A Time To Grieve
As we pulled away from the dock in Dakar on March 27th, I fully expected to break down. I was outside on Deck 8 with most of the crew, our eyes fixed on the empty dock where 2 Senegalese day crew waved us good bye. I stared at the port and the city until I could no longer see them. I did not cry. We were at sea for 4 days and on March 31st I was up early to see the sunrise as we arrived in Tenerife.
I was alone and frustrated that another ship was ruining my photo of the amazing sunrise! But when I turned to look ahead, I could make out the small island of Tenerife and suddenly I was overcome with emotion. Why? What now was causing me to cry?
Soon a friend was standing alongside me and I quickly tried to conceal my tears. "I'm not really sure why I'm so emotional right now," I defensively said. But then I continued with an explanation that I hadn't processed but was almost as though God was delivering the answer to me as I spoke.
"I guess arriving here means that it is truly over. We are now in Tenerife and no longer in Dakar. When we left Dakar I didn't cry as I expected to. Maybe moving out into the vast ocean with no identifying land in sight allowed my heart and mind to escape and not have concrete proof that it was all over. But now, seeing the island, there is a defined marker in front of me telling me that it is over and I'm sad." By that time tears had started and there was no hiding them. The tears would continue and show up in the most unexpected places, at the most unwanted times!
I was grieving. Grieving the plans we had for the remaining months in Dakar and the summer months ahead. Grieving the dreams of taking my children to Switzerland and England and selfishly squeezing in one more birthday in Paris! Grieving the friendships with some Senegalese people that I most likely will not see again. And mostly just grieving the plans. We had plans. Exciting, challenging, adventurous, bucket-list plans and now they were all over before they began.
The following 2 months in Tenerife would usher in more grieving which became rather exhausting, but necessary I believe. Once I was able to just sit alone with my thoughts I realized that this all might be hitting us a bit harder because we'd already been in a season of grief for quite some time. In November of 2018 our community was struck with a tragic shooting that killed 12 people, including one police officer. Only 10 minutes from our home and being a law enforcement family, this rocked us. But the opportunity to grieve was cut short as wild fires erupted the following day and we were evacuated for 5 days, not sure if our home would still be standing when we returned. When we were able to go back to our home, we were grateful that we lost nothing, but Roger's mom lost everything as she and her husband fled for their lives from the Camp Fire up in Paradise, California the same week. Black hills surrounded us and the stench of fire did not leave our air for months. Death and destruction was all around us. Other friends did lose their homes and our community began to grieve.
That grief moved into the new year and we had a few months of reprieve as we celebrated the decision to change the trajectory of our lives and go to work with Mercy Ships. But that celebration was mixed as we entered into another season of grief as we said goodbye to a career of 20 years, goodbye to our home of 12 years, goodbye to most of our belongings, goodbye to our treasured friends and community, goodbye to our church family, goodbye to our dog Joie, and goodbye to our beloved family. Grief was taking up residence in our hearts and souls.
It took us several months to grieve the loss of our lives in California and all that was held in those years. And as grief does, it showed itself at the most unlikely of times - like when our boxes arrived in Dakar that we shipped many months before, or on Thanksgiving - my first Thanksgiving in my 46 years without my parents. And it would seem that after a few months of reprieve, once again we were hit with loss and it all came crashing down as I saw that little island come into sight on the morning of March 31st. It was a time to grieve... again.
Grief is a crazy thing. Over the past 20 years of my life I've been exploring my relationship with grief and it hasn't gotten easier, but it has gotten more profound and rich with each season of loss. Some people mistake grief for a feeling when someone you love dies. But grief is much more than a feeling and comes far more often that just at the death of a loved one.
I've always believe that in order to truly live and embrace a new season of life, you must grieve the season you are stepping out of. I believe that grieving a season of life means to fully honor that season, to acknowledge how wonderful and important it was and to give credit for the impact it had on you. To take a moment to enter into the profound life lessons that were learned there, the joys and victories, the struggle and failure. To receive the laughter and memories and to simply say - this was a great season of life and that is why it hurts to have it come to a close.
But we do not just grieve the loss of great chapters in our lives; we also grieve the painful loss of hard and tragic seasons. When something is taken away from us unexpectedly, we begin to grieve the dreams and plans we had that did not come to fruition. Grief is part of the fabric of our lives, in all seasons, and if we learn to embrace grief and have a good relationship with grief, it can produce great strength, awareness and gratitude within us.
Grief is not to live in a constant state of sadness or sorrow. No. I believe that grief is a healer that walks us through the unexpected and sometimes confusing feelings of sorrow and takes us to a place of growth and openness to receive all that lies ahead. If you hold onto the past with clinched fists and don't grieve it, then you don't have the ability to grab on to what is being offered to you with open hands.
I spoke with a friend the other day that had just come back from visiting another state. She said that life seemed "normal" there and they enjoyed an outdoor theatre production where people didn't wear masks! and everything was just as it was supposed to be. But since her return, she found herself to be weepy. I told her that I thought she was grieving. Grieving the summer that we all have grown to expect and the summer that we all want!
I have called this Pandemic "The Grand Pause" of the world. Most everything has stopped yet we struggle to keep going and push through to our "normal" and we're frustrated that it isn't working. It is not comfortable to stop. It is not comfortable to be told to stop! We want to keep going and live as we want so that we don't fully experience the loss. It hurts to sit with what we are missing out on this year, but if we don't, we'll miss it! If we don't take this pause and get uncomfortable and grieve, we will miss out on the gifts that are being offered to us in this season.
Grieve the plans and the dreams you had for the first half of 2020. Don't be afraid to sit with grief as your companion. Trust me, she will not betray you, but she is a patient teacher. Enter in to that place and just cry. Those were great plans and fabulous dreams! Then release your clinched fists and open them up. Open them up to receive all that is being offered to you in this second half of 2020. All is not lost! Great things are waiting on the other side of a season of grief.
Those charred hills that surrounded us after the Wolsey Fire of 2018 all turned the most brilliant green I had ever seen within 4 months of those fires. Wild flowers that only bloom after fires melt the wax that encases their seeds sprung up all over those hills, painting the most stunning landscape of yellow, red, orange and purple! It was the most spectacular Spring I had seen in 28 years in Southern California. Death gave birth to life. Loss turned into a spectacular gift basket. "Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning!"
Here's a video of us leaving Dakar and our 2 months of the "Isolation Vacation" in Tenerife.