What is it that stops you in your tracks, and takes you back in time to grieve? For me, the day that causes me to pause is February 22, the day I did not die. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about grieving a traumatic event with God.
How does that look?
If you’re grieving, you know that it helps to:
. . . feel what you need to feel when you need to feel it.
. . . say what you need to say when you need to say it.
. . . and you do what you need to do when you need to do it.
The person who’s grieving knows best what they need.
Grieving a traumatic event with God, step 1: Remember
Each year, I set aside time to think about what happened.
Even before I went to Mars Hill Graduate School (now the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology) to study counseling, I’d check in with myself.
How are you doing?
For a long while, every conversation led back to the accident. But these days, I don’t often think about it.
Till the anniversary, then something inside me remembers.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Screeching brakes jolted me awake.
In Kenya, our truck bounced then rolled down an embankment before emptying us out onto the ground.
I’d closed my eyes on a typical afternoon. Now, I opened them to a real-live nightmare.
Outside the vehicle, I leaned against the back tire. How did I get there? The truck rocked and a voice screamed, “Get out of the way; it’s gonna roll!”
Who was that?
A few feet away, my tent mate, Kathy, crept in the opposite direction. It must have been her. She always knew what to do.
With the metallic taste of blood in my mouth, I crawled twenty feet before looking back at my home away from home, crushed like a bug.
My friends scattered across the red dirt.
As if on drugs, I felt disconnected from my body as I gazed down at it. My sarong was gone, but bikini intact.I lifted my head to the sky and acknowledged a drizzle with a shiver that zigzagged down my back.
In slow motion, I bent my head toward my throbbing hand.Noticing a deep groove across the base, I peered at the muscles and capillaries which were like transparent layers of a medical book.
One by one, I pulled the seven metal bracelets embedded in my palm out of the sticky congealing blood and set them on the ground.
That’s when my friend Andrea filled my field of vision. I jumped. She assessed my injuries and wrapped my hand with a towel. “Don’t worry,” she muttered before running to nurse another, “It’s only a scratch.”
“It’s only a scratch,” echoed that same detached voice that had screamed. It wasn’tKathy’s, it was mine.
In shock, I believed Andrea instead of my own eyes.
Then 4 Masai warriors stood before me.
Grieving a traumatic event with God, step 2: Put your pain into words.
As you may be able to tell, one thing that has really helps me when I’m grieving a traumatic event with God is to write about it. What you’ve just been reading is an excerpt from my book, Mary Me: One Woman’s Incredible Adventure with God.
Writing has always helped me explain things to myself. There’s something about being able to put words to trauma that helps. Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to make sense of things somehow.
When I tell God everything I know, explaining it in as much detail as I can–you know, how I hurt, who I’m mad at, and the anguish I carry–something happens.
And it’s not like God didn’t already know.
But there’s something about the process that heals me every time I write until there’s nothing left to say.
If you haven’t experienced the healing that comes from this, I invite you to try it.
Be messy and disorganized. There’s no need to be fancy.
Heck, what you write doesn’t even need to make sense to anyone else but you. Just go ahead and write until you have nothing left to say.
The African supermen were dressed in colorful regalia.
My heart raced when one tipped his head as if to say, “What’s wrong?”
I had something he wanted to see!
I beamed, sort of, as I unwrapped the towel. He hovered nearby, concern etching his face. I lifted my hand and it flapped open.
Wrinkling his whole face, he turned away.
“Some warrior you are,” I screamed as tears filled my eyes. “It’s only a scratch.”
I couldn’t yet feel the physical pain, but his disapproval stung.
Wavering back and forth, I stood, then hobbled.
My friend Graeme loaded me and Kathy into the back of a stranger’s car, a Good Samaritan who sped us toward the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi.
At each jostling curve of the ninety-mile ride, we groaned, afraid of what already happened.
Stop-and-go traffic slowed our pace as we entered the city. Out the windows, we watched people set fires, break into storefronts, and throw things.
What was going on?
“Riots everywhere,” our driver explained. “Someone found the body of the foreign prime minister’s daughter.”
“Don’t stop talking,” Kathy begged, her back wedged up against my side. We didn’t yet know her pelvis was broken.
In the backseat of that stranger’s car, no words came. She and I often withdrew from the group and sang songs while we washed our clothes in a river. So, I eked out a bit of our favorite Eurhythmics song, Sweet Dreams.
I sang about traveling the world looking for that elusive thing that brought happiness.
Without seeing the irony, I’d done what the song said, and there I was speeding toward a hospital far away from home.
Grieving a traumatic event with God, step 3: Feel
Yup, you heard me.
I know it’s painful and we don’t want to hurt. Am I someone who whips herself as penance? No. But believe it or not, feeling is key.
You heal when you feel your pain.
So, even though it’s been thirty years since the accident, when my body reminds me of this date each year, I make an appointment to sit with myself. The details look different each time.
This year I sat with my journal and my Eurythmics CD.
Inside the emergency room
“You might have a concussion,” she said as she wheeled me to a ward and put me to bed.
I whimpered like a puppy, unable to sleep as the shock wore off.
The numbness had helped, hidden the pain. It slowed my response time emotionally as well as physically, my kind of defense mechanism. Agony now replaced it. I rocked back and forth and moaned.
I tried to remember, then hoped to forget.
I’ve seen pictures after accidents
. . . but since I was in this one, this affects me differently.
It doesn’t tell the story of my emotions. Or, how I still feel the chaos, the roll of the truck.
When you’ve been through trauma
no one else knows the pain except God.
He’s the only one who understands what it’s like for you.
And He knows how to help you heal.
Has time healed all wounds?
Time can help, but I’ve seen lots of friends who’ve aimed to bury their heads in the sand instead of grieve. I get it, it’s hard. But grieving helps to heal.
The accident will never unhappen. It’s just like all of the other painful things we’ve been through.
I think about people who say, “I just put it behind me and never think about it again.”
I don’t want to judge anyone who deals with grief that way. But that didn’t work for me. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but in my accident,
I lost a friend, so I know what that feels like.
So, what do we do?
We grieve, we feel, and we do what we are doing!
And maybe we find a trusted friend who we can talk to about all of the above. Not only to talk until we have nothing left to say, but also to let God do one of the things He does best:
love us through our friends.
Grieving a traumatic event with God, step 4: Thank God
I know this last step sounds crazy, but it actually helps.
Thankfulness will lighten your load every single time.
Where do you start?
Well, I thank God for my second chance, and I thank Him for teaching me how to cope with grief, for healing me. I thank Him for simple things, like all the todays I wouldn’t have had and for what I get to do and the place I do it and the people who make it possible.
Once I get started, it’s hard to stop.
Do you know what?
God really does love you. He loves you so much that He wants to heal you in all the ways you need it.
All you have to do is ask.
Whether you hear from God all the time or never have before, Can I pray for you?
My biggest prayer for you is that you will continue your journey of healing.
I invite you to join my spiritual adventure team. Each week, I’ll touch base with you.
In a short email, I’ll share a funny God story or attempt to enCOURAGE you with something God has shown me because I believe that He’ll do for you everything He’s done for me if that’s what you want.
When you sign up, I’ll send you four short videos where I’ll walk you through 7 Quick Steps to Heal all your Emotional Pain. It’s one of the ways God’s helped me find healing for my past and you can use it over and over to heal all kinds of things!
God has an awesome plan for you and I want to help you find that. ☺️