My dad died suddenly two years ago. The day was traumatic and a lot like I imagine hell to be; a disorienting collapse of reality, overwhelming fear, and plain old horror. That is the word I would use to describe laying a loved one in the ground: horrific. I could never have anticipated my reaction. I had witnessed death before, read about it, expected it (or so I thought), and even looked forward to meeting Jesus. I guess that was all in theory. This was reality: he was gone, and he wasn’t coming back.
They say that in order to deal with your grief you need to face it head on. I did not know how to do that. I had to function, to get through each day, and to care for my family. I woke up every night and raced outside to get air. I felt like I was suffocating. Every time I realized that the world no longer housed my dad, my vision blurred and my lungs constricted. I had to set it aside. I wanted no part of that bleak and foreign world. I couldn’t live in it.
I would confess week after week that I had no prayer life and kept missing Mass. I knew in my head that it was wrong and harmful and that I needed God, but I didn’t feel anything. Priest after priest told me that it was okay to be mad at God, but I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t mad at God. I understood redemptive suffering and a God whose vision reached so far beyond my own that questioning “why” seemed silly. I didn’t wonder why. I didn’t think anything. I only felt. And what I felt was too terrible and frightening to live with, so I more or less lived life like a zombie.
Grappling with God in Grief
Where was God? He was right next to me. I knew that. But I couldn’t find Him. And I wasn’t really trying, because all my energy was going towards reading a book to the kids with some semblance of a smile and asking my husband how his day went. After this very bare minimum, I had nothing left.
And then I got pregnant and it was hard, and my husband worked around the clock and it was hard, and we lived with mean neighbors and it was hard, and I continued to throw out half-hearted Hail Mary’s and sing songs about Jesus with my kids and spend my time between putting them to bed and going to bed watching Fixer Upper and browsing Anthropologie’s latest collection.
I thought I was learning how to live without my dad. And I knew Jesus was with me and I was grateful for His company, but we didn’t really speak. I didn’t let Him hug me, and I certainly never hugged Him. He was there, I just couldn’t quite find Him. We carried on like this for about a year.
Then my sweet Isabel was born. We brought her home from the hospital. I looked at her beautiful little face, and suddenly the world was different. The world had her, but it didn’t, it couldn’t, also have my dad.
Everything came crashing down and I could no longer stem the tide of fear and helplessness. Sorrow overwhelmed me. I couldn’t breathe. I was trapped here, in this new world. With my daughter, without my dad. And everything in my old world seemed far away. My husband and children, everything I knew. It was just Isabel and I, and as much as I loved her, I needed to reconcile my worlds—to claim my life—my real, new life. With Isabel, without my dad. But I didn’t know how. And I couldn’t find God. Even though I saw Him standing right there.
Letting God Find Me
It was in this place—this rock bottom place where all hope was lost and I didn’t recognize myself and doctors debated how to address such severe postpartum panic disorder and my husband had to stay with me every minute of every day for weeks so that when the world crashed and my vision blurred someone was there to catch the baby or grab the steering wheel—that God found me.
I had been hiding, and He loved me so much that He respected my walls. Even though the slightest whisper from Him would have sent them tumbling, He waited. Even though it took months too long, pillows too tear-stained, and loneliness deeper than He ever wanted for me, He waited.
And when in sheer desperation and utter nakedness I revealed my heart to Him, He leapt in with the all the force of a hurricane and all the tenderness of a father and reclaimed that heart. And I began to heal. Because the grief was too blinding to find God, I had to let Him find me. I didn’t know how, but He did. And He waited for me.
Sometimes healing is just that. Letting God hold you.
If you can’t seem to find a way, take heart. He will find a way.
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Kayla Sanmiguel lives in Saint Paul, MN with her husband Javier and their (almost) four children. She works in Institutional Advancement for The Saint Paul Seminary and otherwise spends her time soaking up these fleeting years when toddlers run amok. You can find her thoughts on faith and psychology at Mind & Spirit.