Mind- and body-numbing cold has finally gripped Chicagoland, but I’ve hardly noticed. Now that it has finally arrived, winter seems to have become the least of my daunting challenges over the past week.
Last Wednesday, just two days after I had written about my grandfather’s life and legacy, he died. When my mom called to let me know of his death, I cried quietly for a few minutes—but then steeled myself and forced myself to choose what I thought was joy.
As the day and the week progressed, the most difficult part was being away from my family—and in many ways, the separation actually allowed me to pat myself on the back for “grieving” so well. I was completely alone (Kim was out of town all week), and I was handling this “joyful grief” better than I thought I would.
On Saturday, though, my comfortable mental state deteriorated—and quickly. Following lunch with a friend who confronted with me an unexpected, difficult conversation, I absolutely lost all sense of control over my emotions. I dropped her off, but then I just bottomed out.
Without warning, I started to grieve the literal death of my grandfather whom I loved, as well as the more figurative (but still very real) death of a very tightly held dream. And I had made such a big deal about joyful grief that I was blindsided by sorrow when it struck as I drove down Main Street on the way home. Suddenly I was overcome by a wave of tears so fast and furious and fully flowing that I could not see. I pulled into the nearest parking lot, and I cried for 90 minutes.
In my mind I saw days stretching into the weeks and months ahead of me before my circumstances even could change. I yelled at God from my car in the parking lot: This. Is. Not. My. Dream. (My last post, Shopping Cart God, was not entirely metaphorical) The pervasive loneliness I have felt since moving here just compounded itself in my heart last week when my grandpa died. And then it overwhelmed and consumed me, because loneliness is my greatest fear.
That’s hard to admit to myself and even harder to write: I am lonely here, and I hate that. Life is difficult (and frigid, which may not be entirely related but certainly doesn’t help) right now, and I cannot find joy. What I thought was a God-sustained dream, the hope of which was fueling my outlook—it’s just not there anymore.
Of course, I find circumstantial joy in many everyday things…but abiding, soul-sustaining joy escapes me. Even then, I consciously know that I have (or have the ability to have) abiding joy. And that’s the hardest confession of all: I know joy is there, but I cannot choose it for myself right now.
My friend told me she’s sad for me, because I do not love life right now—and I’m sad for that, too. I never had experienced a life worth loving before this past year, and it feels like most of that is gone now. But what’s worse is not even knowing what I mean or what to hope for when I say, “I have hope that things will get better.”
I wish that I could end this post on an optimistic note, like, “And then in the past three days I discovered that I am okay with my circumstances even though I’m not getting what I wanted—AND I’M SO HAPPY.” But not only would that be a lie about my personal experience, it would be a lie about the Christian life as well.
The fact is, I want to be sad right now, and there is nothing wrong with sadness. But I’ve tried to pass off my sadness as obedience, and it only is making me bitter instead. I have so badly wanted to trumpet my adherences to those Heavenly promises—I was choosing joy even in the worst of circumstances!—that I forgot to leave space in my heart for God’s other promise: that he provides comfort when I mourn.
And it is okay to mourn when someone—or something—we love dies.