Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted on Feb 29, 2016 | 4 comments

What Grief Looks Like

On November 2 of last year, my dad passed from this world after a short bout (a little less than 3 months from diagnosis) with Stage IV brain cancer.  I wrote the following in January, and initially shared it with a few friends. Several of them encouraged me to post it publicly. They found it helpful to understand, and believe it will be helpful to others.

May we grieve, and help others in grief, in such a way that great honor and glory are brought to the Lord.

One of the challenging things about walking through something hard is that often others don’t quite understand. Can you relate? We all walk unique paths, and no two look exactly the same. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. We may have similar experiences, but the unique dynamics surrounding them make each very different. My writing, combined with close interpersonal relationships, is an effort to remain free and to maintain forward movement toward healing, rather than stunted by isolation, which can often lead to bitterness.handsome dad

Question asking is a great way to understand others. But, I think in times of loss or grief, people are afraid to ask questions, for fear of upsetting the one suffering, or out of a lack of knowing what to say. So, in an effort to help myself, I suppose, I want to tell you what grief looks like. I’m learning as I go. And one thing I’m learning is that I want to be someone who can walk alongside others in grief.

I took some time yesterday to write out adjectives under the heading, “Grief.” I’m not the poet who didn’t know it, but it was an attempt to give language to what my heart feels, or what I’m experiencing.


A surprise and shock

Shakes your whole frame

Renders you weak





No respecter of strengths

Sweet memories


Makes me feel my need and my lack

At times, desperate

Full-time job

No respecter of responsibilities




Roller coaster


At times, feels like I can’t do it


Lots of tears






Easily impatient

Easily angered

January has proved to be a difficult month. It’s been surprising. I thought at this point after my dad died that it would get easier. I expected the holidays to be hard, but I didn’t expect the roller coaster of a month I’ve had. I’ve done some reading about what’s “normal” with grief, because I’ve needed help and perspective.

I’m normal.

That’s what all the writing says, anyway. All the emotions I’m experiencing are common to one who is grieving. It’s been a relief, really. I don’t want permission to sin, but I’ve needed someone to say, “Grief permeates everything, and things you’d never expect will trigger surprising emotions.”

I’m committed to wading through grief, rather than avoiding it. So it’s messy. It means showing up in public places, unable to stay composed. Or bursting into tears when a cashier asks you a question. It means feeling despair at times and fighting until my heart remembers the truth (and not wanting to at all). It means getting alone with the Lord and letting out emotion that wracks your whole frame, and being resolved not to leave until He comes and lifts my heart—even if only a little. It means dealing with emotions that feel wrong—like anger. Talking to the Lord about it and letting Him give perspective through His word. Feeling totally overwhelmed with completely normal tasks that I’ve done a hundred thousand times. Or, having to deal with completely normal kid behavior that feels so totally unmanageable today. Not feeling hunger. It means there are people I don’t want to be around. There are things I don’t have the capacity to deal with right now. There are issues of life that I feel like I just can’t handle. Sometimes I feel really foggy and distracted. The descriptions abound.

I don’t want to run from those things. I know it would come back to bite me later. But it’s the hard way of doing things. On one hand (at least, if I were a good faker), it would be so much easier to shove it all under the rug and pretend everything’s okay. Until it’s not. Then it would be ten times harder to deal with it.

So, it’s a season of deep feeling and expression of emotion that requires vigilance. Self-control. Right thinking and expression of emotion. Of letting people in at the right time, but making space when needed. It means not deeply evaluating the things of life through any serious lens, and not making big decisions (because life and my brain aren’t normal right now). It means being patient with others.

But tomorrow will be different. It’s a roller coaster. In all seriousness, it reminds me (and Blane ) of PMS. And we all know things at that time were terrible yesterday, but will be bright tomorrow. Hence the need to be vigilant! And the Lord knows I regularly fail.

To borrow language, it feels like my skin is being pulled back. Skin isn’t meant to be pulled back. It’s excruciating–exposing tender areas that weren’t meant to be—and others that are. Amidst the grief, pruning is still taking place. And while part of me would like a break from that right now, thank you very much, the other part of me has been so aware of a tender, long Father who never relents in His love toward me.

In the coming days, I want to write about specific things I’ve been thinking through and ways the Lord has ministered to my heart—because there’s so much to share. But I think to do so without giving full context would only paint a portion of the picture. The truth of the matter is that this grief thing is really raw and messy.

I’ve heard and read several places that the first six months are the hardest, not quite normal. That’ll be Mayish. I’m ready to feel normal.

“I cry aloud to God, alone to God, and he will hear me” (Psalm 77:1)

“Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come” (Psalm 71:3a


  1. Thank you, Kelly, for being vulnerable and publishing this. I am one of those who shies away from asking questions in these hard times. Seeing a glimpse into your heart during this season is one of those little seeds that God births from the really hard times. The soil of your heart is good soil….He is going to make a beautiful tree from this seed! Praying for you!

  2. Thank you for sharing from your heart. I wish I had found something like this when my mom passes and then 4 months later I lost my sister. Although that’s been several years ago grief is still something we have to face almost daily. God Bless You.

  3. Kelly, my heart resonates with the messiness of grief and the difficulty of finding others who understand or can go there with you. It’s a lonely path, and those you have been closest to may avoid you while unexpected distant acquaintances come alongside with precious support and prayer. The roller coaster, the fogginess,the outburst of tears at a thought or smell or song, the lack of compassion or empathy for others when your own emotions have depleted your heart,distractedness, exhaustion . . . The sting of death is real and it hurts – there isn’t a short cut around the pain but there is healing and growth in the process of working it through. You are very articulate in explaining the symptoms – not sure if there’s a Grief Share program at a church near you, but you would find the 12 week video series helpful in explaining the symptoms and gentle ways to cope and talk to God on the way to adjusting to life on earth with your dad in heaven. A book that we LOVED and have read 5 or 6 times is A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser who lost his wife, daughter and mother in a sudden crash with a drunk driver and raised his 3 surviving kids as a single dad. He’s a theology prof at Whitworth University in Washington, and his godly wisdom beautifully intersects with his brokenness to give substance and purpose to the journey with grief – you will GROW in GRACE that only suffering can produce and your tender heart will be a gift to others who need someone to hug with understanding silence when the pain is too big for words. Thanks for sharing your journey and inviting others to embrace the grief process rather than rush past the sting of death. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha and He weeps with you – lent is a good time for grieving as we lament the cost of sin and His death that gives us Life. You are a precious daughter of your earthly father and your heavenly Father! Embracing you with tears and a heart that knows the painful process of grief that eventually leads to wholeness and healing. I have a story to share – will try to send an email.! Love in Jesus, Mary Kay

  4. I found this post a few days after you posted when I was “googling” for grief related to brain cancer. My dad was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer (GBM) on 12/27 and went to his eternal home in Heaven on Easter 3/27. Not only are our circumstances similar, but your words articulate things that I’ve shared with others. I’ve re-read this post more than once — while my dad was sick and since his passing. So encouraging to know that others have walked similar roads… I continue to be thankful for God’s sustaining, abundant grace that meets me with the ebb and flow of deep grief.

    I hope you share more of your personal story for the encouragement of others and for the glory of our Lord.

    Blessings to you!

Leave a Reply to Mary Kay Esswein Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

What is 2 + 3 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)