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A vaccine for grief

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The deaths of our seventeen-year-old identical twin sons seemed to parallel their births. Jordan and Evan arrived and departed from this world side-by-side, only moments apart.

After a Friday evening youth group event, eight boys hatched a plan for a late-night “adventure” at Calgary’s Olympic bobsled track. Under the cloak of darkness, the boys would meet up secretly for a hi-jinx sledding escapade down the bobsled track.

The decision to have some unrestrained fun with friends turned into a deadly tragedy. Their adolescent frontal lobes did not fully appreciate the risks or danger. As they hurtled down the track, they did not realize that a death trap awaited them. Halfway down, an immoveable steel barrier instantly took the lives of our sons and critically injured others.

These were the events we pieced together for the coroner on February 6, 2016. Since then, I have attempted to piece together my life. 

We awoke on that Saturday morning with a strange quiet in our home. Over the days, drifting into months, the silence gave way to a numbing existence. How could our precious sons be dead? Everybody knew that Jordan and Evan were full of life – with a capital L! Reminders of their lives were inescapably in my face, and the barrage of images was an assault to my senses. If there had been a way to crawl out of my own skin to escape, I would have done it!

On that day, an unwelcome houseguest barged through our front door, violating our personal space. It overstayed its welcome and left a mess everywhere. In the lucid moments during this disorienting fog, I discovered its name: Grief.

Discovery through grief

I wish I had a vaccine that would protect people from grief, but I do not. Upon reflection, though, I would not want to. I have come to appreciate how very important it is not to waste pain. Pain on this scale can “make” people even though it seems designed to “break” them. 

I’m weaning myself off the need to feel comfortable. Instead, I’ve discovered more about myself and my God through my grief — and I continue to learn every day. It is not easy, as anyone in grief will tell you. 

I’m very slowly exchanging comfort for character. Christ-like character doesn’t come easily, nor is it cheap. I wouldn’t want to be inoculated from grief because I’ve discovered something profoundly encouraging. God is deeper still! Don’t waste your pain; it will make you stronger as you companion with God. 

What I can offer you is my brokenness and my hope in the risen Christ. I’ve learned that when you are in a fog — though you can’t see your way — you can follow a voice. I hope that these articles give ear to that voice: the voice of a loving Father who desires you to move from being made in his image to also becoming like Christ. I write to help you to hear comfort, companionship, love, purpose, meaning and hope. 

Is anyone crying for help? GOD is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find GOD right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, GOD is there every time. Psalm 34:17-19 MSG

Hard work ahead 

Whether you are knocked-back by a death, illness, divorce, separation, loss of employment or financial hardship, your identity takes a hit. Passing by a shop window, I stopped cold, startled by my own reflection. Who is that stranger looking so tired, numb and distressed? Has this also happened to you? 

Picking one’s way through grief is a humbling and perplexing time of self-discovery. Loss strips us down. It leaves a person wondering, “who is that in the window?” During this past year of COVID, many have experienced what the Harvard Business Review captured in an article title: That strange feeling you’re experiencing? It’s grief! 

If you can identify that the strange feeling you are experiencing is grief, it will allow you to move forward. I first discovered these “strange feelings” of grief a few weeks after the tragic accident. I was in the grocery store filling a bag with lots of apples. I froze as I realized that I didn’t need all these apples anymore. The boys weren’t there to eat them. I fled from the store in tears. 

Passing by a shop window, I stopped cold, startled by my own reflection. Who is that stranger looking so tired, numb and distressed? Has this also happened to you?

How to cope

Grief is overwhelming. Perhaps a simple equation can illustrate what is happening in your life:

LOSSES + CHANGE = GRIEF

Can I suggest you grab a cup of coffee and “sit with your grief”? Permit yourself to embrace your pain. It’s your companion, so it is best to get to know your grief. Write down the losses and changes you have been experiencing. Let the list be exhaustive. It may surprise you how they add up! Now write down the feelings you have associated with each loss or change. I’ve felt overwhelmed, numb, anxious, angry, afraid, tentative, depressed.

The journey ahead involves navigating the losses and changes you’ve identified along with their accompanying emotions. Many experts have compartmentalized the grief process into a tidy series of steps: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. In my personal experience, the journey is far from linear. It is an erratic jumble of tangled, messy missteps.

In this series of articles, we will honour the slow, plodding, and arduous grieving journey. It is hard work but vital for your restoration. We will sift through the rubble together.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27: 13 -14 NIV

Over time you will get your life back — though it will not be the same life. Grief knocked out all my navigational systems: physically, emotionally, psychologically, relationally and spiritually. As other’s lives resumed normalcy, I had lost the normal rhythms of my days. I didn’t realize how much these rhythms had given stability to life. My grief-emotions became my companions and negatively governed my life. It was like walking in waist-deep Jell-O with every step. It was exhausting. So what can a person do?

Your body

Take care of yourself. It’s easy to either forget to eat or eat too much. Though everything is hard, neglecting your health does not help. Try to eat well, keep hydrated, exercise with a regular walk and get a good sleep. I encourage you to contact your doctor for help if you are struggling. It may be helpful to have some medication or a referral to deal with your specific needs and concerns. Ask for support rather than suffering in silence, hoping someone will reach out to you. Slowly reintroduce routines and structure in your day. Self-care sets you up for feeling better both emotionally and physically. At the same time, be a grace receiver and accept days when you have reduced capacity to function. It’s one step at a time.

Your mind

I have found it is an ongoing effort to focus my thought-life. What is feeding my thoughts? Is it the news? Turn it off! Do I spend more time on Facebook than having my face in The Book? What “voice” am I listening to? What feeds me?

I love you, GOD — you make me strong. GOD is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout. Psalm 18:1-2 MSG

Your spirit

“When a train goes through a dark tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” These words by Corrie Ten Boom, a WWII concentration camp survivor, spoke a truth that helped me cope. I asked big questions: Who am I? Where was/is God? What purpose do I have? Who really cares about what I’m going through? I also asked a lot of why questions without answers. I felt alone.

Grief is not your only companion, though it seems like it some days. When our boys died, I purposed in my heart to trust the Engineer – through the dark tunnels and the intense emotions ahead – even on the days that I did not understand or feel anything. Now when I look again at the reflection, I realize that Someone is standing beside me. Jesus.

Through this series, I hope you will relate to some aspects of my story, and it can be a Spirit connection to bring some comfort, resolution, and assurance as you accept, process, adjust and move into a new normal in your life.

2 comments

2 comments

Rudy Hiebert April 11, 2021 - 13:42

Well done Shauna; you have spoken from your heart which is so precious.

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Fran Browne September 3, 2021 - 12:31

Thank you for this excellent article Shauna. We lost our 23 yr old son in 2003, due to a mountain climbing accident. Your article is true and real. It was a hard loss for us also, but at the same time I am so grateful for the lessons I have learned around the issue of grief.

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