How do I cope with grief?

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How do I cope with grief?

by Alyssa Robinson

My grandmother, Jeannine Johnson, died the day after Thanksgiving in 2020. As she took her last breaths, we were gathered around her as a family praying, singing, and telling her we love her. It has become one of my most meaningful memories. Her death was what many people hope for their own passing; to die at home at an old age, surrounded by the people you love: but even so, her death brought a deep pit of grief.

My grief still emerges in unexpected ways. It turned into depression that lasted almost an entire year, and I didn’t even recognize that it was happening. Two years later, I still can’t get through a hymn in worship without crying. On November 1, I woke up in tears without understanding why. It’s as if my body knew something my mind didn’t. I then realized that this month would mark two years since I’ve been able to talk to my Grandmommy. Sometimes I talk to her out loud when I’m alone. I ask her questions like, “Do you like what I’ve done with my house?” She never got to see it. I say things to her like, “I wish you could’ve met Jacob. Y’all would have made each other laugh,” because she never got to meet my partner. 

Grief also appears in beautiful ways. Any time I see a hummingbird or butterfly in my front yard I think of her. It brings me a feeling of peace, and in my heart I just know that God is offering me comfort through creation. We share stories about her as a family and laugh together thinking about funny things she said or did.

It was a privilege to be loved so completely by her. All of this is on my mind as we honored people we’ve loved on All Saints Day and Dia de los Muertos. She’s now in my great cloud of witnesses.

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Grandmommy exuded the light of Christ on earth. The above scripture captures so much of her character. She had the ability to let go of heavy burdens. She had more perseverance than anyone I’ve met. She was constantly turning to Jesus's teachings to make decisions and give guidance to the family. Everything she did was about putting others before herself and glorifying God. I’m truly blessed to have her witness in my faith legacy.

This time of year I can’t help but think about her, not just because this is when we lost her but because of the family traditions and memories around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Maybe you have a similar feeling. Maybe you’ve lost someone who is at the top of your mind, too.

I mentioned that I experienced depression out of my grief. As a result, I pulled away from my church and my friends. I went to work, went home, watched tv, and then did it all over again. I felt numb to the world around me. I think they call it “functioning depression.” I was going through the motions of life, but I wasn’t connecting. I wasn’t engaging. Once I recognized it I started getting better, but sometimes I still feel like I have one foot in depression.

In Hebrews 12 it said Jesus endured the cross and all its shame for the sake of joy. I am anticipating the joy that is coming. I want to participate in God's joy and feel its warmth.

My goal for this holiday season is to lean in. I want to lean into the relationships God presents to me. I want to keep trying. I am proud to work for a church that is willing to wander through the wilderness of grief alongside me. Between personal conversations with pastors, the Coping With Loss Grief Seminars, All Saints Day Worship Service, and the upcoming Blue Christmas Worship Service, it’s a reminder that grief doesn’t have to be solitary work. Grief can feel like an unwelcome guest who keeps showing up at my house, but Trietsch reminds me that I don’t have to host grief alone.

If you’re experiencing any of these feelings, I invite you to lean in with me. Experience the hope and connection that Christ can bring by showing up.

Rev. Karen Chraska is one of the pastors I’ve had multiple conversations with about my grief. Listen to this week’s episode of the Life + God Podcast to hear us explore the question, “What happens when we die?” You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Posted by Alyssa Robinson at 7:00 AM
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