It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting at my kitchen table because my daughter asked me to sit with her while she does her homework. Aside from the fact that I just want to go to bed, I don’t mind. The truth is, I cherish these moments more and more. The reality that I only have a couple more years with her living at home is not lost on me. So, I sit. She’s writing out flash cards for Spanish. She explains everything she’s doing as she goes along. Half talking to me, half to herself. I smile.
Truth be told, it’s the first real smile of the day. It’s just been a “blah” day. One of those “I’m just not feeling it” kind of days. Couldn’t really place my finger on it till later this evening. Then it hit me. I’d been ambushed.
It’s funny really. I hear the word “ambush” and my mind goes back to my military days. Whether it be scouting the perfect spot for an ambush, or reacting to contact while getting ambushed. The nice part about that was, each of those options had specific tasks to execute. We had practiced enough that we knew exactly what to do. For the most part, it was second nature. Muscle memory. We just did it without thinking. We identified the situation, executed the necessary tasks, then conducted our after-action review. Then we moved on. No sweat.
Today, was not that kind of ambush. Today, the ambush was executed flawlessly by the enemy. Today, the only thing left to do was begin the lengthy process of picking up the pieces.
It’s been a little over five years since Christina got her wings. I don’t feel like I actively grieve her so much anymore. Instead, I try to use what I’ve learned over the last five years to help others as they walk through their own valley. This has taken several forms, but the more visible form has been teaching a class called GriefShare. I’ve done it for several years now and have seen it help many people. If you’re currently grieving, I highly recommend the program. It’s not like any program I’ve ever tried, and I don’t like “group stuff.” You can find a group at www.griefshare.org
Well, these last few months have been quite the roller coaster ride. My favorite ride being the park bench, you can imagine how this has worn on me. So much has been happening and so much has not been happening (at least not how I normally would like it to happen). It’s really taken its toll. I didn’t realize just how much until today, when grief ambushed me.
When I moved to Colorado (and to a new church), I decided that I would sit through the 13-week program again as a participant, before jumping back into a leadership role. It’s been great to see the unique way the program has been facilitated and I really like the change from what I’m used to.
As I sit in the GriefShare class, I naturally look around at the others in the room. Each one in a different place with their grief. There are a few couples in the room, all of whom had one thing in common. They were touching each other. Holding hands. Arms around each other. A hand on a knee. At one point, we even talked about the power of touch. It was then that I realized what was happening. But it was already too late. There was no “react to contact” maneuver that would overcome this ambush.
All the memories started to flood back as if a dam that had burst. I realized what these last few months had been missing. Her touch. Her encouraging words. The light in her eyes when something good happened. Her arms on my shoulders, as she gazed into my eyes and told me everything would be alright, when something didn’t go the way we’d hoped. All those little things she did to make sure that I was in peak fighting condition for whatever life wanted to throw at us. I miss them. I miss her.
I sat there quietly as the attack continued. Praying for the time to end or for something to come up that would force me to leave. The weight of the grief pushing down on me like a full-grown man on my shoulders. I don’t think I could have pushed myself up if I tried. The meeting seems to drag. I do my best to participate where I can. But I’m really, not feeling it tonight. My daughter texts me to let me know that the youth group has let out. I saw this as my opportunity and after the next break I politely excused myself. I met my kids in the lobby of the church and we quickly walked to the car.
It was still early and we hadn’t had dinner. We all went back and forth about where to eat before finally settling on a local diner. The food is decent and the price is right, so I wasn’t complaining. We talked about school and getting into a more structured schedule. All the while I just wanted to go home and get to bed. Knowing, of course, it wouldn’t happen. The kids still had homework to do and I likely wouldn’t go to sleep even if I could (but that’s a whole other story).
Grief is not a stranger for me. I’ve seen it before. I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it. But then a day like today happens, and I realize that while I’ve been studying the tactics that grief uses on me, grief has also been studying my “react to contact” drills. Today, it knew the plays I had ready, and defeated them one by one. Today, I was forced to retreat. Today, grief won the battle. But today, is not the end. I will regroup and consult higher authority. My troops and I will rest up, and tomorrow, I will regain the ground that was lost.
“Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 16:1)
If you’ve gone through the process of grief, then you’ve likely experienced an ambush before. How have you dealt with them in the past? What was the trigger? How do you prep yourself for a future ambush? Feel free to share your experience. Your story may just help someone else.