Trauma, Grief, Listening, Recovery, Redemption
A couple of weeks ago – right before the trip with my friend visiting remote towns in Eastern Oregon, I wrote this. I remember messaging Kathi and telling her that I was not in a good way emotionally. Kathi knows that I’ve been going through some difficult stuff on the home front as well as the constant advocacy work, and that it has taken its toll on me.
Part of being whole for me is being honest with where I am emotionally and paying attention to what my physical body is telling me. This first requires honesty with myself, and then vulnerability when I tell someone else what is going on. I remember telling her that I think I was going to go and process my thoughts and feelings by writing, and then signed off to start journaling.
When we are at our low points, how do we respond to them? Personally, I could either go into familiar patterns of behavior, doing things that probably aren’t the best in the world. No, I’m not talking about drugs, but sometimes my drug of choice is getting lost on the internet following rabbit trails and neglecting laundry or other responsibilities. Other ways I numb pain might include indulging on sugary treats, chocolate, a glass of wine, etc. I only drink one glass of wine, so going overboard is not a concern to me; however, having a glass of wine to numb pain is not the healthiest choice over the long haul. It’s just a way of avoiding pain.
So, then the question I’m learning to ask myself is: what pain am I avoiding, and why am I avoiding it? Isn’t numbing pain simply prolonging it? Why would I want to prolong pain? What would happen if I moved toward the pain and wrestled with it? What would that look like? Would it last forever? Sometimes I think we might think it is overwhelming, but it probably wouldn’t last forever. At least my experience has told me that, and I’ve had some heartbreaking experiences in my 50+ yrs.
So, there’s a bit of background. And now, the following is what I wrote after messaging on Facebook with Kathi. I was processing what had happened earlier in the day at my physical therapy appointment. Writing everything down helped me to connect with my feelings and finish that work. It should be noted that after I wrote things down, and had another big cry, there was a sense of calm and relief. The heaviness was lifted – the burden was lifted.
Redemptive Gift of Grief
So . . .I’ve been reading a lot of personal stories of abuse – especially regarding women harmed in marriages last week. And I’ve been listening to a great podcast series which has taught me about relationships, intimacy, personal stories, grieving – heavy stuff, yet it is so, so good. But I’ve also noticed my body has been more tense physically in the past week, and I’ve been weepy.
Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s ok to cry and I try not to shut it down, but allow the tears to flow. Sometimes I sit with the pain and try to connect with it and figure out why I’m weepy. Other times I can’t figure out why I’m weepy. So I just move on.
I have chronic back/hip issues and drive an hour away to a great physical therapist (PT). I love the drive because I get to look at the beautiful SE Washington desert and listen to podcasts uninterrupted. The podcast I listened to on this particular trip was on the topic of grief. It was powerful.
I walked into the PT room and was greeted by the PT student, Habakkuk, who has been interning for the last few visits. Habakkuk asked me how I had been doing since the last visit. Habakkuk did most of the work at my previous visit – with Randy, my PT, observing and offering suggestions. So, it made sense that Habakkuk would ask me how I was doing; he was genuinely interested.
My PT, Randy, sat quietly in the corner of the room listening as Habakkuk carefully listened to my physical issues. Habakkuk asked more questions and then had me get on the table face down. At the end of the table is a support for your head so your head is straight when lying face down. The support has an opening for your face so you can breathe (or cry or scream in agony from elbows “massaging” your tender muscles).
So, Habakkuk did his thing checking my range of motion, and proceeded to practice the
torture PT techniques he has learned from Randy, no doubt. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen Habakkuk a few times, so I felt comfortable with him. Randy makes a practice of mentoring young students and teaching them while they practice on us innocent Guinea pigs, but he also has a knack of selecting students who are not only gifted in PT, but are relationally gifted as well, just like Randy.
Randy left the room for a bit while Habakkuk continued with me. As he was working on my back, he asked how long I’ve been suffering these symptoms. I said a long, long time. But then I thought about that response, and added that I’ve been dealing with personal stressors for a long time, too. I shared something very painful and personal with him, and his hand stopped moving. It was still on my back and remained there . . . but still.
Why had his hand stopped moving? Was he understanding the fact that my emotional stressors were contributing to the physical issues I have been having? Maybe. I don’t know. But it was quiet in the room. There was a long silence – maybe it wasn’t really long, but in that silence the only thing that was resonating in my mind was the last thing I had just said to him about the personal pain in my life I was dealing with. With that silence, the heaviness of my struggles came to surface and I realized that yes, these were indeed big issues. The pain was real.
Habakkuk’s hand remained on my back – not moving, but it was still there. That still-present touch on my back said to me, “I am with you. You are not alone. I’m so, so sorry.” There were no words, but I felt at ease and comforted. It was a powerful, sacred moment. I felt his presence with my emotional pain, and then I sensed tears coming. I felt my body tense up, and I wept. I freakin’ wept freely with a student PT’s hand on my back while my PT was out of the room! Who does that? Tears were already falling to the floor – remember my face is still in the head support. But now snot was coming out my nose (which happens anyway when you are in that position on the table), so I asked for some Kleenex which is always on the nearby counter.
Habakkuk’s hand finally left my back and he walked around the table to the other side of the room and handed me a few tissues in one hand, plus more in my other hand, and then put the box on the floor so I could reach them. Dude..that was amazing! Whenever someone asks for Kleenex, give them the whole hook-up. Don’t be stingy!! We don’t want to ask again when we are in that emotional state. I don’t know where Habakkuk learned that, but man, that was awesome. I now had the freedom to cry to my heart’s content without having to worry about tears or snot!
We sat in that silence for a bit. He then quietly and respectfully said he was so sorry. There was more silence, and then he asked if there was anything he could do for me. Wow. Did they teach this at PT school? I don’t think so. He was doing everything for me by just being there with me while I was grieving. I was struck by Habakkuk’s tenderness. I was struck at how I allowed myself to feel pain in front of this unsuspecting PT student, and I didn’t even care. It felt right and it was right.
And then Randy came in the room. He doesn’t miss a thing. He immediately saw the Kleenex on the floor and without missing a beat lightened the mood as he said, “Shoot, I leave the room for a minute and then come back to this?” We all laughed. I explained what happened, but as I did, guess what happened — yep – I once again connected with that pain. Holy moly, what was going on? Round 2? I guess so – I was still in a safe place with safe people.
The weeping faucet turned on again – you know the kind where your chest is uncontrollably moving. At that moment, it seemed like it would go on forever. But I resisted the urge to fight it because I knew that if I didn’t deal with it right the first time, with honor, I would have more opportunities to deal with it later. Remember, I had just listened to a podcast on grieving. Who knew I’d have an opportunity to deal with it so soon! I had changed positions after Randy came in and was now face up on my back. This time my tears weren’t hitting the floor, but going down my cheeks and in my ears! That is certainly a weird feeling.
Meanwhile, Randy massaged the back of my neck and I can’t even remember what Habbakuk was working on, but they both remained present with me and silent while I cried. (I’m not exactly sure how Randy is going to bill my insurance for this, his degree is not in psychology.) Eventually, my breathing evened out. I noticed myself taking deeper breaths, and it felt like my body had surrendered to that pain. I felt the emotional release, and then the peace. Wow. Emotions – this is crazy stuff.
But the sacred place – where you are connected with people who sit with you as you grieve – this is a holy place. In the podcast, it was discussed as a dying-to-self, Gospel-like place. The listener empties him/herself of his/her ideas, agendas, quick fixes, and remains quietly present for someone who is needing a physical body to be with them as they weep. This is truly sacred. They gave me this gift. This is powerful stuff, people!
I’m comforted to know that God is with me and sees each and every tear:
8 You keep track of all my sorrows.[a]
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8 New Living Translation (NLT)
Thanks, Habakkuk and Randy. You guys rock!
Also, a special congratulations to Habakuk who graduated a week ago!
Personal note to Habakuk: I know you will be an amazing PT and I am excited to know that will bring so much physical and emotional healing to people you work with. I’m so grateful that our paths crossed and that you gave me this powerful experience that now many can learn from.
Randy, God is truly using you and your people. Thank you for providing the wisdom, the intentional atmosphere, and the safe place.
28 thoughts on “Julie Anne’s Personal Story on the Redemptive Gift of Grief”
This is absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing, Julie Anne.
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That is awesome to have people who can be there through your process of healing!
Truly, Mark. And don’t ever discount someone who hasn’t been trained. This is something that we all can do for others who are in pain/grieving. I think too many times we think that we cannot help. The best help is sometimes being silent and still.
Words of advise to a young pastor, “Remember, everyone sits by a pool of tears”. Gordon Cosby, co founder with his wife, of Church of the Saviour Washington DC to Trevor Hudson during his internship. Trevor has been a minister in S Africa for decades, now.
I sit with you and Jesus, by your pool, Julie Anne, as do so many others.
Julie Anne, you are a woman of valor…(Eishet Chayil)
Oh my, it was one thing to hear you share this story with Kathi and me while sitting in a restaurant. But this time, reading through your story, the impact is very different and I find myself crying. It is quite another thing to read about your experience when I am not focused upon holding space for you to share, but can more fully let your words and experience sink deeply into my own story.
For those of us who are involved in caring for others, It is so difficult to love ourselves in a way that permits time for these kinds of release events to unfold, much less to intentionally plan for them. Guilt about “self-indulgence” is one barrier (after years of indoctrination into unhealthy sacrificial living). Fear of uncontrolled emotions when the dam gives way is another. I guess my question for you and others is: Have you found it easier to just let the dam break and deal with the aftermath, or does a slower titration of the process also help you discharge some of the somatization of stress?
And might I add that being seen in our fragility is often one of the very hardest things to simply allow to unfold. The beauty of the story you have shared is not just in the fact that Habbakuk held the space for you and stayed present. The beauty is also in your capacity to allow yourself to be seen vulnerable. I am in awe.
Maryl, great question. I can’t remember if I shared with you and Kathi that every time I read this post after it was done, I cried again. This was new to me. This morning was the first time I read it without crying. It felt like it was the right time to post it.
I’ve cried off and on for years about this particular issue. What was missing, was the deep connection with the pain. That is obviously what I needed. And it’s what the pain deserved. So, I say, let the damn dam break. You won’t die. It won’t last forever. But you will be honoring that grief, and I think you will be able to move forward in a healthier way. Otherwise, you are still hanging onto unresolved clutter.
But . . keep in mind that I was already primed to do this work and had the knowledge about the importance of this work after listening to the podcast. That gave me the assurance I needed to not stop the process.
It was GREAT seeing you last week!!
Thank you, Maryl. It was truly a beautiful life-changing moment for me – to experience the power of holding space for someone and surrendering to the pain. So powerful and healing! It encourages me even more to make sure I am listening the way Habakuk did.
It should be noted that Habakuk is a Christian. I think we as Christians also have the ability to hear from the Holy Spirit in situations like this. Even when we don’t know what we are doing, the Holy Spirit can guide us.
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How wonderful that your pt understood so well! I have found journaling very helpful for getting out thoughts that i’m not ready to verbalize, although there are times you need to connect and times you need to retreat. This was a rough week/weekend for me and I think i’ve just been resting a bit more than usual.
On the numbing, I read Brene Brown a few years ago and she said ‘When you numb the pain you numb the joy’ and that’s stuck with me. I do try consciously to be vulnerable since i read her books sometimes as it does not come naturally.
Thanks for the story. I often ask myself and others this simple theological question. Since God justified us, redeemed us, propitiated his anger against us through Jesus’ death, then why did Jesus remain on the cross, experiencing unimaginable pain—- physically, emotionally, and spiritually— for six hours? Why didn’t God just have Jesus on the cross for 3 minutes and than die? Or better yet, just have Jesus die quickly without anytime pain? Our salvation still would have been accomplished through the blood sacrifice of his death regardless of how much time he suffered on the cross! Does it not appear to be cruel and insensitive of God to allow 6 hours of pain when 3 hours, or 30 minutes, or even 30 seconds still would have ushered in our salvation? Even the crowd tried to ease Jesus’ pain with wine mixed with gall, yet Jesus did not drink the first time, and the second time, Jesus died. Jesus hung on a cross, engulfed in pain, and Jesus’ response was not to avoid it (don’t go to the cross), not to escape it (come off the cross), not to mask it ( drink the wine) or to stop believing in God. Rather, Jesus engaged God in perhaps His most intimate and honest dialogue with the seven “ prayers,” while at the same time embracing the pain.
So I still often wonder why Jesus suffered 6 hours of pain before He offered the perfect and holy sin offering, an offering made perfect by His death, not the pain?
Sounds like human compassion to me, Julie Anne. It’s everywhere. 🙂
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Wonderful observations on suffering, pain, process, etc. Thank you for letting us in, my friend.
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Julie Anne – I remember you saying that you knew the time would be right to post when you were no longer crying while reading through it. Of course, you got me crying as I read through it, so I suppose I’m picking up for you and feeling your pain alongside you.
I’m so glad you got through to the point of knowing this was the right time to release. I’m sure times like this will come again. This is a good reminder that when you feel like it will never go away, there will be a time when you can say you’re on the other side. Each time is different depending on the situation, so it’s good to allow yourself time and space to process.
What a wonderful gift of honoring pain Habakuk and Randy offer. May we all offer the same honor to someone else at some point in our lives.
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Thank you for being so transparent. I often forget that while you are an amazing woman, you are not a “superwoman”.
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My heart hurts for you and this painful situation you are dealing with. I’m hoping for a resolution that works for you.
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This post is AWESOME…
Isaiah 61:1-4 Modern English Version
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Julie Anne
because the Lord has anointed Julie Anne
to preach good news to the poor;
(Good News About “the sacred place –
where you are connected with people
who sit with you as you grieve
– this is a holy place.”)
(As… “The listener empties him/herself of his/her ideas,
agendas, quick fixes, and remains quietly present
for someone who is needing a physical body
to be with them as they weep.”)
He has sent Julie Anne to heal the broken-hearted,
(And loosen healing upon her own broken heart.)
(Thank you Habakkuk and Randy.)
Julie Anne’s example proclaims liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
(“What would happen if I moved toward the pain
and wrestled with it?”)
(“I was still in a safe place with safe people.”)
(“Eventually, my breathing evened out.
I noticed myself taking deeper breaths,
and it felt like my body had surrendered to that pain.
I felt the emotional release, and then the peace.”)
Julie Anne’s example is to continue
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord
to comfort all who mourn,
to preserve those who mourn in Zion,
to give to them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,
that they might be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord,
that He might be glorified.
Thank you Julie Anne
I’m so blessed to have found your site.
I’m so blessed to learn from you.
I’m so blessed to know you.
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Amos, your comment really touched my heart and made me all teary-eyed. Thank you, friend.
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When people mourn we comfort them most by simply BEING there.
It wasn’t until Job’s friends opened their mouths that they became sorry comforters.
I hope you find relief from your pain soon Julie Anne. You have been there for others who needed it.
I’ll mention your back and hip in my prayers tonight.
I did some video watching a few months ago. What you experienced seems in line with “The Body Keeps the Score” – Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talks about how the body can heal from trauma when given a safe space to work through the traumatic event without triggering the learned response. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53RX2ESIqsM He talked about how meditation, yoga, EMDR and even Ecstacy have been used to help create that space.
Also intrigued by other psychologists who are talking about research into mental illnesses and finding links between childhood trauma, the trauma response, and how that response can lead to pathological behaviors.
I find this stuff so fascinating, too, Mark. I have that book – it’s incredible. I’m still working my way through it. It really makes sense how the body is connected with trauma.
Thank you, Rachel. I really appreciate it. I’ve been dealing with throbbing this morning, despite doing my stretching exercises. It gets old living in constant pain, but I know I am not alone. I always appreciate the prayers.
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Your personal testimony is amazing here, Julie Anne. One in which you truly express owning your vulnerability and grief, and being real in sharing it with the rest of us. All too often amongst the “christianese” fellowship, shallow words followed by no good nor godly actions/deeds, towards those who are hurting are the outcomes carried out against grieving hearts. So much for Jesus’ words….”mourn with those who mourn (grieve with those who grieve.)”
As I read your post this morning, my soul has been touched by the fact that you were surrounded by the literal Body of Christ in a small room, allowing you to be human in experiencing the rawness of your pain and grief, which no verbal platitudes or quick fixes offered in trying to “heal you instantly.” The Holy Spirit most certainly knows what He is doing and is mightily powerful!
Amongst the fellowship here, I will be praying for you as well…..healing for your physical pains and grievances. Your ministry here, Julie Anne, is helping many of us to continually grow in our faith.
Blessings to you and yours.
Such a beautiful and encouraging comment, Katy. Thank you. I’m going to see Randy today and show him your comment. 💕
Several people have asked me about the podcast I mentioned in the article. It’s by Adam Young’s “The Place We Find Ourselves” podcast: https://adamyoungcounseling.com/podcast/
Is this site still active, I see no new posts
Hey Bruce, this block is still around, but I’m not able to post like I used to since working full-time. When I have time and feel inspired, I’ll post something 🙂