The other day I read an article by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter about her on-going battle with depression. It was a really honest, vulnerable and brave article.
Again it reminded me that lots of people carry their own struggles, battles and scars – often ones they aren’t willing or able to show to the world but I loved this girl’s bravery for speaking out about such a painful subject which affects so many people but which is often a taboo subject. I am lucky I have never suffered with it but I have walked with people I love who have. It’s relentless, it is misunderstood and frankly it is crappy as it sucks away people’s joy and ability to fully engage with life.
Likewise I have never faced infertility but I have stood by and watched as people I love dearly have- I have prayed feverently and passionately for so many babies as I have watched months pass by and friends’ hearts break a little more each time.
I do not know what it is like to live in an abusive and addictive situation, or to be desperate for money to feed my family, or to live through divorce or a broken relationship, or to love a sick or disabled child.
I do, however, know about loss and loneliness much more than I anticipated I ever would by this stage of my life, which many people do not understand.
All these things and so many more are massive disappointments in life – life was not meant to turn out like that, hopes and dreams have been shattered, and they hurt like hell. What I am about to say feels like a really depressing statement but life will include for all of us, at some point, or at various stages, some level of disappointment, in varying degrees, for some those disappointments will be more tragic and heart breaking than for others but disappointment will be part of all our stories. It is a truth that I think a lot of the time we do not want to face because we do not know how to handle it. I think we buy into the lie that life should always be great and fulfilling and beautiful and so when those disappointments come we feel like we have failed because our lives are not the glossy, happy, smiley, fun lives we should be living.
What I have been reflecting upon recently is how we deal with those disappointments and survive them. I wasn’t prepared for the enormity that was John’s death and becoming a single parent as quite honestly those sorts of things didn’t happen to people like me and as a result I well and truly lost the plot for a good few years.
I don’t have the answers as I reflect upon these things – I wish there was a formula for getting through so that life could get back to normal like it was before, in record speed. I remember a conversation I had with my grief buddy, Em (not sure how you will feel about such a title Em!) about how we both wished the grief process was a tick list which you could work through in a set period, a bit like preparing for an exam, to then be able to get back to normal happy people, whatever normal and happy now looked like. But guess what it was not so straightforward – it was messy and complicated and took a flipping long time! 8 years on and we would both say that that loss still massively affects our lives and who we are. We are probably radically different people to the ones that said those wedding vows all those years ago – the way we react, the choices we make, the way we relate to people I am guessing are all affected by the events of late 2006. We have both moved on so so much but it is still there – only last week I felt the grief consume me more than it has done in a long time because of something that happened.
I have come to accept that that loss and its disappointments will always be a part of me but I do not want them to define me. I don’t always want to be known as the girl whose husband died (and yes I have been introduced as that in a work context on more than one occasion!). Will I always feel the need to tell my story to strangers I meet to justify why I am on my own and why I am a single parent? Is there hope? Can life be ok again when it feels like it is so far from what it was meant to look like and if so how do you get there? Can there be complete healing? Can situations be transformed and redeemed and restored? My answer has to be a resounding YES and I don’t say that because I am there yet totally – as last week proved to me, as I sobbed and raged at God, (the positive being that it only lasted 24 hours as opposed to months) – but I have seen it in the lives of others, I have seen massive steps towards it in my own life, and I have hope in Jesus and his transforming and redeeming power.
I know that those disappointments change us – I often wonder whether John would recognise the person I am now and whether he would still love me. As one grief counsellor Em and I both saw told us it gives us extra corners others don’t have – how we hated those corners and would have been quite happy to have gone without them. I know in me it has birthed a massive compassion and a passionate desire to see people show love, kindness and sensitivity to others, especially for the broken and lonely. It has made heaven feel nearer. It has taught me so many lessons.
How do you get there? Well for each of us I guess it will be a different route, and for some it may take longer than for others. Again I don’t really have the answers as I feel like I am muddling through.
Will there be a day when it is all totally okay again – probably not because John will always have died at 28 not having met his child, I doubt there will be a day when I do not think about him – he will always be part of me but I can say absolutely that I know joy, fun, contentment, laughter, anticipation, hope, excitement –all the things I feared I may never feel again. The disappointment was all consuming for so long but it wasn’t the end of the story. I love that quote which says, “everything will be okay and if it is not okay it is not the end.”
I hope that my hurts will make me a better person, a kinder person, a stronger person, a person who walks more closely with my heavenly father. That more and more I can learn of God’s grace through the disappointments and see him working in my life and the lives of others.
What I loved most about Katharine Welby’s interview on her depression was that she concluded by saying that the trick to survival was finding those that were willing to jump into the darkness with you. I think that is just as true for any of the struggles and disappointments we face in life – I would literally not be standing without so many precious friends who time and time again jumped into the darkness with me – I know when I get to heaven it will be one of things I thank God most for – the amazing gift of incredible people who for some reason keep loving me. I hope and pray that through my disappointments and all that life has thrown at me it is teaching me to jump into the darkness alongside other people, however messy and broken that darkness is, to help them survive and come out the other side.
So I will continue to no doubt have my moments of disappointment that life doesn’t quite look like I hoped it would but I will keep holding tight to my father’s hand, trusting that the best is yet to come, and jumping feet first into those dark places, when people need me there, because for me that is where Jesus would be and where he calls me to be.