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When Grief Suffocates

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

To experience grief is to be human.  Grief disorients us.  It exhausts us.  It clouds our ability to see clearly.  What was once our normal routine in life, which we accomplished with ease, now feels daunting.  Something that at one time caught our eye with its beauty now fades into a landscape of grey.  We feel less alive. 
During a season in my life where grief seemed paramount to any other thing, I remember feeling like I was suffocating.  It was harder to breathe.  Think.  See people I knew.  Talk.  What I used to consider “normal” in my life now seemed unattainable.  A new “normal” seemed to be settling in.  There were times when my chest felt as though a hundred pounds lay on top of it.  It hurt to breathe.  It hurt to be alive. 
Thinking seemed just as labor-some as breathing.   The more I allowed myself to think about the very thing(s) that was grieving me, the more suffocated I felt.  I tried not to think about the “thing(s)” I was grieving.  I tried to numb myself in various ways to stop thinking.  Stop feeling.  Stop the pain.  Though I tried, I could not run.  Thinking was inevitable.  Feeling was inevitable.  Breathing was a necessity. 
I groaned before the Lord many times.  “Lord, help me.  This hurts.  How will I sustain these losses?”  “Lord, please….PLEASE….do you hear me?  Are you there?  I am in pain.”  I groaned as I lived in the pain of grieving. 
So how have I survived my grieving?  Honestly, I really don’t know.  I suppose I can say that even though I groaned before the Lord questioning His love for me, I knew I was safe in His care.  Even though it was hard to breathe, think, feel, live, I knew He loved me and was not allowing me undue pain.  And soon, as time passed, I learned that my grief revealed His truth, His beauty, and His sovereignty.  Aside from fighting to hold on to the truth of God’s love for me, I surrounded myself with an army.  Of course I don’t mean a real army, but I do mean an army of support.  Godly friends, pastors, counselors, speaking truth to me as though it were my food, because while I was in my deepest places I could not read scripture on my own.  I needed them to be my strength and shield from the overwhelming darkness that had taken up residence in my soul. 
Then, over time I began to breathe again, and think again, and the pain felt less suffocating.  I hope you do not hear some kind of formula in all of this, because although time has passed, I still grieve.  Grieving is a journey.  At times, it still hurts to breathe, think, feel, and live.  Yet in all of this, no matter if I have an “easy” grieving day or a “hard” grieving day, God’s truth remains.  God’s goodness to me reigns.  He is my Father and I am His daughter.  These are the truths we find in scripture. 
For those of you in the midst of living in the pain of your grief, may I suggest you read two things?  One suggestion is to read the Psalms, a book in the Bible.  I would encourage you to devour them, as they are life giving to the hurting soul.  The second suggestion is a book called “A Grace Disguised:  How the Soul Grows through Loss,” by Jerry Sittser.