As anyone who knows me well will tell you I love the Queen and the Royal family – I went through a phase a few years ago where most of the presents I received were Royal related. I have numerous royal mugs, tins, various tea towels and even a set of wind up Royal family members. I know that the subject of the monarchy can lead to heated debate but I love them and am not ashamed to say so. The Queen has served our nation faithfully and with such strength and dignity for a lifetime and personally I think she is one special lady. I can’t remember when I first heard this quote from her whether it was something she said in one of her Christmas speeches (where each year Dad would make us stand and salute the TV – maybe that is where I have in part inherited it from!) but it spoke to me very powerfully.
“Grief is the price we pay for love.”
Another quote I read more recently but it was basically saying the same thing.
“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – those are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But I’m learning that recognising and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.” Brene Brown
Sometimes I feel like I have experienced enough grief to last me a lifetime and then some but I experienced grief because first there was love and lots of it and because of that I am incredibly blessed.
For many years I didn’t have to tell the story of why Lucy and I were on our own because the people in my life were pretty constant and everyone knew but as I have stepped into a new chapter with lots of new people I find myself telling the story over and over again, which is fine because I am pretty comfortable with it, it is part of who I am, but it is the reactions that are hard because you know it is going to make people feel uncomfortable or maybe cause people to view you differently. I guess it is a sad story but it is also a story rooted in love. There are lots of sad stories in life, lots of stories of abuse, rejection, brokenness, addiction, fear but my sad story is not one of those. I was loved and cherished by a lovely man; I had a brief but wonderful marriage, and from that came a gorgeous little girl. I had a daddy who loved me, who supported me to his dying day, who made sacrifices for me and believed in me. I can truly call myself blessed because I was loved and that love did not end because they chose to stop loving me.
When you have suffered an earth shattering loss, whether that is bereavement, relationship breakdown or something equally as devastating you life falls apart and a whole raft of complex and quite frankly hard and painful emotions make themselves at home in your heart. One of those emotions is anxiety. I was fortunate because in all that has happened I have never felt afraid or anxious, except for maybe once or twice when Lucy has been poorly (fortunately God gave me a child who rarely gets ill because a) emotionally I could not cope and b) I am not great with bodily fluids), but I have watched people I love struggle with that anxiety, that out of the losses they are scared to move forward in case it happens again, or to truly live because they are locked in fear and it is heartbreaking but totally understandable.
Your heart has been through so much and you cannot bear the thought of it happening again. For others maybe a part of you shuts down. Whilst I did not suffer with anxiety I do wonder whether I may have reacted differently had my dad died with John still here, if I hadn’t already lost so much already. I miss my Dad, it was so hard to watch him fade away as the cancer ravaged his body – I remember saying to my brother in the last months that I would keep going in to check on him as he sat in his chair half expecting him to have stopped breathing and my brother said he had been doing exactly the same. We would have awful conversations where we admitted to each other that we just wanted the end to come because it was exhausting and hard to watch but when the end came it did not shatter me, I didn’t weep and wail, it didn’t devastate me and I feel awful saying that but I honestly do not feel like my dad’s death has impacted me anywhere near what I might have expected. I loved my Dad to pieces, he was one of my favourite people and there are times when actually only he will do and he is no longer there but I think part of me shut down when John died, a part of me that was never going to ever let anything hurt me as much.
That being said though I still feel like I have a huge capacity to love and I want to love and keep loving the people who God has given me to love and anyone else who wants to be loved. I am passionate about the people in my life, some may say I am a little too full on in the way I love but I don’t care. Love is what it is all about for me, it is fundamental, it is what I want to commit my life to doing. I believe love can transform, can redeem, can restore, can heal – it has such power. There is nothing better than loving and being loved. For me that love comes from God, and he is the one that gives me that ability to keep loving.
I am very aware though that pain and grief flowing out of love is not just about loss in terms of that physical separation that death brings but can be a whole host of reasons. We have all felt hurt by something someone we love says to us or about us, disappointed where someone we thought cared lets us down or does not react how we hoped or expected. Over the years I have spent many hours in tears or dissecting a relationship because it has caused me pain. I am a monkey for backing away when I have been hurt – I thought I did it so well so no one really noticed until one of my closest friends said to me that she always knew when she had hurt me. Hurt and disappointment are part of loving people, of relationship, of community – we are humans made up of weaknesses, insecurities and experiences which mean we will all let people down and which will shape the way we respond and react when hard stuff happens. I believe absolutely unequivocally in the importance of forgiveness, of vulnerability, of working hard to make our relationships work – that it is worth fighting through the crap – it is often messy, painful and humbling but there is so much freedom living in right and good relationship with people rather than carrying around anger and bitterness.
About 18 months ago in the midst of the nightmare that was the father and grandfather’s estates we had a pretty massive family row – there was swearing and the slamming of phones, lots of tears – we were all exhausted, and totally bruised and battered and so had no capacity to be kind to each other. I felt like I had been run over by a truck. I lost a lot of sleep and one night I lay awake and felt like God was doing open-heart surgery on me. I was left with no choice but to open my laptop, in the middle of the night, and write a handful of emails to various people where I had been holding things against them, maybe not so it was obvious to anyone else but I knew it was there still, and one by one I had to email and say I was sorry where I had held unforgiveness in my heart towards them. It was instantly like something had lifted. These people had caused me hurt and pain, and they were people I loved, but I had a choice as to how I responded – was I going to make myself vulnerable before them or continue to hold the rubbish inside of me. There was forgiveness, healing, freedom and good relationships restored.
So I will continue to keep loving, keep being vulnerable, and keep fighting for the people I love and those that God calls me to love – I may not always get it right, I may be hurt in the process and I will no doubt hurt but I do not want to ever give up on love. I want to love completely and fully and not just those it is easy to love. If when my time comes all people say is that she loved well then for me that will be a life well lived.
And if the opportunity comes to fall in love again who knows – my heart will always be a little bit broken but I believe in a God who loves me and has the best yet to come for me.