The hardest step is always the next one. Having done my share of hiking and backpacking, each step carries with it the weight of everything you need to survive…especially when in the backcountry. There is nothing like the freedom of having everything on your back. And there is nothing like having the worries right back there too.
Stories abound of backcountry trips and long-distance hike ruined by a misstep or poor preparation. Those who complete the journies of long trails are much fewer than numbers of those who begin. If you are going by foot, You can always take an easier or shorter trail but you can’t make a longer trail shorter or a hard trail easier.
What I have learned though, is you can get simpler. You can get your back lighter. You can be more attentive to everything you are carrying. Everything needs a purpose and a place.
The journey of grieving in the valley of suck is no different. The process, the steps you take, the path can seem so easy to some and so harder to others. The 5 Stages of Grief (Kubler-Ross) are most often cited and given as guides for the journey through the valley of suck; this journey of grieving. In their simple forms they are:
Denial: “This can’t be happening.”
Anger: “Why is this happening to me?”
Bargaining: “I will do anything to change this.”
Depression: “What’s the point of going on after this loss?”
Acceptance: “It’s going to be okay.”
But there are other thoughts and studies now that don’t so much question these 5 stages, as they identify that the “path” is not so simple for us all.
It has been almost two years now since my late wife, Heather, died. It has been around 4 since her diagnoses. The impact of being her primary caregiver came with a burden all its own too that not everyone in grief will experience. And the nature of the relationship between spouses/partners is unique too.
I’m glad that “Therapistaid.com” uses the term “Normal” grief because each process of grief is different. However, they note that for most, we move from Acute Grief right after the loss to Integrated Grief, and so seem to move steadily through the 5 Stages of Grief.
But there are times, apparently, for about 10% of us, we hit a wall and must face what is termed Complicated Grief. We get stuck in the valley of suck before reaching the stage of acceptance. And while “Normal” grief is something we integrate well, this Complicated Grief seems to hall the grieving process. For these, there is a need for additional help in support or therapy.
In a world that likes nothing to do with death or facing mortality, these are
people often neglected and forgotten. They become shunned by friends and family in horrific ways. Some turn inward on their own and choose to simply give up and become sucked down completely into the grief.
And as a widower now, in a relationship with a widow and in numerous groups of widows, I find the church noticeably absent from this journey. This I find quite peculiar especially with the talk of justice issues because the Scriptures of the church, both Old and New, address the issue of caring for widows as one of the foremost signs of justice. Nowhere is it more evident than in James 1:27 where the writer states, “ Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Commentary after commentary conveniently skips the phrase “and widows…” I know because I’ve looked at numerous ones. And when we talk about the first martyr of the Church, Stephen, it is often absent from the conversation that his ministry was caring for…want to guess? Widows.
God knows there is so much injustice in the world. There are so many aspects of Scripture that right now are up for debate. Our personal hermeneutics are given precedent over some of the clearly defined guidelines of Church and Scripture. And yet, the voices of widows/widowers are still crying out for justice too. Just because the grief has been integrated or is complicated and they are silent, don’t think for one moment that widows/widowers are getting justice.
What we learn is to go on alone and that too is contrary to the invitation to come to the table of fellowship. To survive, we shed what we might want to keep for what we need to survive. We learn to step carefully knowing there may not be anyone to help. And I’m not talking about new ministry or program – I’m talking about relationships. Thankfully, God is in the valley of suck even if we don’t always find the church for, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me…” (Psalm 23:4)