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Pity Party or Grief – That’s the Question

What exactly is a Pity Party?  That’s a question I have asked myself over and over again. In what other way will I know if I am throwing one of epic proportions?

Maybe I would have been better served to ask myself why I’d ever entertain the idea that my grief, in any way, could be construed as a pity party.  But I think I know the answer to that question.  It’s because a few brave souls have gently suggested such a thing.  Might you be simply enjoying a pity party, Janet?

Okay, as offensive as I find that question, I’ve chosen to take time to seriously consider it. Have I crossed the line from grieving to donning sackcloth and ashes in an outward display of grief for the purpose of inciting others to feel sorry for me?  In order to determine the answer to that question I first need to figure out the difference between grief and a pity party.  So I googled my way to a reasonable definition for both terms which you will find below.  If you get the chance though you really should take the time to see the Urban Dictionary’s top definition for a pity party.  It’s a nice and fairly accurate tongue-in-cheek definition that simply proved to be a bit lengthy for my purposes.

The Oxford Dictionaries defines a pity party as:

“An instance of indulging in self-pity or eliciting pity from other people.”

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And medicinenet.com defines grief as:

“The normal process of reacting to a loss. The loss may be physical (such as a death), social (such as divorce), or occupational (such as a job). Emotional reactions of grief can include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and despair. Physical reactions of grief can include sleeping problems, changes in appetite, physical problems, or illness.”

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Grief is about loss.  It’s about the intrinsic value of life, hopes, dreams and expectations. But today, I want to talk about life.

In my personal opinion, the idea that any single life is less valuable than another ultimately devalues all life.

We live in a culture that has become unconsciously and yet increasingly ambivalent toward the value of human life.  Why?  Maybe because abortion in the form of the Morning After Pill or the prevalence of far more invasive procedures combined with the recent Death with Dignity legislation is to blame.  Abortion and euthanasia have rendered life valuable primarily in terms of cost and convenience.  The subtle message that invades our hearts is that only the wanted, and the healthy have value in this world.  But what happens when the wanted become unwanted? Unmanageable? Inconvenient? Unhealthy? Too costly?  What then?

At the same time we live in a fast moving society.  The technology age with the advent of microwaves to microprocessors, has sped our ability to acquire, use and process data and shorten the waiting period for a vast number of things.  We are impatient people.  We want what we want now and fully anticipate the ability to achieve success or resolve problems post haste!  Now!  Yesterday!

IMG_4836But some things in life cannot be rushed.  Some things simply take as long as they take, which doesn’t seem to prevent us from feeling frustrated with the wait or pushing ourselves and others to shorten the amount of time to accomplish a given task. And that impatience has spilled over into every area of our lives including the expression of grief. A new definition can be added to Oxford Dictionaries definition of a pity party. It reads something like this: A term applied to an individual’s behavior when society and has lost patience with someone who has suffered a loss of grievous proportions.

The normal response to loss has been reduced to indulgent self-pity.  No, you say, that can’t be true.  But how often have you heard the grief stricken encouraged to “move forward” or “let it go”?

The difference between self-pity and grief is that self-pity is largely a matter of choice. And frankly, I don’t want your pity, and I haven’t met many bereaved parents who do. The bereaved want and need understanding, their feelings validated and they want and need affirmation – not pity. But let me be very clear on this:  Those who mourn can and will suppress their grief for a variety of reasons. Societal pressure, holding it together for spouses and children, caring for those who may be injured or aging, or because they need help processing it and are afraid or unwilling to seek counseling.  And while it might appear from the outside that this individual has completed the mourning process that is patently untrue. Unresolved grief lies in wait. Unresolved grief creates new problems. Unresolved grief is not healing, it’s harmful to oneself and to other relationships. Unresolved grief often leaves an individual incapable of talking about their loss, wounded yet diligently clinging to a positive perspective, and spiritually inconsolable or amputated for lack of a better way to describe that area of the heart that is walled off and God is refused entry.

Mourning the loss of a significant loved one should never, ever be confused with a pity party.  Grief is a normal and healthy response that testifies to the innate value of every life.  That is why parents grieve following a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death.  All lives matter regardless of their duration or perceived contribution to this world.  All lives have value.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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Adventures in Limboland

I am living in Limboland – Purgatory, if you will, as it is just a little bit of Hell.  Limboland is that in between place – a pressed in place as the limbo bar is steadily dropping lower and lower.  My grief counselor described it as being forced through a funnel and she is right in that my circumstances have forced me from a wider plane – a place where options and choices once existed into a smaller place.  There are still choices but they have been greatly narrowed down and very few of the things I dreamed of for my life remain – or maybe the remnants of my dreams have been so warped that things like marriage and motherhood while technically still exist are barely recognizable as the dreams I once held.  My life is not a fairy tale.  It never was, but at one point in time, before the lenses of my rose colored glasses became scratched and cracked, the fairy tale still felt attainable.

 

img_0352But the limbo bar has lowered and I am left to bend and contort myself in an attempt to fit within the new shrunken boundaries of my life.

Standing before the bar – do I turn from the bar walking away and concede defeat in exhausted resignation or do I defiantly walk into it rebelliously refusing any attempt at attacking the challenge that lies before me?  Maybe I should twist and arch trying to negotiate a means beneath this bar that I once navigated with effort but a modicum of confidence.  But the bar has fallen so much lower now that I have no real confidence in my ability to contort myself beneath it and frankly, I wonder if I have the flexibility required to be successful and if I have the fortitude to deal with the humiliation of both a failure to try and/or a failure to succeed.

I once read to shut out the constantly churning thoughts; my minds futile attempt to either work out a new, happier ending, or at the very least to thoroughly examine every detail in order to contain it and be able to pack it away in a small box that gets shoved into a back corner of the closet – never to be reopened but too valuable, too costly, to discard.

Now I read to hide from the utter silence.  It is too difficult, or I simply have not learned the discipline of sitting silently before the Lord.  I’m impatient and it’s frustrating trying to hear that still small voice and instead nothing more than silence echoes back. Alexander Theroux once said, “Silence is the unbearable repartee.”  Can you relate?

So I’m imprisoned in Limboland although Purgatory is a more apt description in my estimation.  Trapped between what was, lingering in this silent spot waiting for my heart to heal sufficiently so that I’m prepared to move into whatever God has planned – no longer angry yet still wounded leaving me resistant to what comes next but simultaneously antsy at this inactivity.

Fernando Ortega sings a song, “I Will Wait For My Change”.  The chorus of that song goes:

“All the days of my struggle
I will wait for my change,
I will wait for my change to come.
Only do not hide Your face from me,
Don’t take Your hand away,
Don’t take Your hand away.
I will wait for my change to come.”

And this is where I find myself, waiting for my change to come, unable to see the Master’s face, trusting He will not take His hand away.  And fast on the heals of this refrain, an old Avalon song plays through my mind – the Master’s plea to me? – Avalon’s “Dreams I Dream For You”:

“You taste the tears
You’re lost in sorrow
You see your yesterdays
I see tomorrow

You see the darkness
I see the spark
You know your failures
But I know your heart

The dreams I dream for you
Are deeper than the ones you’re clinging to
More precious than the finest things you knew
And truer than the treasures you pursue

Let the old dreams die
Like stars that fade from view
Then take the cup I offer
And drink deeply of
The dreams I dream for you”

img_0351And I wait.  I wait for healing. It can’t be rushed.  It takes as long as it takes for the Holy Spirit to do His work in my heart – for my terror of God and His plans to subside – for my resistance to a future void of my most precious dreams to recede – for my heart to soften, for it to feel safe enough to tear down the protective walls I’ve built in an attempt (futile though it may have been) to guard my heart from any more excruciating pain.

We advise friends to wait on the Lord, to trust in the Lord as if doing either is a simple thing to accomplish – but the old man wars with the new man.  Intellectually we realize that yes, we do need to wait on the Lord, we need to trust in Him, but putting it into practice is no easy feat – it’s a life long battle played out in different arenas of our lives from the arena of work, to parenting, the lust of the flesh and the arena of pride.  The same battle plays out over and over demanding greater faith and more commitment with every consecutive battle.

My purgatory is not a punishment.  I sincerely believe that God intends this season between my past and my future as a time of rest, a respite from the storms I’ve weathered and a time of renewal before the next storm is unleashed in my life.  Believe me, I see the storm clouds on the horizon brewing and I’m not sure how much time I have before the next major storm in my life erupts.  But during this time of respite I am struggling to rest. It’s hard to shift gears from constant diligence to rest.  The mind has simply been conditioned to living on high alert and a new form of anxiety develops in the void left when the need for hyper awareness dissipates but you also know it’s just a matter of time before the winds whip up again and the storm is upon you with little or no warning.

How does one let down their guard in these kind of circumstances?  How does one quiet themselves?  I wish I had the answers.  Maybe, the truth I’ve yet to accept is that I’m dependent upon the Holy Spirit for that as well – that I’m dependent upon Him for every little thing.  He tells me to quiet myself and after metaphorically chasing my tail for far too long, I recognize that I can’t do it in own power and I break down and with humility ask God to help me to quiet myself.  Then I’m back to waiting until one day I randomly notice that I’ve gone completely still within.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find out this is exactly how it works as years ago I went through a very similar exercise in a battle over the power of fear in my life.  How hard these lessons are to learn!  How stubbornly defiant is the old man within, doggedly determined to tackle problems his way!  How ignorant, slow witted, or lackadaisical the new man is having to relearn the same process repeatedly!

So maybe that’s my answer and now I have to decide if I’m ready to begin that process. Again.  Am I ready to quit chasing my tail, to ask God to quiet my mind, my heart, my soul?  Have I reached that point where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I cannot do this for myself?  That only God can quiet the restlessness within?  The demand for answers? The need for justice?  The fear of what this “next” plan holds?  Am I resolved to pay the cost of discipleship regardless of price demanded?  Am I ready?  Will I ever be ready or simply too tired of this chronic emptiness to stand still any longer?  Am I waiting on God or is He waiting on me?  I don’t know the answers.  I just don’t know.

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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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