The Goodness of Grief
 

I am an entirely different person.

When I look back on 2015 I think who was that woman? Who was this person that encountered the greatest storm life could give her?

I often think about that first day of school on September 8, 2015. It had been only 10 weeks since the sudden death of my very best friend. The woman who showed up to school that day was a person numbed by shock and hope and grief and faith.

Before that, I had always been a tough-it-out sort of person. As the daughter of a Marine I was well versed in their unofficial motto: suck it up and press on. But after his death I knew I just could not do that. I had to grieve honestly and make space for sadness and work to be as emotionally healthy as I could.

I was determined to let myself be wherever I was— whether that place was devastation and sadness or feeling fine or even happy. And I was determined to be vulnerable and not just cope. I knew I had to let myself to feel the entirety of the loss, to bear the full weight of the grief.

So in doing all of that, I became a weird person. A person of extremes. I was really good and I was really bad. I could be mean and I could be nice. I was happy and then I’d be sad. Bitter and then hopeful. I was going through public trauma and I was doing the best I could but it was very weird. And I was me but yet not me.

So in a way, more than being Andrea, I became a Grieving Person. A person defined by my grief and not my Andrea-ness.

As a Grieving Person I met a million new people and did a million news things. Basically all the things the Grieving People Books tell you not to do… “Don’t make any big changes for at least two years after the death of a spouse!” they preach. And yet six weeks after my husband’s death I had sold half my belongings, said goodbye to our apartment of three years, moved out of New York City into my parents home in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, and had been admitted to a one-year theology school.

Life couldn’t have been more different as I went from a married urban housewife to a single suburban student. Not to mention I was still full time grieving and running the entire photography business I was forced to inherit with his death. (That’s another story.) But what you need to know was I was in this odd, weird, scary, different, unlike-anything-else-that-had-EVER-happened-to-me space when I walked through those school doors that September morning.

Now that I look back on it I keep thinking how weird it must have been for people to interact with me. One does not encounter freshly widowed 25 year olds every day.

But it was weirdest for me. Each day was so drastically different. Some days I’d be so exhausted at the thought of tying my shoelaces I would just start crying. But then other days I’d crack jokes and smile and felt, dare I say it, normal.

So it was weird. And I had so many questions and not many answers. Who was I? Who was I becoming? What did I want? What should I do? Why did this happen to me? I was living in wake of the Worst Thing Ever happening to me and it was all uncharted territory. And I was haunted by the fact that I lived and breathed on the very earth my husband’s soul had left.

A lot has changed since his death June 26 and school’s start September 8. I have rebuilt and renewed and re-examined my life. I have been walking, talking, thinking, and grieving. I have begged and bargained and not just while praying. And now that I think about it, I have spent practically every waking moment since he died, in one way or another, processing my marriage, my grief, my loss, and my self.

In these past seven months I have felt anything that CAN be felt. Sad and encouraged and revived and hopeful and angry and bitter and joyful and back ’round again. I have held babies and gotten massages. I have written here on this blog and on over 200 pages of journal. I have prayed and reminisced and wept and dreamt.

And what I have now is the realization that I, Andrea Enright, am an entirely different person.

And perhaps what is most surprising is that I am okay with that. And not just okay, I’m amazed by it. Encouraged by it, even.

You see, I am a woman who has been radically re-shaped by the tragedy I’ve faced. I am a woman who has been broken down with grief and slowly rebuilt again. And now I am a new me. A whole new creation. And believe it or not— I wouldn’t change a thing. If I had the choice to choose my story, I’d choose the same one, over and over again.

I know it sounds strange, it may even anger you, but I would not change what happened. And if I had ten hours to tell you the entire story, you might be convinced too– but for now just believe me when I say I’ve been eternally transformed.

Here’s how it happened.

In these past seven months I have met my story writer. And by met, I mean REALLY met. We have chatted and argued, laughed and cried. I have been comforted and encouraged and challenged and championed.

Now I have eyes to see that my story writer has been with me every step of the way. All along He was writing in punchlines and inciting incidents, peaks and valleys, miracles large and small. All along he’s been penning His masterpiece, which I have tentatively titled “Andrea Caroline, Protector of the Broken Hearted.”

And while I have been pissed at Him a lot these past seven months, He’s dealt with me graciously and oh so tenderly. And He’s revealed such goodness to me, such favor. And though I only have some idea of the story He’s writing, I know it’s something beautiful.

In this time of grief I am learning to trust the story writer. For He not only holds the pen of my life, He MADE the very pen that writes it. It is in Him I trust and in Him my story is written. And in doing that, my story is becoming all about Him.

I am finding out so much about the story writer. He’s just so good and kind and compassionate. He’s patient. Passionate. Tender. Bold.

And you see, this Andrea is becoming more like her story writer each day, kind and compassionate. Patient. Passionate. Tender. Bold. And this Andrea, this broken-and-rebuilt, still grieving, still struggling, still healing Andrea is the Andrea I’d choose over and over again.

Yes, I am still hurting. I am still uncertain about my future, but now I know who holds the pen. And each day I trust Him more and more. And in doing so I have emerged from the soil of the valley of the shadow of death as a woman with wisdom. And I wouldn’t change this wisdom for anything in this world. Not even bringing BJ back. I wouldn’t being him back because so much work has been done in my life through this grief.

So much compassion has been forged.
So much dependence has been fostered.
So much trust has been rendered.

I may be a broken person, a sad person, but I am a more kind person. A more understanding person. A more compassionate person. And I just can’t imagine un-doing all the work that’s been done. And I see how I can work for God’s kingdom with my now tender, broken heart.

And after all, I’ll see BJ again so soon. So very soon–

For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

Yes, what happened to me was awful and I do not wish it upon anyone. But what I have realized when it comes to suffering is somehow you bear it. Somehow you keep caring. Somehow you keep fighting. Somehow you keep loving. And somehow you move forward.

And in all your loss and grief and fear and mess, if you make space for God, you emerge stronger and yet softer. Wiser but quieter. Listening more and doing less. And in a good and strange way, suffering helps you become the person you always wished you could be.

Yes I have learned that if you give your darkness over to God, if you surrender to His mysterious ways–
what emerges can be beautiful.
Utterly beautiful.
Bright and radiant.

Not perfect, not fixed, perhaps not even better–

But beautiful.
 
For He has made everything beautiful in its time.
 
And that, my friends,

is the goodness of grief.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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How am I?

I’m okay.

Thanksgiving was hard. The week after my birthday was hard. Sundays are hard.

But Christmas was nice. It was good. I was okay. I felt love and Christmas magic. I felt Jesus.

But reality has certainly settled in. He’s really gone and I’m really single and I am doubting what I want to do with my life.

When there are TOO many options you feel like you have no options, ya know? So I feel a bit paralyzed. Major decision fatigue. And to be honest, I really just want to fall in love again.

If I can’t have BJ, the reality is I’ll have to meet someone new if I want those things I loved so much. I miss all those lovely married things– having a best friend, making a home, sharing my life with someone, pillow talk, being a wife. Not to mention my baby fever.

And though I want those things and BJ would want those things FOR me, I just can’t *make* them happen. Falling in love has no timeline. So I have no idea when or if these things will happen for me again.

And though I wish I could sit around and do nothing until a new love comes, I know I have to use this time I have to pursue new things, new dreams. But still I’m not happy about it.

Oh and speaking of falling love, tangent alert: guys, I’m terrified. Oh the judgment I fear I’ll face whenever the words “Andrea” and “dating” finally come up in the same sentence. THE WIDOW DATES! HOW DARE SHE! I’ve read all the widow blogs and the consensus amongst them is clear. The widow dates too soon? SCANDAL! The widow waits too long? SHE NEEDS TO GET HERSELF BACK OUT THERE! No matter what we can’t win. And no matter what, when that dating day comes, the widow will be judged, because she either took too long or “moved on” too soon. WE CAN’T WIN. AND HAVEN’T WE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH? LET’S GET OUT OF THE WIDOW-JUDGING BUSINESS. #widowproblems

And while we’re getting honest, it’s been so hard for me physically. The grief. My body is out of control. I get my tennis shoes laced up and then I feel weak and exhausted. I plan a walk with a friend and then sadness hits and I can’t leave the house. And though I try to eat less, the scale won’t budge. So I am bigger and sadder than I ever thought possible.

I try to give myself grace and space. I try to remind myself that I’ve been through the Hardest Thing Ever. That my identity isn’t in my extra weight. But I just want my clothes to fit darn it! And I want energy! And it seems I just need someone to kick my butt and force me out the door because I really do love a walk in the fresh air.

I don’t know, folks. I feel big, sad, stuck, hopeless.

And though I know those things are temporary-
That they aren’t my identity-

It’s hard to remember.

I guess I’m just trying to find out who I am without BJ. Without acting. Without New York. Who am I? What do I want? What does God want? I’m open to anything, I just want to do the right thing. I want to work at the right place. Marry the right person. Have the right life.

But I know that’s a bad way to look at it.

One step at a time, Andrea.

One step at a time.

Also, you’re doing good, Andrea.

You’re doing good.

 
 
 

Will you help me remember the truth?
Tell me I’m beautiful and will be happy again and that I have a hope and a future?
Will you believe it for me when I can’t and remind me when I forget?
Thank you, friends.
Please know I read all your comments.
(Though I’m terrible at responding to them. #widowproblems)
Love you all.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Tears are falling,

Hearts are breaking.

How we need to hear from God.
 

You’ve been promised,
We’ve been waiting,
Welcome holy child.

Welcome holy child.

 
Hope that you don’t mind our manger.
How I wish we would have known–
But long-awaited holy stranger
Make Yourself at home.

Please make Yourself at home.

 
Bring Your peace into our violence.
Bid our hungry souls be filled.
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence.
Welcome to our world.

Welcome to our world.
 
 
Fragile finger sent to heal us.
Tender brow prepared for thorn.
Tiny heart whose blood will save us.
Unto us is born.

Unto us is born.

 
So wrap our injured flesh around You,
Breathe our air and walk our sod,
Rob our sin and make us holy,
Perfect Son of God.

Perfect Son of God.

 
 
 
Welcome to our world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I had a Christmas Miracle.

Last week I went with my grandma to a showing of 400 different nativities. I had walked in with hesitation because lately I’ve been frustrated over the portrayal of Jesus’ birth as tidy and perfect and peaceful. (Hello last blog post.) So I was delighted to see nativities from all over the world, with Tanzanian and Peruvian and Japanese Baby Jesus.

I was able to talk to the collector, Neil, and show my gratitude for his gorgeous and diverse collection of nativities. We ended up bonding and sharing frustration over tidy, perfect nativities and then he told us some stories behind the different scenes.

Right before we left I asked for a picture and Neil had me pick up one of my favorite nativities to hold in the picture. I could not believe he was going to let me put my hands on one his precious nativities! So I picked up this beautiful stained glass nativity I’d admired and delicately held it for the photo op.

Right after this picture was taken he turned to me and said “That’s yours now.” I looked at him stunned. I couldn’t believe it.

It was only then that my grandma shared with Neil what happened to BJ, why I lived in Beaverton, how hard life was for me now.

Neil started crying and then I started crying and I said I’m not too proud to accept this incredibly generous gift. I told him I need all the love I can get right now and that I would never forget this day. We hugged. And when he found out I was a singer, we sang Silent Night together right then and there.

Guys, it was some real-life cheesy Christmas movie magic.

And so I left with a precious stain glass nativity, given to me freely, without even knowing my story, and expecting nothing in return. This Christmas will be the hardest I’ve ever faced, so I couldn’t have imagined better timing for a little Christmas miracle. Thank you Jesus. And Neil. And BJ too while we’re at it.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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I keep seeing nativities everywhere.

And they’re all gorgeous and I love them but I’m also pissed off.

Because they’re always so perfect.

Too perfect.

It’s as if they seem to forget you have to be PREGNANT to have a baby. Why is Mary skinny?

I want a big ol’ pregnant Mary.

And why is she old?

I want a young, fat Mary.

And speaking of Mary, I want to free that nipple.

I want a breastfed baby Jesus.

Because that’s how babies are fed.

Because that’s how JESUS WAS FED.

And if we can’t get the boobs can we AT LEAST have a Jesus that’s at being HELD by his mother? I don’t get this “staring from afar at my precious baby Jesus” theme. MARY HOLD YOUR BABY.

And while we’re at it I want dirty sheep and obnoxious donkeys?

And I definitely want an old crusty camel.

And we certainly need more than three wise man.

And can we PLEASE have some diversity?

Does anyone remember the wise men were from the EAST?

What is with these clean, white, perfectly bearded men?

I want road-weary black or brown or tan wise men

And SERIOUSLY.

Seriously.

Sirriouslyyyyy.

Once and for all:

JESUS
WASN’T
WHITE.

I mean, YOU GUYS.

Jesus wasn’t white.

I can cope with brown hair but do NOT get me started on blonde haired blue-eyed Jesus.

Lord help us. For real.

And I want dark skin.

I want Middle Eastern Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

And some olive-skinned shepherds and drummer boy.

Because we’re in Bethlehem, not Beaverton.

And I want a real stable.

Anyone ever been to a stable? They’re dark, dank and smelly. Not too mention THE POOP.

And I want a real manger. One that DOESN’T have perfectly placed crisp yellow straw.

I hem and haw but you see, I just want to look at my nativity and have a sense of what it was REALLY like.

I want to see a real picture into the past.

I want a snapshot of the unglamorous, un-trinket-able entrance of my Savior into this world.

Because this year, more than ever, painted-up Jesus won’t do.

Life is too hard, too sad to gaze upon pretty, tidy, American Jesus.

And really there’s nothing very pretty, tidy, (or dare I say American?) about following Jesus, amirite?

You see, this year I need my nativity real.

I need it raw.

I need it messy and stinky and plain because I want to dwell on the miracle of Christmas.

And the miracle is that God entered this messy world in a messy way.

That he REALLY became human.

That he came right out of his momma, blood, placenta, goop, and all.

That he came just like we came,

As a baby.

He came into this world just as he left it–

Non-Tidy.

And yet miraculous.

Yes, the Jesus I know knows stress and mess and stink and suffering.

So this year Perfect Barn Jesus won’t do.

 
So I want a new nativity.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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