Last year was a rough go. My brother committed suicide on January 4th, and my mother-in-law passed away from Alzheimer’s at 70, on September 5th, the day after my last son was born.
While my grief over Mom was intense, I think I’ve had a harder time healing over my brother’s suicide. It was so sudden, violent, and painful. I knew Mom was close to going to Heaven…I had time to say goodbye. I knew Mom passed peacefully and with Dad nearby. Nothing surrounding Eric’s death was peaceful. And he died alone. Mom died because of a disease…there was absolutely nothing we could do to stop it. Eric died because of mental illness and it left me questioning what I could have done to save him. It was just different. Harder. More traumatic.
I always wondered what it would be like to say goodbye to a parent and/or a sibling…forever. My husband, Bryant, lost his brother Chris when Bryant was 17 and Chris was 27. I would ask him what it was like – how unbearable was it? How badly does he miss him now? Does his heart always ache? And Bryant would always share that yes, sometimes it does hurt so badly it takes your breath away, but that Jesus’s grace somehow covers the pain and gives you the strength to keep living…and living well. But I have to tell you, this grace is learned…
Do you remember when Kobe Bryant died? I was absolutely crushed…and not because I was a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan, but because I was entering into the pain of his wife and daughters. I kept thinking, “Why did they let him on that helicopter? Wasn’t it obviously foggy?” I tried to imagine what his last few hours with his family were like. I agonized over his death and the events leading up to his death. I worried whether Kobe and his daughter and the others experienced fear or any pain in their final moments. And then one evening, I just fell in a heap on the floor and wept. As I wept, I started talking about my brother and all I wished I could have done to prevent his suicide. And then it clicked: Yes, I was heartbroken over Kobe’s death…but I had been ignoring my grief over my brother and it needed to escape. Kobe’s death was it’s escape.
I was terrified of my grief. I had seen it as a wave that threatened to overtake me. I was afraid that if I gave in and felt, I’d be completely overwhelmed and unable to process or to function. And so for a good several months, I kept it all at bay. But that evening, as I sat on the floor sobbing, almost unable to breath, I realized that what I was doing wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t truly living because in order not to feel any grief, I had to also numb myself to feeling joy, happiness, peace. We can’t pick and choose what emotions we feel. We are either feeling all of them, or none of them. It’s funny because now when I look back, I remember Bryant being concerned that I had gone numb – that I wasn’t completely myself and unwilling to truly feel. I wasn’t able to fully engage with my family because I had to keep myself somewhat removed from every situation to keep myself isolated from emotion. From feeling.
And I wonder how many of you can relate? You’ve walked through a season of loss and you are terrified to process this loss…You feel like you don’t have the strength, the energy, the ability, the stamina to approach the grief. And so you’ve turned off your emotions like you turn off a faucet, because you know how finicky grief is and how it can be triggered by not only sadness, but also happiness. You are a shell of a person and your family misses you. But what other choice do you have?
I can promise you that stuffed emotions will ultimately erupt…and it won’t be pretty. It will be at the least opportune time in often uncontrollable and destructive ways. Stuffed emotions can make you anxious, depressed, suicidal, angry, self-sabotaging, self-medicating, addictive, and on and on the list goes.
So, here’s what I have done: I’ve learned how to surf. I don’t ride literal waves, but I have learned how to surf the waves of my emotions. I’ve allowed myself to feel. I’ve embraced the grief so that I can embrace the happiness and joy. If a song comes on that reminds me of my brother, I don’t turn it off, I don’t distance myself from the memories, I don’t stuff the sadness. I feel. I let myself be sad. I cry. I talk about it with my husband and close friends if need be. I enter into the emotion and ride the wave. If I embrace it and don’t fight it, it will pass and pass quickly. As I allow myself to feel in the moment, I reduce the intensity of the next wave of grief. But if I try to fight it and go against the waves, I exhaust myself and get beat up by the emotion. The grief is in control and I succumb to the violence.
I’m also learning to allow myself to enjoy the happy memories. Yes, they can at times highlight the ache and the pain of forever, but they also allow me to keep that person close. And laugh. We need to laugh.
So, is it time for you to pick up that surfboard and ride the waves? Your loved one is with you in your heart. You can feel the pain because the grief is the best reminder of the love. Embrace the sadness, don’t fight it, and then you will have the strength to appreciate the joyful moments.
When we were working on this website, I told the designers that I wanted to make sure that this was not only a safe place for women, but also for men.
Did you know that according to Psychology Today, 75% of suicide victims are men? A man will kill himself every 20 minutes. Did you also know that men abuse substances at a rate of 3 to 1? These facts are incredibly personal to me because my brother was addicted to pain pills and committed suicide. He was often times too embarrassed to get the help he needed and then too angry to hear the help he was offered. I wonder how many of you are in that same boat?
I’ve had several conversations with men in the past few weeks regarding mental health. Each of these guys is hurting, but feels helpless and alone for various reasons:
- They are afraid to be vulnerable.
- Society tells them they can’t be weak.
- Culture says they have to be the main breadwinners.
- Mental health is an emotional issue and men aren’t emotional.
- Men can compartmentalize so they don’t struggle with anxiety and depression.
- They can’t keep leaning on their spouses or they will leave.
The harrowing fact of the matter is each of the above reasons are contributing factors as to why men are not seeking and/or getting help. They are suffering in silence. Mental Health has been stigmatized for so long – and woman started to break through the stigma – but I feel like we’ve left the men high and dry.
Men, I am writing this to you. I think the first step in you getting help is “Acceptance“. Society and culture have taught that you are responsible to fix everything while still remaining in control of all of your emotions. Emotional men are weak. Unstable. Insecure. Unable to lead. We’ve told you to stuff all of your feelings deep inside and refused you the time and space to process. Then we wonder why you withdraw, check out, leave, drink, get addicted, have affairs, get angry.
I know some of you are suffering. You are hurting so badly and you are so confused. Why would a good God allow this? Why can’t He fix it? Why can’t you fix it? Have you done enough to try? Is there something else to try? Some of you feel so numb, you aren’t even sure you believe in God anymore. You are angry at yourself and that anger is getting taken out on everyone close to you. You don’t know how to talk to your loved ones about any of this because you feel like all you’ve done is take advantage of them. You wonder how much longer they will put up with you.
Acceptance. You are broken. There is not a blasted thing you can do about it. We are all broken: We live in a broken world. We won’t be fixed this side of Heaven. Jesus never promised that…so you thinking you will pray, read, attend or work this away is just not true. God is not withholding healing from you because He doesn’t think you deserve it. He believes you deserve LIFE, that’s why He sent His Son to die on the cross for your brokenness, so you could have Jesus’s life! But you have to stop fighting against your brokenness and learn to lean into it. Lean into your weakness. Don’t you remember what Paul said in the Scriptures? When he was at his weakest, he was at his strongest. How can that be? Because there is freedom in letting down the façade. You spend so much energy fighting your brokenness, hiding your brokenness, ignoring your brokenness. When you finally accept your brokenness, you can begin to use your energy to get healthy…to process the past, to understand the present and to anticipate the future. You can begin to discover your triggers and what landmines to avoid with your friends, spouses, and families. You can begin to fight against the generational baggage and offer your marriage and your children something that was never offered to you: Forgiveness, Grace, Freedom.
You know you aren’t the only man battling mental illness. Statistics say thousands upon thousands of men are suffering in silence. What if we came around you and supported you and cheered you on as you began to accept your past and who you are today and then you fight for the health of your future? What if you stopped living as a victim to your past and started pursuing the health of your future?
What does this look like?
- It looks like reaching out.
- It looks like communicating.
- It looks like community.
- It looks like counseling.
- It looks like vulnerability.
And I know for most of you, that doesn’t look fun. But what is your alternative? In an effort to look strong, are you going to lose your family? Your sanity? Your finances? Your job? Your friends? Your life? We are here and we are cheering you on, men! Real strength is found in admitting weakness. In owning weakness. And then in healing that weakness. So, are you ready? Let’s get after it together!
We all just feel overwhelmed and bogged down with life right now, don’t we? Life is hard. It hurts. It’s exhausting. It’s stressful. It’s lonely. It sucks.
Bottom line: It beats us down and wears us out. And some seasons are longer than others. It’s easy to give into the lie that God doesn’t love us, is punishing us for something, or just took off.
My friend, nothing could be further from the truth.
Just this morning I was reading in 2 Corinthians 1. Here are some of the verses from the NIV translation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ…. [Comfort] produces in you patient endurance.”
I love the line that says, “Just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” We are going to face hard times. God tells you that straight up (got to appreciate His honesty, am I right?). But He also promises His comfort.
Some of you may be thinking, “Hold the phone. I am in the middle of my own personal hell right now and I ain’t experiencing no peace.” (Disclaimer: I am sure you practice better grammar than that). Well, let me ask you this: Do you believe that God loves you…and even likes you?
That’s a simple question…with a really difficult answer for some. I was just talking with a friend who is going through a tough time right now, and she was absolutely convinced God didn’t like her and was out to get her for past mistakes. Oh how that broke my heart. We will have to face the consequences for our decisions…and sometimes those aren’t pleasant. But there are also times when we are in the middle of a “crapstorm” that we didn’t create.
Here’s what Paul says about whatever mess you are in the middle of: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”
The great apostle Paul was suicidal at times. Isn’t that crazy? I mean, check out the verses above…”we despaired of life itself.” Hello. He didn’t want to live because life got so bad. But he gives the answer: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
Tough, terrible, horrible times often reveal the “dead” parts in us: Those things we are still hanging on to to give us meaning, identity and worth apart from Jesus. Those things that when we lose them, we feel like we can’t go on. The good news is, God wants to raise those dead parts to life by giving us His abundant life through Christ Jesus. We have to “set our hope” on Him. We have to believe that He truly does love us more than anything and that God gave up Jesus to get us. We are worth Jesus Christ to God! We have to accept Jesus as our personal Savior (apart from anything good we can or will do) and believe that only through Jesus can we have a personal relationship with God. Then, we have to remind ourselves every day that the same love God showed by trading in Jesus for us, He offers every day. We just have to accept it. You may not feel it at times. But you have to choose to believe it.
God will give you more than you can handle, because He wants to handle it for you.
I love the last few verses in 2 Corinthians 1 in the Message translation: “God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting His yes within us. By His Spirit He has stamped us with His eternal pledge — a sure beginning of what He is destined to complete.”
God affirms you…not your circumstances. He defines you. Not the difficulties you are facing. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, God has stamped you with His “Yes!” And He promises to complete what He has started in you (Philippians 1:6).
Hang in there, friend. Keep reminding yourself of the incredible love of God that He demonstrated for you when He had Jesus Christ die in your place on the cross for your sins (past, present and future). Trust in Him, and not in your own works. Believe that He is your only hope for heaven and that He loves you no matter what you do, what other people say, what circumstances you face or how you feel.