There is No Out, Only Through

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.  (Psalm 23: 4)

This phrase flooded me right after someone asked me the following question two weeks after my daughter had died: “Jim, just how long do you think it will take you to get over your grief process?”

I know the man who asked this question. He is a friend, a good man with the right motivations, and I also know he is somewhat awkward and clumsy.

After catching my breath, I said, “Fred, there is no way out, only through.” I waited for a moment, hoping that these words would get through to him, and then I said, “There is no getting over my grief for losing Anna, at least not during this lifetime. I pray that in the next life, my grief will turn to joy. If I let go of that hope, it would be hard to carry on with my life.”

There is no getting over losing a child or any loved one. We don’t get over loving them, missing them, wanting to be with them, hoping for the best for them. There is only learning how to live without them, and this is a long-term process that will fill the rest of our days.

I first encountered the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—during my first year in seminary when we were required to read Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying.” I had initially naively thought that the steps were sequential and that a person, over time, graduated from step to step. How wrong I was. I have learned from so many others, and now as I grieve my daughter’s passing, that one can go through all five stages in a day, that there is no orderly sequence, and that one never quite graduates out of them.

While going through the grief process, it is important to be patient, be kind to yourself, be not surprised how grief can be triggered so quickly, be honest about the pain, be truthful about the complexity of the person and the relationship and be courageous.

Although everyone’s grief is personal, it is not meant to be solitary work. I knew I needed a lot of help and sought it. I have reengaged with a therapist and a spiritual director. I have joined a grief group for parents who have lost a child who had suffered from mental health issues. And I talk with dear friends several times each week. I am tremendously blessed to have so much support.

If you try to be stoic in the process, you will be cutting out or closing down a piece of your heart. If you try to be a long ranger in your grief, you will be lonely and lost. If you try to buck up, you will buckle down.

I know that writing these words, though very painful, is part of my own grief process. I also pray that what I say will be helpful and healing for others. I work with words because that is what I have been doing for nearly 40 years. I have attempted to make “God-sense” (my phrase) out of all the losses, messes, tragedies, twists, turns, and challenges that God’s children go through. Every time I preached or taught a class or stood before a crowd, I prayed to proclaim that God is for us, that God loves us, forgives us, and blesses us, and that God would always be there for us with His mercy, strength, and grace.

“There is no way out, only through.” As we walk through our “darkest valleys,” we need to hold fast to the promise in Psalm 23. God is with us. God will guide us. God will comfort us.

The pain of losing Anna was too deep for me to go through the grief process by myself. I have been brought to my knees and knew I knelt not alone. I have hit bottom and discovered that it is solid. I will keep on walking—and I pray you can do the same—through the darkest of valleys and trust that the one who called Himself the Good Shepherd will always be with me.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does the phrase “there is no out, only through” apply to your life?
  1. If you took yourself out of a process—be it a death, a retirement, a sickness, a divorce, a loss, a failure—too quickly at some point in your life, would it make sense to revisit that time and event for the sake of your own soul and heart?
  1. All of us go through the “darkest valleys” because it is just part of being a human being. If you are going through a difficult time, do you have all the help and support you need? If not, what would help you to seek those who could walk with you and even sometimes carry you?

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