Grief, especially cumulative grief, struts in like a heavy-weight boxer battering hearts and lives. I’m not a boxer. I’d much rather be in a ring of people cozied in for Bible study with wind chimes gently serenading our conversations and prayers. Grief, however, doesn’t allow us to choose our preferred setting and never feels cozy.
What is cumulative grief?
Cumulative grief develops when multiple heart-shattering punches occur. Repeated blows of losing loved ones, divorce, loss of a career, injuries, devastating diagnosis, etc., create a heavy toll on our emotional, spiritual and physical health. The weight of cumulative grief is crushing. Cumulative grief has knocked me to the mat multiple times, leaving me dazed, gasping for my next breath, and wondering if I could ever get back up. Multiple losses amplify every element of grief.
The hits of grief overload
Years ago, far from any boxing ring, my life brimmed with adventures and unique experiences. After a challenging climb, I stood on the rim of Mt. St. Helens peering down into the steaming volcano. I checked off another bucket list item crossing the finish line of the Portland Marathon. For several seasons, my racing experience granted me the privilege of driving pace cars for Indy Car races. I squeezed those activities in on the fringes of the full-time career I loved as an elementary school teacher.
One day, a potential knockout punch upended my world. On November 12, 2004, a mass radiation accident during a teacher in-service training burned my eyes, face, neck and hands. Radiation burns alter every aspect of my life. I live with unceasing and increasing 24-hour pain, extreme light sensitivity and deteriorating vision. Those injuries confine most of my life to within the walls of my darkened home.
A second unexpected blow of grief slammed me back to the mat when my husband of 27 years announced, “This marriage is over.” Pain seared through my body. I couldn’t speak or breathe. Questions pummeled me. Fears of the unknown, and shock, attempted to take me down for the count, yet God called me to His corner. He gave me a promise my wobbly legs could stand firm on. He offers the same promise to you too, from His holy word in Hebrews 13:5b AMP.
“I WILL NEVER [under any circumstances] DESERT YOU [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], NOR WILL I FORSAKE OR LET YOU DOWN OR RELAX MY HOLD ON YOU [assuredly not]!”
God’s promise ends with an exclamation mark empowering us to have our own one-two counter punch strategy. The first punch towards regaining ground is believing peace and joy are still possible no matter how bleak the future looks. Francis Chan reminds us, “God has allowed hard things in your life so you can show the world your God is great and knowing Him brings peace and joy, even when life is hard.”
Our follow-up punch for rising above grief includes realizing the strength to rise doesn’t come from us. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
Quotes are inspiring, but powerless until we put the truths into practice. In the boxing ring, cornermen provide unwavering support. God is our constant cornerman, offering His provision and strength for getting back on our feet when we aren’t sure we can continue. Will you accept His offer?
How I managed grief overload
We all yearn for simple, fast track steps through cumulative grief. The fact is, it isn’t simple or fast, yet, with God’s help, it is possible. Over the last seventeen years, four steps helped move me from being down for the count to transforming my soul and spirit. I pray they are gifts of hope and inspiration, helping you discover your own steps to rising.
1.I prayed. Facedown on the floor, sobbing and unsure of what to do next, I surrendered all my hopes and dreams. I asked God to lead me forward. The Psalmist reminds us God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1 NLT).
2. I began cultivating gratitude. I recorded every blessing and evidence of the Lord’s hand I saw. Over time, being attentive to blessings shifted my focus from pain to wonder. I discovered the nearness and goodness of God. My bookshelves now house sixteen “Blessing Books.”
3. I didn’t wait for people to come to me. I pursued community. By offering Bible studies in my home, what might have seemed like confinement became a holy haven.
4. I focused on others. I realized the longer I dwelled on my losses, the more they harmed me, I began praying for others with a deepening passion. Intercessory prayer fills my days and tempers the bully of pain that still aims to take me down.
At the point of my deepest pain, I wondered how or even if God might use someone like me wounded by cumulative grief. Maybe you have wondered the same. Wondering is no longer necessary.
Pain still resides here, but God has kept His promise to never leave me or forsake me. He leads me to peace and joy far beyond my battered circumstances. From His overflow, I offer prayer and encouragement to others from within the walls of my home, proving God can use anyone.
Grief’s cumulative blows may aim to defeat us, yet with God in our corner, we stand firm and raise our hands high in His everlasting victory.
Kellie LaFollette, a former teacher, mountain climber, marathoner and race car driver, now lives homebound in unrelenting pain and failing vision from a mass radiation accident. Her new descriptors include hope bearer, encourager and intercessor. Under the banner of Reframing Rain, she helps others “reframe” everything from mud puddles to catastrophic loss with fresh perspectives through prayer, encouragement and hope in Jesus. kellielafollette.org IG@Kellielafollette