There is a kind of grief deeply rooted in our personal tangle of regret, guilt, and unresolved emotions that can only be described as troubled. Troubled grief feels unshakeable, as though an impenetrable semi-gloom has settled over our life. Troubled grief is a malaise of mind and spirit that for a while can dictate our every mood and daily disposition.
Troubled grief roils our heart with the unanswerable questions of death. When grief is troubled, we wrestle with an anguished sense of disorientation to our inmost self. We live in emotional disarray and cannot articulate or explain to others the murky, troubled grief within our soul.
For many, troubled grief feels like an unremitting emotional hangover, a kind of persistent brain fog that impairs our functionality on many levels. Somewhere within the depth of our being we intuit that it is not solely the irrefutable fact of death that has left us feeling so troubled. Rather, something in our circumstance feels hopelessly beyond understanding, something inside us feels irreparably broken.
If you have been the victim of verbal, emotional, or physical abuse, you may be generally conditioned to expect the worst in life. If you were physically or emotionally abandoned by the one who died, you may be haunted by the feeling that you “did something wrong” and can never make it right, even in death. The likely outcome is troubled grief.
What if we do not truly mourn the death of the one who died? How do we reconcile what we think we “ought” to feel with the scars and resentment of a dysfunctional relationship? Our cold, tearless grief may come from a heart taught by experience the dance of emotional wariness, mistrust, and self-protective vigilance.
If you are creative and enjoy handwork projects, or you have watched in fascination those who knit, crochet, needlepoint, sew, or quilt, there are some preliminary steps that add to the productivity of the process. Every new skein of yarn or small bundle of thread is first released from its package then carefully untangled. Next, it is systematically separated into individual strands of thread or carefully rolled into a tight, knot-free ball. These simple steps prevent snarls and aggravation when work begins in earnest.
How then, do we sort out our emotions and untangle our troubled grief? Over time, we do the painstaking work of forensic grief. We delve into the details of what happened in our life that disturbs us after death. We identify and name the source of our pain. We separate it from other aspects of our life. We connect the cause and effect of why we feel so troubled in our grief.
- First, we acknowledge the fact that our grief is troubled. We may need to seek professional help if we are living with chronic depression, irritable sadness, or a pervasive sense of general indifference to life. We take our first step away from troubled grief when we cherish life, “Now choose life, so that you…may live...” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NIV).
- Second, we work to sort our self out, if need be with the steady guidance and perspective of a therapist, trusted clergy, or health care professional. When grief is troubled, it is easy to think our self into a twisted pretzel. When we sort ourself out, we smooth out the kinks and untangle the messy coil of circumstance. Slowly we loosen, then untie the knots of troubled grief.
- Third, we decide what to do with the outcome of our slow, tedious work. As we disentangle our self from troubled grief, from the threads of self-discovery we make a stronger, more beautiful life for ourself. The work of creativity proceeds slowly, stitch by stich, until at last we complete the project—a life freed from the past, freed from troubled grief.
Spiritually, troubled grief may leave us with unanswered questions. We ask, “Where was God in all of my suffering and misery?” Through every moment of doubt and despair, we may rely on two certainties.
First, God never forsakes us or fails us, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread…for it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 RSV). Never once does God leave our side or stop holding our hand through the worst of life’s tests and trials, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress” (Psalm 25:16-17 NRSV).
Second, whatever we have experienced, God gives us an extra measure of fortitude and strength to withstand, resist, and ultimately triumph over life’s most challenging moments, distressing circumstances, and hurtful relationships, “Fear not, for I am with you, be nor dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 RSV). God’s love, mercy, and grace release us from troubled grief and restore us to a life of freedom from the past and belief in a future with hope.
Let not your heart be troubled.
John 14:1 NRSV
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