“We are not the same people.”
I cannot count the number of times that my husband has whispered this to me.
On the outside, a grieving person looks like the same person. They walk around and seem like the same person. But, on the inside, something has changed.
If you have ever read 1984, in the last chapter, Julia and Winston meet after betraying one another. They have both been drastically tortured. Winston notices changes in Julia-her face is sallow, a scar, and that her waist is thick and stiff. Physically and emotionally there were changes. Now, when they see each other, they are numb: “Something was killed in your breast: burnt out, cauterized out.”
There may be hidden physical and emotional changes. The griever may have not slept for days, weeks, or even months through the night. They may have experienced PTSD-flashbacks to the events preceding their loved one’s death. Recurring thoughts about what they could have done differently.
In the movie and true story, Born on the Fourth of July, in the midst of chaos, as a squad leader in Vietnam, Ron Kovic accidentally killed a fellow soldier, Billy Wilson, a 19-year old in his squadron. The guilt tore him up. He suffered with PTSD and the reality of paralysis. He broke down with his parents–unleashing the enormous anger inside. The anger at himself, anger at God, anger at anyone around him, anger at the government, anger at his circumstances. He looked for relief from the anger and guilt and shame in drugs, alcohol, sex, and a new place.
But, one day, he decided to face Billy Wilson’s family and sought forgiveness and truth. After Ron explained how he believed that he was the one who killed Billy, Billy’s mom comforted, “We understand the pain you’ve been going through.” One sufferer comforting another sufferer. She lost her son: she understood pain. Ron suffered with guilt; she released him.
Ron was not the same person coming back from Vietnam. Grievers are not the same people. They may look the same, but they have been through sometimes unspeakable journeys. They don’t want pity, but it’s good to try to understand the depth, even if you never talk about it. Sometimes it is just your presence.
They are asking: who am I now? It takes time to figure out new identity, but there are answers. There is hope.
Meanwhile, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).