C. S. Lewis wrote, “Nobody ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”
Grant’s death shattered my heart; that did not surprise me. What did surprise me was how fear and anxiety latched onto me, twisting around my mind and my body. Ordinary tasks, like walking the dog, tied me in knots of fear. What if Kingsley runs away? What if that truck doesn’t see her? What if I lose her, too? I can’t lose her. We’ve got to get back to the house.
In the past, I had no trouble going to sleep, but night after night I woke with a start as adrenaline rushed through my body and I shot up in bed. My heart raced and sleep evaded me for the next two to three hours while fearful, anxious thoughts flooded my mind. I tried to take them captive, to direct my attention. Finally, I would fall back asleep just before the sun rose.
My counselor told me that the body keeps the score. This was so true for me. I found myself sitting with my shoulders up near my ears, tensed tight with anxiety. This caused my upper back to ache day after day. I ate very little, losing over twenty pounds. My grief was not only being carried in my mind, but in my body.
It felt so strange being overwhelmed more by anxiety than sadness—until I read the C. S. Lewis quote. Nobody ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. My grief manifested as fear and anxiety. It took me a month after Grant died to realize this.
In this incredible grief, I learned to experiment with solutions until I found what worked for me. To unravel my mind and body from the hold of anxiety, here’s what I found helpful.
First, I went to the doctor. Grant and I had the same family physician, a wonderful caring woman about my age with kids about Grant’s age. She mourned Grant’s death with me, describing him as a person who had such a presence about him, just a special young man. Her memories of Grant soothed my soul. She also prescribed medication for my anxiety. I know people have varying opinions about medication, but I needed something to help get me back to baseline so that I could think and feel apart from this overwhelming anxiety.
Second, I started writing more about my grief and this journey through the valley of shadows. Somehow, as I wrote in my journal and, at times, posted online about the horrifying journey, my anxiety lessened.
Third, I listened to hymns. I have nothing against contemporary Christian worship, but for some reason, hymns soothed my spirit and supplied a connection to God in a way that contemporary worship did not.
Fourth, I scheduled regular massage treatments. The tension was so tight in my body that I needed help to relax. I told the therapist why I was there and the trauma I endured. The therapist worked the muscles in my upper back until I relaxed so much that I often fell asleep during the massage. At other times, I silently wept as I felt the tension leave my body.
Fifth, I regularly visited Grant’s grave where I wept, prayed, and worshipped. Grant is buried under the boughs of a large Cedar tree in a historic cemetery just across a pond from the oldest brick church in Virginia. It really is a beautiful place. It relaxed me. It soothed me to walk from the tree to the church and back.
Finally, and most importantly, I learned that perfect love casts out all fear. God’s love and grace in the middle of our turmoil and the love from our friends and family combined to deliver me from my valley of fear.
I never knew grief felt so much like fear.
But these three remain, faith, hope, and love.
And the greatest of these is love.
Perfect love casts out all fear.