When our parents died, twenty years ago, we had more flowers and casseroles than we knew what to do with. Our living room looked like a combination of a 1980’s greeting card and a church pot-luck. Since there were only two of us left in the home, we carefully packed all of the casseroles into the freezer and had dinners for months, although everything tasted like cardboard laced with the sadness that only deep pain can bring. The flowers were sent to a nearby assisted living home to bless the inhabitants. There were people in and out of our home. Friends treated us gingerly, holding our hearts as fragile objects. They prayed with us. We were allowed time to be angry, to cry, to mourn and bereave for years to come. It was acceptable, after all. We had lost two family members. Our two parents. Our two anchors. We were not condemned — we were victims of a terrible, terrible accident. We were loved.
Victims of abuse or those who have lost their marriage (either still married or divorced) are not typically “allowed” these important times of mourning. For so many, their sufferings are not believed nor acknowledged. Or, they may be marked as sinful. Within our Christian culture, the deep grief of the loss of a marriage, a child or entire families, due to abusive relationships is not recognized as authentic grief. As a result, survivors carry undealt-with-grief within — often leaking out in the form of depression, anxiety or both. I have witnessed countless women and men who have not been “allowed” to grieve the death of the dream of their marriage . . . the loss of family (especially in-laws whom they came to know and love as their own) . . . the loss of estranged children (young or adult) . . . the loss of possessions, identity, homes, church families and so much more. No one brings casseroles; sympathy cards aren’t sent; no flowers come. In fact, there is more avoidance than anything else. And, if it gets REALLY rough, there is condemnation, harassment and control.
As a result of this toxic recipe of avoidance and aloneness, many women come to our ministry with deep psychological and emotional struggles because, as we all know, when one does not have the time, resources or freedom to grieve, one begins to break down in just about every way. Instead of grief and mourning and support, these brave women experience: loneliness, pain, estrangement, betrayal and so much more. In trying to deal with their normal response (involving anger and pain) over the devastation of their family, they are called bitter, resentful and unforgiving. Oh, my heart . . .
We MUST recognize the grief former targets of abuse are suffering and allow bereavement to take place.
Ideas for grieving are . . .
- A ceremony. Have a ceremony that recognizes the loss that you have suffered, dear one. Whatever that is. Name it and weep over it. Light a candle and pray over it. Bring forth the dreams you once had and the hopes you have lost. Name the people who are no longer in your life whom you once loved, trusted and counted as family.
- Go to grief counseling. We believe Divorce Care is great but it is not the same. It is shrouded in a little corner of the church where the “divorced people go”. If you are able, invest in books on healing and see a therapist who specializes in domestic violence.
- Accept the grief and do not hide it. It is OK to tell people you are grieving right now. In fact, it is preferred. It will protect your experience. They don’t need details. Just an, “I’m grieving right now” will suffice. Say it for as long as you need to.
- Embrace the ups and downs. Just like every other form of grief, it will be a rollercoaster. As new hurts come up, each one has to be acknowledged and properly grieved. You may be fine one day and then the next day fall to pieces for no apparent reason. Or, someone else betrays you and you have to deal with that now. Things come up. It is OK. Have another ceremony; have as many as you need.
- Take as much time as you need. It could be years, my friend. YEARS. What you are dealing with is like a living nightmare. It is death, in a way, and then not death, in a way. It is a weird, painful limbo. The good news is that I believe Jesus knows all about this. He hung, one time, between life and death, betrayed, battered and bleeding for the entire world to see . . .
And who was there to care? His mother and John. That’s it. Witnesses to His horrific crucifixion. Where was His Father? Jesus felt He was not there. He felt forsaken; He was forsaken. Jesus now sits as a Great High Priest, saying to you and to me, “I understand. I sympathize. I hear you, daughter. I know your pain. I have lived it. You are not alone.” That is our greatest comfort. When we feel alone, betrayed, inconsolable, abandoned . . . we are not, if we know the One-who-calls-us-friend.
Let the tears flow . . . let the grief come. Write about it, paint about it, sing about it, express it in safe places with safe people. But, by all means . . . grieve it. You deserve that.
Megan Cox is the founder of Give Her Wings. She carries an MAR in Pastoral Counseling and is certified in Crisis Response with the AACC.