Giving Grief a Seat at the Table

For the past few years my husband has worked as a free-lance front end web developer. Before that we both worked for the same small start up. Our work lives have always been closely intertwined. I may not be coding with him, but there hasn't been a single project I haven't seen and given feedback on at one point or another. We have shared three meals a day together for a vast majority of our seven years of marriage. There have only been a handful of clients that I haven't met at one point or another. When I've needed help with the kids he's been here. When he is struggling with a design I can look at it with new eyes.

We don't want to live separate lives. We really like being together 24/7. We like working together and we make a good team (if I do say so myself).

We have been blessed with the ability to share our work and spend our days together for seven years. And I am grateful.

But, life is going to change dramatically for us soon. And I'm grieving.

This week Bryan accepted a new job. It's a real job. A 9-5 in a down town office kind of job.

I know it's a good decision. The salaries good. They offered more than Bryan asked for, they were ok with him taking almost a month off for the trip we had already started planning. But most of all they understood that it can be difficult to transition from working for yourself so they agreed to let Bryan start slow with just two or three days a week and work up to full time. This will also allow him to finish some of his current projects, although he also plans to keep doing a few free lance things on the side even once he's full time.

Bryan's first day will be next Monday. He's really struggled with the decision and still has moments of going back and forth about it. But, I think he feels good about it over all.

For me the decision has been like a tug-o-war between my emotions and my rationale. I feel much the same way I felt when we decided to move up to Seattle. I know taking this job is a good decision, I feel like it's literally been handed to us and it would be foolish not to accept. I know it will stretch Bryan and improve his skills. I know he will be much less frustrated working away from the distractions of house and kids. I know it's what we need to do for this season of our lives. 

But, I deeply don't want Bryan to do it.

I don't want to have whole days were we barely see each other at all. I don't want Bryan to get home at the end of a stressful day only to then have more work to do for other clients, while I have the kids by myself all day. I don't want to lead separate lives.

And so I'm feeling sad. Deeply sad. I'm grieving the lose of the freedom we've had for almost all of our marriage. I'm grieving not having my husband, and best friend, near by all day. I'm grieving the loss of a dream. I'm grieving settling into a standard life. 

I'm realizing something too... Grief is an emotional cocktail. It's not just one simple emotion, it's a mix of many emotions. It's sadness, yes, but it's also anger and fear. Each emotion bubbling up at different times, mixing with the one before.

Grief. In Chinese medicine the lungs are the center for grief and doesn't that make sense? I have felt the tightness in my chest, that inability to breathe. But, when you surrender to grief it hits more than your chest it hits your whole body.

A few nights ago I surrendered to the grief I was feeling about Bryan taking a job and allowed myself to cry. But something happened that I hadn't expected. I didn't just cry, I sobbed, I wailed, I labored through grief almost as a women laboring to birth a child. And I realized very quickly when you open the door to one grief, in one area of your life, that grief is quick to bring his friends and you will find that you have not just opened the door to one grief, but to many.

What started as grief over Bryan taking this job quickly turned into grief I hadn't let myself feel over the past two years. Grief about leaving Prague and how we left. Grief about things we have and will miss out on with friends who are like family as well as family that lives far away. I felt grief for my family, and all that we've been through in the past two years. Grief over my sweet little girl and the life she could have had, the life she will never know now. Grief about motherhood being so different then I thought it would be. Grief mostly over Bryan's struggle with melanoma and fear over potential grief yet to come. I grieved it all.

I had barely allowed myself to cry because I thought that if I started crying I wouldn't be able to stop. It turns out that was a very legitimate fear. Once I started I couldn't stop. After over an hour the tears weren't letting up, they were getting more intense.

Eventually it was coming on so hard I thought I was going to throw up. My daughter was crying by this point and my poor husband was doing his best to comfort me in a realm he was clearly not comfortable in. So, I forced myself to find the lock and key and stop, practically mid-sob. My husband and his gift for making me laugh came in handy as distraction for keeping back the tears.

Grief. I have often felt like I don't know how to grieve. But, as I was caught up in wave after wave of grief I learned. And I remembered. There have been two other times in my life when I have allowed grief to take over, both where small drops compared to this ocean, but they were equally heartfelt.

I also realized how deeply my body and soul need grief and how deprived I had allowed myself to become by blocking this emotion.

My journey into grief really started on my birthday with a dear friend who allowed herself to speak the word grief into my heart and gave me space to begin to play on the outskirts of feeling grief. But, this journey with grief really reached a new level this week as I, even if only for a moment, allowed myself to step into the current of grief and be carried on her painful waves but for an instant.

When I had chocked the sobs back to moderate tears, Bryan asked if it felt good to let it out. That's when I realized something else about grief. As much as we desperately need to release grief, her sobs are not like other tears. I think we all have felt that healing relief that comes from a good cry, where even in the middle of it your body feels the refreshment coming and by the end you are clear eyed and rejuvenated. Not so, the sobs of grief. Grief's tears are pure pain and they leave the body and soul weary instead of refreshed. But, they are still so deeply necessary. And the ultimate result of riding the waves of grief is like labor... new life.

I am not done riding Grief's waves. In fact I feel like Grief and I are only beginning our journey. She has been for me an estranged acquaintance who I only visit rarely and briefly.

Even as I write this I feel myself pushing her away, "You have no right to feel grief, no one has died. You are fine. Suck it up. Count your blessings." And while there is some truth to my inner-dialogue, my body and soul know, with the kind of inner-knowing which only body and soul have, that grief is a valid emotion at any time when there is a loss, no matter how small. And here's the real clincher, Grief isn't going anywhere - she will be there whether I acknowledge her and give her a place at the table or whether I try to hide her in the closet and only visit her on the rarest occasion. She's there either way. Slowly I'm trying to  learn to give her a seat.

And so I say,

Come, Holy Spirit, sit with me in my grief, however great, however small - all of my grief. Ride with me these waves of grief and guide me through this labor of pain, of letting go. Embrace me as I embrace my grief. And do not let me avoid, neglect, or hide any valid feeling that may arise. Be gracious to me and those around me through the process. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman