Because Grief Has A Name

by Abby Alleman on October 26, 2015

I write this from an International De-Brief organized by our ministry, Cru. As I was preparing for the conference, I felt wary, even afraid. I didn’t want to dive back into the raw emotion of leaving Hungary last spring. I didn’t want to face the loss and grief.

Grief can be like a scary villain, dark and obscure. It looms large bent on swallowing us whole. It threatens to mark us, scarred and misshapen, not fit for normal life.

I have met such a beast more than I care to remember. Yet, I will.  Because I have learned great truths related to grief, yet it seems they must be re-learned as I experience it all afresh. And here is where a name for each grief allows me to meet it as something altogether new with fresh mercy and grace.

These are some names I have given my grief:

Losing Home/Losing Childhood: I grew up on a dairy farm. But, when I was 12, we had to leave. Life for us, would never be the same. This grief has spread its fingers intricately throughout my life. It is there whenever the shocking realities of a broken world come cruelly into my reality. The name I give this grief helps shape my understanding of all grief as I walk the long road Home.

When Dreams Die: For many years I experienced great success in school, sports, work and relationships. This led to sky-high dreams for every area of my life and the unstoppable will to run after them. They all shattered when one of them failed and my heart was broken. It seemed my successes were like a house of cards blown over and revealed for what they were. There was disillusionment with God, searing pain through a lack of closure in the relationship, and feelings of failure. Naming this grief allows me to see deeper things than choices others and I have made. It also shows me where I have gotten my value. But most, I learn there is always a measure of grief when I wrap my arms more tightly around something other than God.

No Longer Known: And this is when my mother died of cancer. There was not the sharp pain of sudden loss as the journey of cancer allowed time for a measure of closure. But, the loss of a good, loving mother is one that is all-encompassing. She seems to have been everywhere with a hug or word of encouragement over the phone or via a card. In many ways, she knew my siblings and I better than anyone. Hers was another loss of home and has spread itself throughout the 13+ years without her, finding me all over the world. By naming this grief, I recognize how deeply missing my mother goes. I look for her everywhere and am disappointed that another will not know me as she did. And I have learned that only God can heal me as He reveals how He knows me.

(Here is another piece on grief I wrote related to the loss of my mother.)

Tearing Heart Loss: This is the fresh grief I am in now from the loss of our life overseas. It feels like my heart has been torn. It is like the combination of all of the other losses I have named here. There’s been the loss of home, dreams and being known. It feels tragic, wrong, raw and this is after months of genuine healing. I am pulling from all of the reserves of grieving I have done in my life to walk this grief.  By naming this grief, I recognize the oceanic depths of pain, loss, joy and love found in my heart. I see that I have given my heart and not held it back. And because of this, I see that this road will be long, maybe till Heaven, but I must stay on this path.

But, why? Why must any of us stay on paths of grief?

Naming grief is our heart acknowledging its significance and place in our lives. In this way, grief is a friend, like Sadness from the movie Inside Out. It teaches us the shape of our own unique story and guides us to tastes of the ‘fullness of joy’ found in God’s presence. Acknowledging and entering grief also guards our hearts from the calcifying effects of the denial of pain, hurt or loss. Instead of resentment, bitterness or hatred, we get healing, strength and hope. We also become those who grieve well with others. This is a true gift.

In this community at ‘A Life Overseas’, we are all in different places, literally and figuratively. But grief finds us all. Where I grieve a sudden leaving, another grieves family left behind. Others grieve a rift in a relationship even while still living in the same place.

Wherever you are, friend, name that grief. Let God shape you through it and show you what His healing can do. Don’t cheat your heart by avoiding grief and allowing a wall to form around it. Don’t let it stay the dark villain that keeps you afraid. Name it. Face it. Begin the journey of seeing God in every part of it. And know, we are in this journey together.

What is one step you can take towards knowing and naming your grief? Write that step in the comments below and/or tell a friend about it. Then, take that step.

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About Abby Alleman

A farm girl at heart, Abigail (Abby) loves the surprising stories God writes. Since her first plane trip at the age of twenty landed her in Barcelona, Spain, Abby knew her life would never be the same. She holds degrees in both Math and Spanish and is a former high school teacher. She has served as a translator and short-term missionary in Latin America and inner city Philadelphia. But her most treasured journey is when her big dreams came crashing to the ground, when heartbreak and humility brought her home to her family, God and eventually right to her husband, Jared. They have worked with the student ministry of CRU for ten years in both the U.S. and Hungary. She has three small kids and blogs her life and love of story at Abigail Alleman ( www.abigailalleman.com ).
  • Challenging. I think of past grieving that is yet before you most likely: the grief of the empty nest, which took me by surprise because I’d never seen being “mom” as key to my identity; the grief of surrendering prominent and structured roles to move into more free-form, obscure ministry. Those were heavy for their seasons, and less so now. Today, taking steps forward into the mental and physical frailties of aging, learning to receive and grieve gradual losses in clarity of mind, capacity to hold very many balls in the air, delight in always finding a place for one (or six) more, and agility in changing track from, say, language study to writing, to laundry and bed making, to hosting guests, and then back to serious reading and writing. I think the step forward is to receive these things with equanimity, as invitations to a more contemplative and prayerful way, and to refuse guilt (at doing less) and a lot of nostalgia for how things used to be. I think….

    • Thank you for sharing with us Jeri! I can imagine this grief though I am a long way away from empty nest 😉

      The Lord bless these steps as you move forward!

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Being here in the States and reading this post really brings home for me how very different life is after you stop living “a life overseas.” It may be uncomfortable at times, our living in between worlds, our always passing through, but it does become our norm. It becomes our identity, in a way, and the stopping of it IS a frightening thought.

    The truth is, we will all stop some day. But yours happens to be a very TRAUMATIC stopping point. I’m so sorry for it, for all the adjustments that have to happen now, all the grief and loss that needs processing, all the healing that needs coming. You are being so brave in confronting the grief! This post hit me hard with how all your previous heartbreaks are wrapped up in this most recent heartbreak of yours. Wow. So hard, so very very hard.

    • Thank you friend, I appreciate your heart from the beginning of this grief in my life. It is precious.

      One of the good things on this side is that I don’t have to fear leaving and in a really hard way, because I already have. Sort of ironic, but I have found it’s true. Maybe that is why I am running my first half marathon in January and ready to Live…

      {{{ hugs }}}

      • Elizabeth Trotter

        Hugs back to you too, girl! So awesome about your half marathon. I look forward to seeing the pictures 🙂

  • Miriam

    Thanks so much for a great post. As I was taking a long walk along the beach today, having just arrived in my home country for my first furlough, I was thinking about the same topic. How I am grieving hopes that I had to let go of. This song came to my mind: ‘Jesus, all for Jesus, all I am and have, and ever hope to be’. This includes all what I had hoped w o u l d be… but turned out differently.
    Thinking about you as you go through this process. Hope you have other people around you who support you in this! Grieving on your own, without other people understanding what you are grieving about, is a hard thing to do.

    • Thanks Miriam! I am glad the Lord is already meeting you as you look at these things.

      And yes, I do have great people this year. Many who are also returning from overseas. You are right, it is so hard to do it alone and not what God intends.

  • Jenny Vang

    Abby, I am so encouraged and challenged by your words! I interned with Cru in the Upper Midwest (2012-2014) and it has always been my “dream” to be in East Asia long-term with Cru. Towards the end of the my last intern year, I realized that I may not ever get to see that dream be a reality. But not wanting to accept it, I just moved on and didn’t deal with the confusion that came with it. So over the last year or so, I have sensed my heart growing bitter, angry and hardened for unknown reasons. It wasn’t until February of this year that I began to realize it’s because I never dealt with the grief. Since then, I’ve slowly begun the grieving process. It’s so hard! Yet, I have seen my heart begin to soften and come back to life in Jesus. Your words spur me on to let go of control and yield to my Jesus who wants to lead me. My pride, flesh and anxiety want to rush the grieving process, but I am remembering that it is better to sit at the feet of Jesus and to “seek him in his temple” before all things (Psalm 27:4).

    Thank you for your exhortation and encouragement, sister! You have reminded me of things I have forgotten too quickly.

    Jenny

    P.S. We probably have some mutual friends! Cru is a small world 🙂

    • Jenny!! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I have lots of friends in or who have been in East Asia. Priscilla and Ben have become good friends with Lake Hart STINT 🙂

      I love how you write this and share your journey. Grieving and learning how to is so essential to our lives in God. Stay the course, friend. Find me on FB as ‘Abby Keener Alleman’ through Priscilla.

      Keep in touch!!

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