Freckled face, thick, wavy hair braided to the side, she looked at me as she sipped her morning latte doing her best to be brave. Her relationship, the relationship, the one that she thought would last forever, had ended. She was devastated but doing her best to remain strong.
“I’m on the up and up,” she said to me with squinted eyes and a forced smile.
“That is good, but also it’s okay not to be okay right now,” I said, trying to reaffirm her.
As we sat in the bustling cafe with the morning sun rising behind us, my friend shared her recent experience of heartache. In her early twenties, this was her first taste of the devastation that life can bring when things do not go as planned..
In her, I saw a mirror image of myself 10 years ago, five years ago and just last year. I had known heartache of the romance kind, the friend kind and the family kind. I could still trace the scars along my heart, that although healed now (some more so than others) had left their indelible marks.
Looking back on my own encounters with heartache, my biggest regret was not the jarring experience itself but the moments when I chose to not acknowledge the pain. I am innate emotional stuffer. Pushing through hard moments and emotions is almost a default setting for me. I have boasted to others about my natural ability to respond to crisis now and cry later. After much life experience and self-examination, I see that this “gift” can also be my Achilles’ heel. I move so quickly to action, to fix things and have the answer to the problem, that oftentimes I fail to tend to the wounds on my heart.
My biggest regret was not the jarring experience itself but the moments when I chose to not acknowledge the pain.
In college, my mom was diagnosed with a mental illness. I started dating a guy soon after. With my mom’s illness and sudden change in behavior, my world changed. I watched the family dynamic of the parent-child roles reverse, and I became a parent to both my mom and my dad. I was afraid so I ran to a guy, and less than a year later, we broke up. I was devastated. Thus, I stayed busy. I got overwhelmingly involved in college— I’m talking sorority life, president of two campus organizations, part-time job, competing in pageants. You name it, sign me up.
Another, more recent instance— last year, my very best friend and I called it quits. After years of unhealthy dynamics, fighting, competing and unhealthy communication, she walked away and did the thing that I did not have the courage to do. This happened right before I moved to Italy to teach abroad. I think I cried once in the four months following the friendship ending. It was not until I came back to America that I realized how broken my heart was and that my inability to hold onto healthy friendships was a direct result of an unhealed wound from a past friendship.
Fast forward to present day, as I sat with my friend over coffee, I saw so much of myself, a hurting person who wanted so desperately to be okay that she was missing out on the gift of the process of grief. After getting this wrong a number of times, here’s what I know— grieving something or someone is not weakness. When you are able to identify, “Hey, I am actually not okay right now,” you are giving yourself the greatest blessing— grace. Grace for a wounded heart. Grace for a failed relationship. Grace for the loss of a loved one. Grace for a failed dream.
Grieving something or someone is not weakness.
We must learn to show ourselves grace in loss, grace in the hard moments.
Here’s what grace says: It’s okay, sweet girl, that you are hurting right now. This is hard. You don’t need to be strong today or tomorrow. Feel all the feels. Cry those tears because one day you won’t cry anymore. One day, you will look back on this and perhaps even smile for the gift of what was.
Sit in this brokenness. Rest here. By resting, you are doing yourself and others the greatest gift— you are healing. The world needs a whole version of you. If you try to rush past this grief, you will carry the weight of this into all you do. Your efforts to pretend to be strong and okay will do more harm than good.
Your efforts to pretend to be strong and okay will do more harm than good.
Not everyone does this work because yes, grieving is hard work. Yet, the rewards you will reap as a result of it are a rich, abundant and whole life. On the other side of this is a strong, wise and healthier you. First, we must stop running and sit with this pain.
Grief is only temporary, but it is also necessary. Grieving something or someone means that it mattered and the loss of it matters. The tears of grief are the gentle waters that lead you to a river of growth, self-discovery and ultimately, peace.
There is beauty in the hard parts, beauty in the brokenness. Don’t wish this away. Embrace it for all that it is. This too shall pass, but right now, this is your time to not be okay.