At first, I was numb. Illness has broken my heart so many times already that I didn’t react.
Time. Normalcy. Abilities. Naivety. Innocence. Freedom. Dignity. Ease. School. Home. Relationships.
Illness has stolen and broken so much, so deeply that my emotions no longer registered the newest blows. Instead, I comforted my sister as she sobbed on the couch, trying to process her own emotions about the whole thing. I listened as my brother expressed his heart about it.
Hours later, the tears finally came. The household asleep, I sat inside my walk-in closet with the door closed and sobbed. And sobbed. And dried my tears. And sobbed again, snot getting everywhere. (I’m not a pretty crier. Plus there are rarely any tissues in convenient crying places, am I right?)
Grieving is something that every chronic illness warrior has to go through at one point or another. It took me three years of being sick to begin to fully grieve. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be done grieving what I’ve lost. But we need to grieve because so much has been stolen from us.
Today, I want to share three truths we need to remember when grieving what chronic illness has stolen.
1. Know that it’s right to grieve.
I never knew that grieving would feel so wrong. It brings up emotions like deep-reaching anger and fear — emotions that don’t generally seem to be right. But grieving isn’t reserved for when someone dies. It’s for when something dies too. Like parts of our heart. Like dreams for our future. Like abilities. Like our past selves. It is right for us to grieve, because all these things stem from sin or its consequences. It’s human to be afraid. It’s right to be angry about sin and its consequences — like suffering. Like chronic illness.
2. It’s okay if you don’t fully understand your grief or its effects.
A lot of time grief doesn’t seem to make sense in the moment. We can be fine one minute, and then a phrase or TV show or song can suddenly stab our hearts. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves crying for reasons we can’t articulate or comprehend. Other times we’ll have a thousand lies swirling through our brains, memories or traumatic moments slamming into us, and yet we’re unable to cry. We’re numb and broken to the core at the same time. All of that is still part of grieving. And it’s okay if we don’t understand. I’m a writer — I like to comprehend my emotions, put things into words, and communicate. But there are times when the overwhelming feelings aren’t comprehensible, and you know what? That’s okay. God understands, even if we don’t.
Grieving is so confusing, because we weren’t created to grieve. We were created to live in Heaven, not a fallen world. We grieve because this is not the way things were supposed to be. Chronic illness isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Grief is not the way things were supposed to be. It’s okay if you don’t fully understand your grief. The “overreactions” come from real heart-hurts. The inability to communicate grief is because we weren’t created to feel grief, let alone comprehend it.
3. God grieves with you.
Grieving is usually a very public action. When someone dies, everyone knows it. But with chronic illness, there is no obituary in the paper. People don’t tend to bring meals and offer hugs, because they don’t realize we’re grieving. And being alone in grief is a very hard thing. Unlike typical deaths, there is no funeral. Our grief is private. Even when we tell others about it, they often don’t understand it, because what we’ve lost isn’t so obvious.
But we are not alone in our grief. There is one who sees every single tear, every heartbreak, and who not only sees them, but who grieves with us.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV)
I wish I could take your pain. I wish you didn’t have to process it. But take heart, you are not alone in the grieving.
Would you like to explore grief a little more? We offer a tender and compassion introduction to writing your own psalm of lament. You can find this beautiful FREE resource here: Exploring Lament.
Author and Chronic Joy® Ministry Partner
Sara is the author of He’s Making Diamonds: A Teen's Thoughts On Faith Through Chronic Illness and the host of the annual Diamonds Conference for chronically ill Christians. She loves to write and have adventures - be it a new board game with her family, trying a weird food, or diving into a fantasy book. Sara is a TCK, a Lymie, and a Young Life Leader. She is also a Chronic Joy Contributing Writer.