Embracing Grief

Carla: Wow. I mean really, wow. The response to our post on jealousy is astonishing and challenging and inspiring and heartbreaking. Thank you all for your engagement and vulnerability. I know some of you have taken some hits and I am so glad you’re sticking around so we can all find our way through these issues together. Clearly, none of us knows quite what to do with the intense emotions that pool together to create jealousy and I’m grateful for the chance to work it out with all of you wise women and men.

Reading all of the comments and thinking more on my own, I’ve started to wonder if jealousy isn’t part of the grieving process. I realize that I wasn’t really jealous of other people when I was in my 20s and I think it’s because I just assumed my life would play out a certain way, that there would be a time when I would have or be or do all of the things I saw in other people that I wanted or admired. The future was wide open and I had no reason to expect that my life would be anything other what what I wanted it to be.

While I didn’t deal with jealousy, I did struggle with commitment. I had a terrible time finding a career path. I was hesitant to get married. I was iffy about kids. All of those things felt like a kind of death to me (bear with me here!) because chosing one thing–a graduate program, a husband, a pregnancy–meant not choosing so many other paths. Once I made those choices, that’s when the jealousy started to roll in.

For me, jealousy comes from seeing something I don’t have and knowing that I’m probably not going to have it–at least not for a very long time. What I feel isn’t really even envy. It’s sadness and loss and longing. I don’t begrudge other people having what I want, I am sad that I don’t have it myself. In other words, it’s grief.

So what if we started to think about jealousy in terms of grief? How would that change the way we experience jealousy? How would it change the way we talk to each other about it? When someone is grieving the loss of a parent or a child or a friend, we don’t tell them to get over it. We don’t tell them that they need to stop focusing on the loss of the person they loved. We give them space to talk about their loss, time to feel it and move through it. We wait patiently for them to come out on the other side, knowing they are different because of what they’ve lost.

I truly believe that the loss of a dream, the loss of our hopes for what we thought our lives would look like is a very real loss, a very real death. There are losses that come from being married and realizing your relationship is never going to be what you hoped it would be. Or the loss that comes with becoming a mother and finding out that you don’t love it or that it’s hard or that you aren’t the mom you wanted to be or that your kids aren’t who you thought they would be. There is the loss that comes when we try to develop close friendships and they just don’t seem to come–believe me I’ve been there. Sometimes we can’t even name what’s been lost, we just know the life we have is not the one we planned on. We don’t feel these losses all at once, but a little bit at a time, sometimes over years and years.

So I wonder if the way through our jealousy is to figure out what we’ve lost, to name it and grieve it and find a way to let ourselves be changed because of it. And when I say figure out what we’ve lost, I mean really dig in. My therapist once told me that the two most basic human needs are to be known and to feel like we matter. I wonder if most of our jealousy comes from those needs.

Today, I am jealous of my friend who’s husband is whisking her off for a kid-less weekend at a resort in the woods. My husband, dear sweet fellow that he is, will never do that. But my longing for more romance in my marriage is not really about romance. It’s about wanting to feel like I matter. So I need to figure out how to get that need met in the marriage I have, not the marriage I wish I had.

While I’ve been writing this, Cindy posted this comment on our previous post:

“When we are jealous of someone, does longing for the thing that triggers that jealousy mask a deeper longing for something else, like connectedness, a place in the world, significance, being the most important person to someone else, a need to be needed, a longing to leave something behind that will outlast us. And instead of being able to accurately recognize what we’re longing for, we long for the symbol of that thing we see that someone else has. The longing is real and legitimate, but God may have a different way of fulfilling that longing for us than the thing we see on someone’s facebook status.”

I think it’s time for Cindy to be a guest blogger.

Caryn: If I were to tell you that I’ve just been writing about grieving—as a foundation to loving life—you probably wouldn’t believe me. (Thank goodness my writer’s group saw early drafts of this last month—-a good timeline in case Carla decides to sue, thinking I stole her idea!)

But the need to grieve has been on my mind a lot lately–because like you and Cindy and a lot of other insightful Revolutionaries commented, I know this jealousy thing that tends to consume me is a flag for something else: the yearning for life I thought I’d have, the life I wanted (and sometimes still want), or even the life I used to have.

So it occurred to me somewhere in the midst of my pain and loss and jealousy (and this is what I’m in the middle of writing about right now on the other project) that grieving what was or what I dreamt might be is more than just okay; it’s actually GOOD to do.

So I’ve done it. I’ve almost forced my “just suck it up and press on” Swedish self to enter into grief, to feel pain, to cry even, about these things in life (the dreams and all) I really thought I wanted but haven’t panned out. I’ve taken it to God, and literally prayed, “This isn’t how it was supposed to be/feel/whatever, and this SUCKS!” It’s kind of a low-country version of Psalm 88.

And I think God really likes these prayers—at least we’ve seen him honor these prayers of some Bible hero types. And I know he’s honored mine. While it may seem like a whiney exercise to engage the Almighty in, I think it’s just an honest lament of a broken, confused woman. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:3-4).

I’ve got to tell you, when I’ve allowed myself to acknowledge what the jealousy usually was about (as you point out so wisely: a real loss) and grieve, when I’ve allowed my spirit to be poor and allowed my heart to mourn, I’ve felt those blessings.

Sorry to totally sap out on you here, but honestly some of the biggest blessings of my life—some fulfillments of my longest-held dreams—were born directly out of some serious crap, major pain, and some deep disappointment. One of those blessings was the book I just wrote (nothing like an identity crisis combined with a desperate need for money to force you to sit down and get writing!). 

 Another one was  just about feeling God’s nearness and his comfort, being amazed by grace, truly falling head over heels for Jesus. Something I’d long wanted to do, but something that’s harder to do when everything’s peachy. (Which is WHY people say religion is a crutch for the weak, I realize. But they just don’t know….)

It took my deep, messy, angry-lunatic grief to get to know that God. I’m glad I did—though I DO wish I could’ve gotten to know him without my parents splitting up and WITH a nice lake house. Just sayin’. 

Comments are closed.