A Time to Grieve with Thin Skin, Belly Laughing, and an Open Heart

My grandma was the best human I’ve ever known. When she died, we grieved HARD. Had I written about it then, it might have sounded heavy and sad. OR it might have sounded like I had lost my ever-loving mind because I found almost everything hilarious during the week of her passing. I WAS sad. But sometimes joy and grief hold hands and walk together.

Our Grandma-grief looked like late night pizza-eating and wine-drinking; life-hooky-playing; family-photo-looking; thrift store shopping; belly-laughing and crying and remembering through soaked-eye smiles; memory-reliving and memorial-planning; chili-eating; pain in a space and time where it was safe and even encouraged to embrace the whole spectrum of emotions.

We celebrated. We spoke of Grandma’s ridiculousness, her gumption, her humour, her indomitable spirit. We oozed sarcasm and vulnerability at the same time. We giggled and cried at ourselves, our past, our broken dreams and the dreams we had fulfilled.

Grandma would have been laughing out loud with us. And she wouldn’t have even cared if her teeth were in or not.

We grieved WELL. Gold star mourning, if there was such a thing. It looks different to everyone, but Grandma would have been indignant if we didn’t laugh at least a little bit. We welcomed it all, we embraced the ups and downs and soaked it in. We had a purpose for our pain: to remember, to share who Grandma was with each other and with anyone else who was willing to listen, to honour her legacy.

I’m working through some weight-ey stuff. I recently talked with a friend and complained about myself and how I sometimes don’t accurately represent my true character in print. I was super whiney.

“They don’t get it. I’m not all heavy! I’m a happy, fun person! I’m MOURNING here, dammit!”

And I AM. I’m grieving my past and my future and everything stuck in the middle. I’m grieving the church. I’m greiving my choices and the choices of others. But it doesn’t always look sad. A lot of grief looks like joy. It looks like recognizing the absurdities in life and in my own thought processes, and then pointing and laughing at it all. It looks like contemplation, a time of hope and of waiting. It looks like forgiving myself and forgiving others.

They say there are 5 stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The stages aren’t linear, either. They jump back and forth all over the place, like a twisted game of life-whack-a-mole. We think we’re almost cozy in one stage, when another one sneak-attacks from behind and knocks the tidyness right out from under us.

I say they should add another stage: maniacal-giggling and car-singing and dark humour and whole-body-sobbing-howling-hysterical-laughter. Because even though grief is often dark and heavy, sometimes the light leaks out of us in spurts. It all rises like steam in a kettle full of boiling water, pressure that needs a release.

There are at least a handful of people I care about who likely view me as “deceived” because of my thoughts on Christianity today. They might be praying for me. They might worry about me. They’ve possibly decided that due to my current marital status and proclivity to be all kinds of open book-ish on the interwebs, I’m experiencing a mental break. 

They might write me off because they feel sorry for me. Because they think “oh, she’s separated. She’s just sad.”

When people think you’ve lost your marbles, sometimes they’re polite. Sometimes they see you as already fragile, not quite sure where you’re cracked, but pretty certain you could shatter at anytime. Sometimes they just look away. Sometimes they coddle you with “encouragement.” The way people treat someone they see as off-ish is sometimes enough to drive a slightly sane person over the edge.

And it hurts. And I grieve.

I can feel others’ distain. Even when it comes in small doses. And it bothers me, probably more than it should.

I used to believe that in order for me to find and use my voice, I needed to develop thicker skin while keeping a soft and open heart. That’s how people do it, right? We have thick skin so the hurt rolls off us instead of slicing right through to our bones.

So how do we have thick skin and a soft heart at the same time?

We don’t. We have a soft heart and THIN skin, and we know that we are more than others’ opinions of us. 

Brene Brown says this:

“The problem is… you can’t selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these… You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

The truth is that there will always be nose-wrinklers. There will be people who don’t like us – either for no reason or maybe even for good reason. And it’s always going to hurt a little bit if we choose to let it.

And I choose to let it. I choose to let it, and to grieve it, and to come out of it knowing that if my heart is open to Love, to other humans, it must also be open to the hard things too. 

It doesn’t mean I let people walk all over me, or that I stick around just to take the hits for pain’s sake. It doesn’t mean I go all codependent. It doesn’t mean I’m a sad person all of the time.

It does mean that when rejection comes, I will let myself feel its sting. It means I will allow myself to learn from others, even if we don’t agree on some things. I will allow myself to ask questions, and I will know that my mind will likely change about some things.

Pain isn’t a bad thing. Pain reminds us of the places where we need to pay attention. It points us in the direction of our grief and says “start here.” If I slice myself open and feel nothing at all, there’s a chance I might bleed out and die. Pain says “you’re not done just yet.”

I am walking through a season of mourning and I will continue to walk through it for as long as it’s needed. I won’t be taking up permanent residence here. But I have a lifetime of grief and joy and hope and pain to understand, and new grief that hits me still. As I walk, there will be days when I ugly cry until my eyes are puffy and my face is blotchy. There will be days when I laugh until my face hurts and glows and shines with happy tears.

I trust God and know that I will survive; He’s got this and He’s got me. The pain might hurt, but it isn’t fatal. His joy is still there through it all. And I have trust and hope in His goodness and His kindness. And we cry. And we laugh.

And there will be dancing.

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