This is what grief looks like. It looks like abandoning today’s carefully-laid-out page in your planner in favor of a couch and a blanket. It looks like wanting to do nothing but sleep all day long. It looks like not being ready to tell almost anyone what has happened yet, because that will make it undeniably true.
This is what grief looks like. It looks like pulling yourself up and pushing through with at least that one errand that simply must be completed today. It looks like continuing with business as usual because things must get done, and who else is going to do them?
Grief looks like silence, of not knowing
what to think or how to feel, of being unsure of what to do next. It looks like
not knowing what to say to someone else whose loss feels so much deeper than
yours. It looks like talking to a friend for a long while yet finding yourself
unable to tell them what you’re going through. It looks like crumbling into
tears when unconditional kindness and help are offered by someone who does know.
My maternal grandmother died on Monday evening. It was not unexpected but that does not make it any easier, I am finding. She has been saying, “Not today,” to death for years now, and, in a way, that makes it harder. There are other things that make it harder, too, but those are neither here nor there.
This is what grief looks like. It is strange. I feel strange. I do not know how to do this.
I am an introvert. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it. I don’t mind being on my own, reading, watching Netflix, singing, dozing, and writing. It is how I rest, recharge, and recover from the rigors of the day-to-day. I like quiet.
Life is not very quiet.
I teach eighth grade; eighth-graders, and students in general, are not quiet. I also have a rambunctious six-year-old Gryffindor of a child; she is not quiet. Life is very rarely quiet, so I will grab it with both hands whenever I can find it.
For some of my dear ones, this concept is a bit perplexing: my need for quiet, specifically alone quiet. The need to be by myself. Some of them are the opposite: they don’t like to be alone. And I get that; it’s part of their extroverted personalities. It is part of the way God fashioned them, and I have never minded that. Recently, though, I found myself explaining to my husband that quiet and silence are two different things for me. Up until that point, I had not ever thought about it in that way. It boils down to these two realities: Quiet restores me, but silence destroys me.
I have written on silence in friendships/relationships and how it affects me before (https://awriterbecoming.com/2014/11/02/nablopomo-day-2-the-weight-of-silence/), and that is still true. Quiet, however, is different. I have read quite a few writings on the benefits of silence but have never found any that differentiate between silence and quiet in the manner that they do for me. There is much to be and that is said for the meditative benefits of silence, sinking into it in order to still your mind and soul. But that is not what I am talking about here. I am not talking about meditation. I am talking about restoration.
For me, quietis restorative. Quiet often includes comforting ambient noise, providing a baseline to my heartbeat. The hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen or the air conditioning in the bedroom, even the trill of birdsong in a forest doesn’t bother me. Those things are part of the quiet, of the space in which I can recover. Quiet can be my choosing to spend the day without talking, thus letting my mind roam. Quiet can also be having the space and freedom to sing at the top of my lungs all day if I want, refilling the creativity of my soul. Just the other day, I managed to get home a few hours before my husband and daughter, and I indulged in a long hot shower, a fried chicken dinner, and an episode of Gentleman Jack. Yes, it was super indulgent and restorative in the middle of quite a crazy, stressful week.
Quietness feels natural to me. Quiet is stillness. It glides across the floor and invites me to sit and rest. For me, quiet must often be sought out. I need to specifically carve out time to be quiet and to slow down. Sometimes this is by myself; sometimes it is with very select company. Rarely does this happen in large groups, however. Fun can happen there, but quiet does not. Quiet helps to restore me, helps me recover.
Silence, on the other hand, is a completely different thing for me. Silence, particularly in friendships/relationships, feels sullen and heavy. It strides across the floor, takes up space and air, and my stomach drops when its weight settles in the room. Whereas quiet is a natural state for me, silence feels deliberate, pointed. Silence feels like withholding, whether that is a withholding of communication, honesty, warmth, connection, or all of the above. It is, as a friend put it, “the absence of an outside world, the world that quiet gives us leave from. Silence is isolation.” Isolation. That is exactly what it feels like! When I encounter silence, that profound ‘nothing’, I feel like I am isolated from that person or situation. It hurts. Just as when a fridge or a fan suddenly turns off and the stillness that comes is so disturbingly complete as to be startling, so silence can trigger a constant alarm in my soul. Alert! Alert! Something is wrong! And that constant tension shakes me apart. I cannot sleep when silence comes to stay. It is too heavy; it makes breathing feel like an Olympic feat. As I told my husband, silence destroys me.
Yes, quiet and silence are very different for me. In the midst of quiet, I can begin to calm. Silence puts me on pins and needles. Understanding that has brought me a measure of peace. Realizing that there is indeed a marked difference between the two for me has helped me put quite a few things into perspective, even if my view of silence and quiet differs from that of others. I am an introvert. I like quiet. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it.
I do not often like to write about the hard stuff when I am in the middle of it. I feel too close, too rattled, too raw. But, often, that is when I am at my most honest, just as I am sure it is for you. Part of the work of Christmas within me, I believe, is that very honesty. I am apt, often, to sweep my own difficulty under the rug, or at least shove it out of sight. But that isn’t truthful, honest, and I want to be honest.
These past month has been stressful, as in ridiculously stressful; stressful enough to throw off my body’s clock and rhythms. I won’t downplay how it has felt. I have collapsed into weeping several times—on my classroom floor, in my car in the grocery store parking lot, on the phone with my husband after a failed trip to the BMV.
Alone in those moments, I cried out to God. I begged and pleaded, “I need a miracle!” I wanted to ask God to make it all better. I just wanted a new car to show up in my driveway (or at least one without a myriad of problems that need constant fixing) or for a windfall of money to solve all the issues. Instead, though, a completely different thought floated into my mind and out my mouth.
“Please, God, be my meal and oil.”
Meal and oil? Where did that come from?
In the Old Testament story of Elijah, it tells of his experience staying with a widow and her child. When Elijah asked her for some water to drink and bread to eat, she warned him that she only had a little meal (flour) and oil left. Enough to make a small cake for herself and her son, and then they were going to wait to die. But she took the little that she had and began to cook. In the end, she fed God’s prophet and herself and her son with it! Lo and behold, the next day, there was more! Not much more but enough more.
I have not thought about that particular Bible story in many years, but I remember being struck by it even as a child. So I have found myself repeatedly praying for God to be my meal and oil—to hold our cars together just one more day, to give me enough grace to deal with my students today.
Sometimes, day by day is what I need. I know me: I would look ahead into a year’s worth of tomorrows if I could, just to make sure everything would indeed work out. Not necessarily as I hope but just work out at all. So, for now, perhaps this is the best for me, the best that I can do: expect the best that God can do. Expect him to give me what I need daily, as I learned to pray as a kid. “Give us this day our daily bread…”
“…our names are part of our wholeness. To be given a name is an act of intimacy as powerful as any act of love.” – Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
My name is Melissa, that honey-bee moniker laid upon me on the day of my birth. Over the 36 years of my life, though, I have been gifted with other names. As a child, my family and friends called me “Missy”. In high school, my friends fell to calling me by my last (maiden) name, for reasons that I have hitherto forgotten. When I entered college, the friends I met there named me “Mel” out of amusement for my last name: Gibson, and that particular name has stuck over the subsequent decade and a half. Almost everyone calls me “Mel” now.
While that is my most frequently-used nickname, it is still precious to me because those who utter it love me, and I know it, what’s more. It is an intimacy, an outward expression of their love and care for me. There is a vast difference between those who call me “Mel” and those who call me “Melissa”.
There are more names with which I have been gifted that are precious to me. My best girl friends call me “wifey”, as we are close and beloved of each other, having been friends for a decade or longer. We are also also wives and mothers of small children who support and love on each other and each other’s children. We belong to each other.
A particular dear friend, Erin, calls me her “Sam” after Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which I count amongst my highest honors. I call her my Bosslady, stemming all the way back to college and her sweet, loving, faithful mentoring those almost-twenty years ago.
My husband calls me “Issya”, a derivative of my name that only we two know the origin of. That name ushers from no one’s lips but his, making it infinitely precious. He also calls me “Helpmeet”, as we are partners in this life together.
When our daughter was first learning to talk, she dubbed me “Mumum”, which made me so happy to hear it babbled from her chubby, smiling face. Even now, when she says “Mama” instead of the more-usual “Mommy”, I am thrown back to her earlier years all over again.
These names, these gifts, represent intentional acts of relationship by dear ones–especially in this, my second act of life. They are an almost tangible way of knowing that I am welcome in their lives and loved by them.
“What’s in a name?” I believe that a truly given name (or nickname) has an intimacy wrapped up in, an acknowledgement, a place, and a whisper of love. Thank you, dear ones, for my names. Thank you for how you love me.
A few amazing and splendid things have happened since the beginning of the year. Firstly, I had a realization about my writing. I am not reaching for ‘astonishing’. I am not reaching for the bestseller list. However, I have realized of late that what I do want for my writing, my goal, my calling for this gift I have had since childhood is for it to mean something. I want my writing to be of value and good to someone. I want it to be encouraging, edifying, challenging, comforting, welcoming. I want my writing to speak God’s love to those who read it, to challenge them to keep going, keep trying, keep staying, keep loving. This is my goal.
I literally realized as I wrote that last sentence: this is my dream.
Friends, I cannot tell you the last time I had a dream. A dream to work for, a dream to reach for. Over the past decade when I have been asked what my dreams are, I have felt appallingly empty. I have had no words, no answer, no dream to speak of. And it made my heart ache; it made me cry, to be dreamless. I do not want big things; I do not want a huge, ostentatious house, to be famous, to top a bestseller list, or to speak to large crowds. Truthfully? I have accomplished many of the dreams that others might have. I have a solid job, health insurance, a strong relationship, a loving family, a healthy child, a home of my own, and enough money to cover our bills, our needs, and many of our wants, too. Are things perfect? No. Are they good? Yes. So, with all that, what else could I possibly dream for, reach for?
But, as I think about it, the more and more I realize that this is a dream. A new one! Like dear Flynn Rider (Eugene Fitzherbert to his friends), I needed to find a new dream, and…I guess I have. I do not necessarily know what comes next (sharing this post, I suppose), but the thought of having a dream is and feels nothing short of amazing.
I’ve got a dream!
And Another Thing!
The second splendid thing was a moment of affirmation, one that meant—and still means—a great deal. On a recent Saturday, I wrote a post of thank-you’s on my personal Facebook page to my dear ones. A little while later, my phone pinged with a notification: my dad had commented on my post. Here is what he wrote:
Thank you too, for being yourself, true to openness and willingness to share such a ministry of helping others to feel that they are important, cared about, loved and have someone to lift them up. You are also willing to share their pain and climb down to where they are to keep them comfortable with your encouragement.
I really cannot describe to you just how deeply this affirmation touched my soul, particularly as it came from my dad, who has been in ministry in some way, shape, or form throughout my entire life. This is my life’s purpose and work: love. I really do believe that God put me here to do my best to love, deeply and well, those whom God has put in my path and life. Some may stay, some may leave, and some may just be passing through, but nevertheless, I am going to do my best to offer love to them all.
Encouragement is one of my spiritual gifts, without a doubt, but I learned it at my mother’s knee. She used to buy me little calendars for my study carrel (office) at school and she would write encouraging, loving little notes on them. When I went off to college, she sent prayer boxes with me (little containers with Scripture verses or prayers on them) and she would write notes on the back side of them. She never misses a birthday, anniversary, or holiday; her beautifully-chosen, loving cards come without fail. I keep many of them and re-read them when I need a heart-lift. With such inspiration and teaching, how could I ever doubt what my purpose on this mortal coil is?
My mother’s teachings, the affirmations of family, friends, ministers, dear ones, and now this timely one from my Da’…sometimes that is what a soul needs. What God knew my soul needed: affirmation that I am indeed doing what I am supposed to be doing. In that, God has given me a dream, a desire, a goal, and the confirmation that, yes, I am to step forward into it, whatever that mean. Just the next step, though.
January 19, 2019 – Hope*Writers Prompt: Brainstorm
Sometimes, a bolt of lightning strikes my brain (Well, that must hurt!) and it starts a hiss. That hiss grows into a rumble like distant thunder. I like that rumble. That rumble is fun. That rumble is twitchy. That rumble is smile-inducing because it means there’s something new to explore. A new idea to pick apart so as to see how it works, and then put it back together again in a way that is accessible. A new character with stories being born in their mouth and limbs every second: stories to live, stories to tell. A new world that blinks at me from behind its caul, begging me to be gentle in my examinations and explorations of its workings and people. That rumble means (hopefully) an oncoming storm of newness, the arrival of a new something to write about, to dive into, to disappear within for a while. It’s the shelter into which I duck as the storm finally breaks.
**Postscript: extra points if you caught the quote in the first paragraph and can tell me what film it is from. ^_^
Drafting a piece of writing can be so difficult: figuring out some way to get those ideas out of your mind and down onto paper or a screen…somehow. Eventually, though, they do end up there, and then begins the task of tearing that painstaking draft apart and putting it back together again. That is what I love about drafts: the puzzling out and reconstituting of them, sometimes as something very different than what I started out with. I create something and then I blast my beloved creation apart, muck about with the pieces several dozen times, and then, eventually, end up with something that resembles a final draft. It may be a refined, elegant version of the original or it may end up looking nothing like the writing I began with, completely different proverbial eyes staring back at me from the computer screen.
As a friend once reminded me, rather wisely: life is not being a great writer but a great re-writer. Writing and life are about being able to to see where we have learned, grown, and changed, edit, revise our worldview as necessary, and life our lives accordingly. So, in more way than one, we are all living drafts every single day, always being revised into something new and exciting. Perhaps someday, new eyes will stare back at our Maker than those with which we began.