my grandmother had children eventually, but it did not take away the grief of those lost lives, and it only became worse with the grief of a husband who passed on the abuse he received in a Japanese war camp to others. My mother tells me that her mother counselled her with these words (that came from her own experience of grief and feelings of depression) telling her, “life is often one uncomfortable night.”
This analogy really sticks with me. I wonder if many who are going through grief, pain, depression, struggle etc.. feel this very way. Life is often an uncomfortable night. The things that don’t seem to line up. The dark night of the soul. The struggle with thoughts, emotions, behaviours, circumstances of abuse, trauma, neglect, abandonment, and shattered dreams. When it feels like God is on Mute. When the prayers are not answered and the silver lining has not come.
And perhaps one of the most difficult things about grief is when it feels like you are walking through it alone.
Even when we have people around us who are trying to support us, it is hard to feel like someone is truly walking with you when you don’t feel like your grief is fully understood. That is, no one will experience grief the same way as you do. We have often heard the 5 stages of grief as denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Contrary to this neat and organized structure, it actually resembles more of a soupy mess. We are prone to try and make meaning out of our situations. An additional stage in the mix of grief is something that David Kessler writes as, “finding meaning.” (Finding Meaning, the Sixth Stage of Grief, 2019) He writes,
Meaning is relative, personal and that comparing losses makes no sense; the worst loss is always your loss. Only you know your loss and the meaning.Kessler, 2019
Making meaning doesn’t suggest that we necessarily understand why things happen or that there was some purpose in a horrible situation. This is not the point of the finding meaning stage.
Far too often the “everything happens for a reason” platitude is given which only results in minimizing our grief, but perhaps it is more appropriate to say that we make reasons for everything.
There is no quick fix to grief. There’s often no story of hope that will make us feel better. It might be more painful before the healing begins. The horrible situation that happened to you will not go away, but the meaning that comes down the road as you explore it and walk through the pain can bring healing and be a healing balm for your future. The relationship with your loved one, the shared story, the wisdom you are gaining as you grow. Yet it is terrible and horrible and lonely… Yes, grief can feel like the dark night of the soul. The uncomfortable night. The hope is, that in the making meaning stage of grief we can transform it into something else that is rich and fulfilling. It takes time, it is uncomfortable, and it doesn’t minimize the hard. It is comforting when someone can sit with us in our pain and explore with us the angst. It is also okay to feel the grief and not have the answers. It doesn’t have to be painful forever and focusing on making meaning can balance out the pain that we are feeling. The fact that you are willing to explore it and walk through it already makes you resilient and courageous. May you find others to walk with you through the uncomfortable night.
Some Good Reads and References
David Kessler “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” (2019)
Kate Bowler “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” (2018)