The many Losses of losing a loved one
We are so thankful that Kate Kelty is a regular contributor to our blog. She shares beautifully and honestly from her life experiences. We know you will find Kate's words encouraging.
-Adina Bailey, Co-founder of TakeThemAMeal.com
Anna was my first child. In losing her, I lost a one-of-a-kind creation, a deeply loved and dreamed of person. I also lost the unique relationship of being a mother to a daughter (I now have three boys). These losses have ripped through to the very core of who I am. Much of the last eight years of my life has been dedicated to grieving and processing these losses. But there were other losses, the ones that books and therapists didn't spell out for me. Losses that were hidden underneath the largest loss and yet still, wreaked havoc on my life. At the time, I didn't know how to express these feelings or experiences I was having because everything was so jumbled up into the pain of Anna. I couldn't untangle my misery. I couldn't see it as separate pieces of a puzzle but rather one collective painful experience that was robbing me continually of life as I had known it.
Last year a friend made reference to my first year of grief by saying, "You pushed everyone away." It was this comment that gave me a window into the perspective of others regarding my grief. This led me to greater processing about my relationships with others after loss. My hope is that these words bring validation, education, and greater grace to life after death.
The truth is, I did not feel like I was pushing others away, rather I simply stopped being the Kate I had always been. It wasn't because I didn't like being her or I thought I would just go into mourning for a while. I literally could not be here anymore because she was gone. Death took the baby, but it also robbed me of my essence. I could no longer be the friend I had been and I hated myself for it. But she was gone.
The old Kate thrived on reaching out to others. If you had a problem, I was often the counselor. In fact, I was a counselor before my loss. Now my grief and grappling greatly affected the council and comfort I was able to give. How could I continue to be this Kate when my faith and my perspective on life were hanging by a thread? What comfort and wisdom could I offer when I was struggling to find peace and perspective myself?
So many of the things I loved to do with friends - talking, shopping, decorating, watching movies and entertaining - were now gone because death took all energy and desire from me. Being sad consumed me and venturing out to try to be happy made me feel guilty and unsafe. I never knew when the grief waves would come and render me helpless. But for me, the worst aspect was this, I just didn't care. I didn't care about other people's lives like I used to. I felt angry at the simplicity of their problems. The fact that people felt like they could talk to me about how their baby was having a hard time sleeping through the night, or their awful back pain in pregnancy or how they couldn't decide which tile to pick for the bathroom floor, both infuriated and grieved me all at the same time. I wanted to care. I wanted to be able to go back in time to be the Kate I had been. I wanted to be that friend. But again, she was gone.
I also lost my sense of safety and security. Grocery stores, Target and any public place for that matter, felt like mine fields. What crying baby or pregnant belly would erupt first, sending me running to my car to hyperventilate or hunker down and weep? Unfortunately, church fit into this same category. What sermon would ignite my spiritual pain and questions, which well-meaning person would say the next awful thing to send me home to add to my list of "I will never say that to anyone....EVER."
And so, I did what felt safest. I hid. I was trying to protect myself from greater pain which seemed to lurk around every corner and conversation. I wasn't good about returning phone calls and I stopped initiating like I used to. I didn't know what to say to people because at the deepest level I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't know what I would feel from moment to moment or what I could handle. And grief, the kind I was enduring, was frightening. I had always been comfortable sharing my heart and emotions with others. But this, this was a monster and I was reluctant to let anyone be a witness. I wanted to escape the bad feelings that I was no longer the Kate everyone wanted and needed me to be, I wanted to escape the anger and guilt that now accompanied so many of my relationships.
My heart took a big beating from those that perceived this change and they changed too. The phone stopped ringing, the cards stopping coming and I got lonelier and lonelier and honestly more and more hurt. I stopped being me but did they have to stop being them? Had I scared them away? Had they misunderstood my distance? This wasn't my intention. I was emotionally paralyzed. Just because I couldn't reciprocate didn't mean I wasn't in need of the initiation. Is this wrong? Is this selfish? In losing Anna, I lost much myself, and now I was losing precious relationships. My grief was not diminishing with time, but growing.
I have a future post brewing on what I have learned about being a faithful friend to someone who is grieving, but for now, I'll just say this- GRIEF IS A GAME-CHANGER IN FRIENDSHIP and that is okay. Grief requires grace from both the friend and the one who grieves for the relationship to survive.
I wish I'd had the words in the beginning to explain all of this. I would've written a letter to my friends and family to explain the trenches of grief, the many layers of my losses, and I would've asked for what I needed most - faithfulness in spite of my ability to be the Kate I'd always been and grace as I wrestled the unseen battles death forced upon me.
Death takes so much more than the individual. Death takes so much of the life of the ones that are left and rediscovering oneself and maintaining and growing relationships can be quite the journey. But as someone who has been traveling this path for some time I can honestly say, I am Kate again and the friendships that have grown through grief and in grace are among the greatest blessings of my life.
Read more about Kate's story... How to be a faithful friend during the hardest seasons of life
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