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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Recovery - The Implications of the Story of Job

There comes a point after a tragedy where those left grieving find themselves alone. Their friends find them too painful to be around and stop visiting. It's not a conscious thing and often one or two brave folks do drop by and sit with you and fidget nervously while you explain how "it's getting better" and you're taking "one step at a time". The truth is, however, that there is a huge aching hole in your heart and you're taking two or three steps forward and 5 or 10 steps backwards.

Those who love you suffer as well to watch you grieve. You are looking into a blackness they fear and dread themselves. No mother alive does not live in terror of losing her child. It is a thing so dreadful as to be unimaginable to any parent. Some try to tell you how to get on with your life. People suggest therapy, grief counselors, taking vacations. They mean well.

But grieving is a very personal thing. We all know about the stages of grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I have 30 some odd hours of graduate training in rehabilitation psychology and I know about the stages. I find myself standing beside myself going, "Okay, this is bargaining, this is anger, this is denial." It's not really much help. Knowing what you're supposed to be doing in the way of grieving, doesn't help you do it. Besides, the 5 stages of grief have been misused by therapists and lay people. The 5 stages are more like the stages of coping with catastrophic news. Grieving does not precede in any such orderly fashion. I've known of caregivers who actually get mad at patients who do not do the stages in "proper" order.

In fact, you go through the same stages if your car's battery dies and leaves you stranded somewhere. It goes like this*:

DENIAL --- What's the first thing you do? You try to start it again! And again. You may check to make sure the radio, heater, lights, etc. are off and then..., try again.
ANGER --- "%$@^##& car!", "I should have junked you years ago." Did you slam your hand on the steering wheel? I have. "I should just leave you out in the rain and let you rust."
BARGAINING --- (realizing that you're going to be late for work)..., "Oh please car, if you will just start one more time I promise I'll buy you a brand new battery, get a tune up, new tires, belts and hoses, and keep you in perfect working condition.
DEPRESSION --- "Oh God, what am I going to do. I'm going to be late for work. I give up. My job is at risk and I don't really care any more. What's the use".
ACCEPTANCE --- "Ok. It's dead. Guess I had better call the Auto Club or find another way to work. Time to get on with my day; I'll deal with this later."

Actually, you have to go through all this before you can even get around to the real work of grieving. Everyone grieves differently. There's an acronym therapists use for the work of grief**:

T = To accept the reality of the loss
E = Experience the pain of the loss
A = Adjust to the new environment without the lost object
R = Reinvest in the new reality

**This is Grief Work. It begins when the honeymoon period is over, the friends have stopped calling, everyone thinks you should be over it, the court case is resolved, "closure" has been effected, and everything is supposed to be back to normal. It's at this point that real grieving begins. Notice that the first step of Grief Work is ACCEPTANCE, the last stage of the 5 Stages of Grief.

My wife and I both know for an absolute certainty that my son is in God's hands. We accept it and believe that God in his mercy took my boy into his safekeeping and I certainly expect to see him on Christ's return. Looking at the world today, I expect that event soon. The world is exploding. Good people are getting better. Bad people seem to be getting worse and worse.

But even knowing with certainty that our child is safe in God's hands, sleeping through the horror that is coming before the end of the world, we still miss him. My God, how we miss him!

He was a good boy. He lived with us for 27 of his 28 years. We got up night after night and we helped him through his seizures. We watched him trudge up the front walk each evening worn out and we worried about whether he'd had supper. We let him borrow the credit card to keep his truck full of gas. His mother occasionally slipped him a $20 bill on Saturday nights so he could take his girlfriend to a movie or something. I slipped him a few bucks on occasion for the same reason. He and I used to talk about all sorts of things. In the last few years, he even started asking me for advice and (remarkably) often took it.

What's hardest for us is the emptiness of not having to worry about him anymore. It doesn't feel right. When I informed my auto insurance guy that I was taking my son off the insurance, he told me my monthly bill would be cut in half. I cried my eyes out. We feel guilty for sleeping through the night. We feel bad that we're not spending as much on groceries. We miss checking on him at night, cleaning his bathroom, nagging him about leaving the television on. We're both afraid of forgetting what he looks like and what his voice sounds like. I'm coping by scanning all our negatives in our photo collection, digging up lost photos, copying video onto DVD's. It's painful, but healing. For his mother the grieving is harder. I am afraid for her and for me. I don't think I could bear to lose her too.

Hardest of all is having faith in all of this that God knows what he is doing. We've had the worst 3 months of our lives (we've also had some very good moments as well). Why God allowed the series of disasters we've suffered, I don't know. I do know the misery is not yet over. I don't know when it will be. I've asked God about it, but I got the same answer Job did.

When Job suffered his time of trouble, he asked God why He had forsaken him. His friends told him it was because God was mad at Job. God rebuked them for saying that. It wasn't true. But God never explained why he allowed catastrophe to strike Job. He just told Job that He was in charge and Job should trust him. Job's courageous statement was, "Though He slay me yet will I trust him!" Turns out it was that very faithfulness that made him a target for Satan's attacks.

God knows the end from the beginning. I wish I did. Till then we trust and obey, not knowing exactly why things happen the way they happen, but believing that God will bring it all out right in the end.

But we're tired. Grieving is exhausting! You get to a point where all you can do is just cling to each other and take one step at a time....


**TLC Group grants anyone the right to use this information without compensation so long as the copy is not used for profit or as training materials in a profit making activity such as workshops, lectures, and seminars, and so long as this paragraph is retained in its entirety.