Life After Loss: Joy? The paths are there.

St. Lucia - A place which brought me joy and new memories.

St. Lucia – A place which brought me joy and new memories.

You know, in certain aspects, we all have something, some gift, that God gave us which we identified with early on.

For me, I was cursed (or blessed) with the gift of total recall. Sights, sounds, smells, sensations, pain… and joy. I clearly have memories I can vividly recant as far back as 2 years old. I still blow family and friends away with the exact details of what I was doing, what they were saying, people who were in my life, etc.; small details they have all but forgotten.

Cool, right? To a point..

Anyone who’s ever known me, understands that my love for photography is rooted in this gift. Just like “Bruce Banner” learned what triggers his “gift/curse”, I learned that imagery is the catalyst for taking me down a very lucid journey of recall. Imagine taking a DVD with a photo on the front of meeting the person of your dreams for the first time, or the birth of your child, and putting it in the DVD player; then, sitting back and hitting play. We’ve all had family nights like that. Everyone is laughing and smiling! Everyone talks about the good times they’re seeing on the screen, and yet the whole room falls silent when someone enters the frame who may have recently left them…

Brainstorm (1983) - Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood

Brainstorm (1983) – Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood

What I have reminds me of a very classic movie I loved as a child. “Brainstorm” was about two scientists who found a way of recording the experiences happening to someone, and being able to play them back in every detail. In the end, someone who was dying recorded themselves. This tape, and the desire for others to experience it, was to be a large part of the plot in the last half of the movie. That said, you can imagine that those who had to relive the horrors contained in that tape suffered their own near death.

So imagine, for those close friends and family on Facebook, or on this blog, you’d remember that I had dozens of albums (containing thousands of pictures) of what my life was over the last 5 years. My ex was such a fixture in my life that you couldn’t turn anywhere, expecting to see or hear about me, and not see her or our children. I coped overwhelmingly with the hurt and abuse she would inflict on me (for the longest time mainly consisting of her emotional withholding) by photographing anything that was a good time in our lives.

Truth: I told her all the time that I’d go through some of our pictures at least once a day. I never explained why (what good would come of it?), but it was one way I made the bad times tolerable.. By living in my past memories of good times.

When I finally had my own conversation of closure with her (months after we had broken up), the hardest thing I knew I had to do (because I was still holding onto hope we could reconcile) was destroy and dismantle my life with her.

Any joy I had in my memories were forever tarnished. Even to the end, she used me. As I’d mentioned before, even after breaking up we were still “hooking up” for sex, going on dates, seeing each other, etc (all while she was dating others) But, on our last date she flat out told me she wanted nothing to do with me, there was no hope, and after the date we were on was over, and the last one we had planned later that week was over (Great America), she was done for an extended period of time with no contact. Telling me right then that everyone wanted sex, and she could have called anyone (yet she wanted me to satisfy her?), and not read into that motive as a chance for hope. That she wanted to cancel the date were were on that night, and what she had committed to already, but was a woman of her word and wouldn’t.

How I took that: “I do, and always have loved how you spoiled me, and I’m going to milk these last moments and just give you that last smash between the eyes because I know you want any contact with me and you won’t ruin these last nights with me.”

Well, as you read a few weeks ago. Shortly after was when I prayed for a clear sign of what I needed to do, and I got it.

But like I mentioned a moment ago.. any good that she did for me (even sincerely) is forever tarnished. So I had to burn everything. It was the singularly hardest thing for me (like a crack addict throwing his pipe in the dumpster and watching it be taken away) to throw the stuff in the garbage and watch the garbage truck tip that dumpster over. I honestly was having a panic attack and red out standing on my deck watching this happen.

To this day, if I run across a picture I forgot to delete on a device or on a server, my body is trained to automatically de-focus the image. I know it’s her, but I look at the caption, or the scenery, but I don’t focus her in my mind. I just instinctively click on it, and hit delete, then empty the recycle bin. No good, none, will ever come of this woman ever coming in contact with me, or my family. She doesn’t deserve to be in any of our memories after the selfish hurt she inflicted.

Ironically, weeks after she realized what I did, she asked me between then, and this coming spring, to get her the pics of her kids for her oldest 8th grade graduation. Again, needing something, using me.. I told her flat out, if I went into any archive, and started looking, she’d get them with my epitaph.

I owe her nothing.

According to Webster, “Joy” is defined as follows:

a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight
b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety

: a state of happiness or felicity : bliss

: a source or cause of delight

After any major loss the thought of “bliss or delight” being experienced again is a non-starter. It’s hard to even form words like that into a coherent sentence.

In Philippians 4:4-9 I finally started to find a way to find joy again.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Ever hear a believer use a saying like “Put your fears and burdens at the foot of the cross and give it to God”?

This is where that comes from. Rejoice! This is the type of “joy” the Bible is talking about. Not one rooted in our circumstances, but one rooted in our connection with God. When we can give it all to Him, ask him to make sense of it all, and trust He will work it out for us; that is when we will find we can start to focus on the positives.

It’s hard to let go and do that. I understand this. But, when you finally can, there is something tremendously liberating about it. That’s when you finally “hear” Him. He guides and compels you. He gives you the faith to “let go”. You learn to finally take hold of the things you actually can control, and leave it to Him to handle the rest. Death, divorce, grief. Don’t we learn quickly just how powerless we are over so much? Realizing just how little we actually can control. But, one thing we can control is our attitude and our response to our loss.

The pain causes us to grieve deeply.. that’s ok.

The pain causes us to be extremely sad… that’s ok too.

So how do we get there?

First: You need to honor grief. Understand that many well-meaning expectations that you or others may have are simply unrealistic.

Did you know, that at the turn of the 20th century, people were given 12 months to wear black during a period of grief? That was to signify to others that you were at some point of suffering, and to give you latitude and compassion. The reality is, after 12 months, you were expected to “get over it” and move on. Anyone who’s struggled with grief and loss for years or decades will profess that you don’t ever truly “get over it”. But, it’s shown that 99% of people can at least “move on”. I’ll take that percentage to heart.

Second: Give yourself (as a sufferer) or others (as a good friend) who you are supporting room for wide variations in mood. I know this all too well. The proverbial slinky I talked about in the past. A journey through grief isn’t a ruler you travel down with clearly defined milestones. It’s more like a slinky.. you always work your way up, but sometimes you can find yourself at the bottom of a coil, or at the top. We expend a tremendous amount of emotional and spiritual energy through the process of healing. I can find myself in the middle of the day just hitting a funk where I just want to curl up into a ball and just cry myself to sleep, then wake up an hour later and go out with friends.

Third: You want to find safe people who will let you talk about your loss. In my case, my ministry, as well as this blog has helped me tremendously.

Fourth: Learn from the grief process you’ve seen others go through.

Fifth: Don’t panic.. It’s very normal and good to question values and beliefs. Think back to my article on where is God in our hope?

Sixth: Remember that grief is a catalyst for life change. I have changed tremendously. I’m much more thoughtful, accepting, and aware then I ever was.

Finally, let me put this into perspective. Here’s a story I’m going to publish verbatim, because it was just that good..


In 1871, Horatio Spafford, a prosperous lawyer and devout Christian, and his wife, Anna, were living comfortably with their four young daughters in Lake View, Chicago.
In that year the great fire broke out which devastated the entire city. For the next two years Horatio and Anna devoted their time to welfare work amongst the refugees of the fire.

By November 1873 the Spaffords needed some respite and decided to join friends in Europe but just before their departure Horatio was detained on business. Anna and their four daughters were persuaded to set off without him but en route tragedy struck. The steamship they were travelling on, the Ville du Havre, sank after colliding with another ship in mid-ocean.

Of the hundreds on board, Anna was one of only 27 who were rescued having been kept afloat by a piece of debris. Her daughters did not survive. Overcome with despair at the loss of her childern, Anna felt strongly that she had been saved for a purpose.

In Chicago, Horatio received a tragic telegram from his wife: ‘Saved alone.’

Setting off to bring Anna home, he crossed the Atlantic and the watery grave of his four daughters. Moved by the experience he wrote a hymn, ‘IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL’, which expressed his faith. The hymn remains one of the most popular Christian hymns in the USA.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot,

thou hast taught me to say:

It is well, it is well, with my soul”

Having returned to Chicago, the Spaffords were blessed with further children, a son Horatio, and a daughter, Bertha. However, another crushing blow was dealt when little Horatio died of scarlet fever at the age of three.


Clearly, Spafford had discovered that in God alone, can be found peace and joy in ANY circumstance. May we all strive for that wisdom and clarity as we grapple with the impact of LOSS in our own lives.


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