So This is Grief

So This is Grief

You can’t fully experience, enter into, own, gain victory over, or learn from what you refuse to name.

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Igal Shidaad is a well-known character in Somali folktales. He is sort of a bumbling fool, clever and cowardly, and always the butt of jokes. Here is one story.

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Igal Shidad’s beloved she-camel was killed by a lion. He swore he would kill the lion. He took a gun and went to the bush in the evening to search for the lion. Soon after leaving home Igal came across a dark shadow in the middle of his path. He knew it was the lion and his heart raced. If he shot and missed, the lion would pounce on him. He was too frightened to shoot so he crouched down in the dark where the lion couldn’t see him. He decided to wait for the lion to come closer so he would have a better shot.

He waited all night long. The lion never moved. Neither did Igal Shidaad. Finally, morning came. The sun rose and revealed that what Igal Shidaad had thought was a lion was actually a tree stump. He was such a coward that he had spent the entire night in terror of a tree stump. He said,

“What I thought! And what you are! And what I will never do!”

Which meant: I thought you were a lion. But you are just a small tree that can’t harm me. And now I will never go into the bush again at night even if my camel is missing.

If Igal Shidaad had simply gumptioned up all his courage and approached the shadow closer, he would have discovered the tree stump, saved himself a sleepless night of fear, and quite possibly have successfully hunted down the lion.

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Grief is a heavy word and, like a coward, I try to avoid it primarily through calling it something else.

“I feel sad,” sounds a lot more manageable than, “I feel grief.”

“That makes me want to cry,” sounds a lot less vulnerable than, “I am grieving.”

I spoke a few years ago with a friend who has a Master’s degree in counseling people who have experienced trauma or grief and as I shared some of my parenting experiences in Djibouti, she said, “You have a lot of things to grieve, don’t you?”

I almost laughed. The thought was ludicrous. I had a lot to grieve? Grief was for people who were mourning the deaths of loved ones. Grief was for refugees or victims of horrible crimes. Grief was for this year’s Boston marathoners and the family of another journalist murdered in Somalia this week. Grief wasn’t for someone who didn’t understand parent-teacher conferences or who could never fully participate in after-school activities or for someone who was stretched so thin from language study and work projects and team meetings and general culture stress/shock that she didn’t play games or have dance parties with her kids. Grief was too big a word for a mom who simply felt like a failure. It was like calling a tree stump, a lion.

She said (my paraphrase): Grief comes with the loss of someone or something. You’ve lost a lot of someones and somethings, including who you thought you would be as a parent. Until you start calling it grief, you won’t be free to discover who you are as a parent.

And just last week in a post at A Life Overseas, Kay Bruner wrote about writing down the things lost for a TCK or for expatriates on sketches of tombstones. So here I am, learning to stop calling the tree stump a lion. Learning to write losses on tombstones. I’m learning to stop saying “sad” and to start saying “grief.” To step closer to the pain, to the thing that has been, or is being lost, and to name it.

So this is grief, this past Monday afternoon when the twins got back on the plane and went to Kenya. The school break is over and I feel more than sad.

I miss my kids when they are gone. If there were a more poetic way to say it, I would, but there stands the naked truth. And even when they are home for break I miss the undercurrent of knowing they will stay. I miss the sound of squealing laughter as Henry tackles Lucy or Lucy tickles Maggie. I miss the fighting. I miss calling for three names when it is time to leave the house and squishing into the car. I miss setting five plates and hearing children banter at the table. I miss running out of cereal in the middle of the week and arguments over what to eat for dinner and who gets the last bite of Daddy’s Special Recipe treat.

I’m going to stalk this grief, like Igal Shidaad, but not to slay it. I’m going to stalk it in order to embrace it, live with it, and love out from it because I don’t think it is going away. Tombstones get covered in grass or snow but they don’t disappear. This is a grief I will bear for the next three months and will enter fresh after the next school break. But I will name it and shine light on it because lions turn into tree stumps in the light of day.

What do you need to name with courageous truth?

21 Comments

  1. Tamie April 24, 2013 at 6:09 am - Reply

    YES Rachel, this resonates with me! I’ve been a mum for less than a year and ‘on location’ for only 3 months and already I feel the this-is-not-who-I-was-going-to-be-as-a-mum-ness that full time language learning brings. There’s an inevitable part of parenting that is falling short of the ideal but this is more than that – there are things I’ve lost about being a mum because we’ve chosen to be in this place at this time.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones April 24, 2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing Tamie, for bearing that lostness for your kids and even with me in the on-line connection sense.

  2. Adriatic Heart April 24, 2013 at 7:57 am - Reply

    Excellent post! If I can encourage you, Rachel, and any readers: face your feelings & own them honestly & head-on. We’ve been ‘on location’, as Tamie puts it, for 27 years. Sure we’ve ‘lost’ a lot. Missed many special moments in the lives of our (now-grown) children. Are missing much with our grandchildren (back in the USA). Learning to grieve these losses enabled acceptance of the death of things which will never be mine. But the beauty is that once we accept, we are free to embrace. And in embracing we find joy and peace & can see the fruit that always comes after the seed goes into the ground & dies. In earlier years, I suffered guilt for all that my kids had to face & do without. But they recently told us “If you hadn’t been faithful to keep going on, everything you’d said about putting Jesus first would have been nullified. We put him first because you showed us the way.” Face the grieving, bury that seed in faith, and our Father who is faithful will bring fruit. We may sow in tears, but we will reap with joy!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones April 24, 2013 at 10:55 am - Reply

      This is sweet. Beautiful. Thank you for reminding me that fruit comes after burying and dying. I am thankful for hope. And I so appreciate your perspective, sometimes it is hard to see outside of the here and now. Words like this bolster me to face these griefs.

  3. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad April 24, 2013 at 11:48 am - Reply

    i’m grieving the possibility of saying goodbye to this place and where we’ve lived and ministered for 13 years, and people we’ve grown to love – possibly for forever.

    i’m also celebrating and grieving at the same time our oldest moving to the next phase – and you feel a bit schizophrenic at times.

    praying for you, rachel ~

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones April 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      Richelle are you leaving? I mean, I know you are leaving, but are you Leaving (big L)? Did I miss something somewhere that I’m forgetting about? Yes – that would be another whole bucket of things to grieve.

  4. Yvonne April 24, 2013 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Beautiful!
    Back when I was a TCK child in the 60s and 70s this (or any) concept of grief (or loss or being sad) was non-existent in my family. The frequent moving and new schools across 3 continents, and traveling the world in between, was viewed as being a great adventure. And it was!
    However, had there been room for grieving a lot of issues which have now been carried into my adult life would have been resolved a long time ago. I know some things would (and should) have turned out differently had the grieving taken place.
    I am aware of this and now consciously raise my son to be aware of his feelings and those of others.
    Thank you.

  5. Heidi April 24, 2013 at 11:57 am - Reply

    I like the idea of writing your losses on tombstones. Now that we’ve finally started to feel somewhat settled in our new Kenyan home, it might be a good idea to sit with and start processing my grief over what I’ve just left behind in Minnesota.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones April 25, 2013 at 7:47 am - Reply

      I think it would be interesting to write them down now, so that you’d have that record in the future as things, and you, change and adapt.

  6. Ruth April 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Tears from this grown up former boarding school student.

  7. mpieh April 24, 2013 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Rachel, thank you. Though I didn’t know how to label it…what word to describe it, I now know that I have been grieving for the past 8 months. The losses that put me in that state vary greatly (both in nature and intensity)…but they all collided together in a “perfect storm” that has made this a really tough year. But…as always seems to be the case…my struggles, losses, and human inadequacies have served to remind me of my need for a Savior, and have helped to renew my dependence on Him. I am thankful for that, thankful that I can see some light at the end of this dark season, and thankful that I never walk alone.

    Much love to you!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones April 25, 2013 at 7:51 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing Mandy. Yes, even knowing only a few of the things that have rocked you this year, the word is most definitely grief. Thankful with you, for light and hope and togetherness.

  8. LeCrecia Ali April 25, 2013 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Thanks Rachel!
    Very timely as we pack up and say goodbye to our life in West Africa.
    Although I am excited to return to the Horn, I am grieving the life we had planned here and the life we enjoy here. It is a weird juxtaposition to be excited and grieve at the same time. (Kinda like when I found out I was pregnant with baby #4, just 4 years after baby #1 was born)!
    So thankful my life is built on the ROCK!

  9. Dawn April 25, 2013 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Great post … and timely. I read this post and Kay Bruner’s (that you directed us to – thanks!) last night after having a few weepy days here in Thailand (we just moved here from America). Through both posts, I was challenged to allow myself to “be where I’m at,” and let God minister to me in those places. Also, to be ok with where I”m at, knowing that nothing needs to be fixed (necessarily) and being careful not to numb the grief/sadness/whatever I’m feeling. And all of this in the midst of taking small steps to thrive amidst where we’re now at. Whew … 🙂

    • Dawn April 25, 2013 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      So, thanks for your post – I don’t think I really said that! I appreciate you sharing your experiences and your writing – you have a gift!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones April 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks Dawn, I’m glad it was so timely for you and I also loved Kay’s post – deep and hard, but true and helpful too. I’m still learning to let myself have those weepy days and to not shut down or pretend they aren’t there. And to receive God’s blessing in those moments too.

  10. Marilyn Gardner April 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Oh this post – yes! Naming our losses. Naming our grief. It has taken me years and some of the lions do turn to tree stumps. Thank you for the truth in this post.

  11. Bruising Seasons May 21, 2013 at 7:49 am - Reply

    […] is what it feels like to say goodbye to kids going back to boarding […]

  12. […] by it and interested in the interaction between those two things. I write about my temper and about my grief and about tucking my dress into my underwear and picking my nose in […]

  13. […] the lack of surprise didn’t remove or diminish the sorrow and the fury, the feeling that no matter when or how, death stinks. The sense of having been […]

  14. MG April 7, 2015 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Always enjoy you writing about my home country, Djibouti. Thank you for your work.

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