MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: My suffering is my shaping

I once counselled a friend and encouraged her to look at her pain from a different angle. “Could you view it as an opportunity for growth?” I asked. She looked at me pensively and after a time of silence replied, “I don’t think I want to become an emotional giant.” Elizabeth Elliot defined it as follows: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.”

I asked André to write a foreword in my book ‘Hold onto Him’ which I self-published in 2018. I was concerned that people would think that I am not honouring him when I share stories of our journey and how the secrecy and shame of depression impact on the family and rob them of support. He called my stories by the grand name of vignettes and wrote the following:

“On a personal level, some of the vignettes were painful for me to read. Yes, depression casts a long shadow over our lives. However, there can only be a shadow because the sun is shining. In the past 33 years, there were many desperate times when I doubted that the sun would ever shine again. For me, depression is not the presence of something, but rather the absence of light and life. In the pitch-black times, I often thought of taking my own life. Mostly, depression was a dark grey void that invited me to just surrender and dissolve into the greyness. Then the pain would stop. Although in the minority, there were better and good times sprinkled in. I regret that I did not always embrace these times fully. I had many battles with God about His will and plan for my life. I doubted his love and presence, but he has shown his love in a tangible way: through Annette’s love for me. Despite the doom and gloom, the disconnection, the apathy, the anguish of contemplating suicide, she stayed. She not only stayed, but she never gave up. She fought for me when I could not fight for myself. She is hope embodied. Her indomitable spirit and unshakable positive attitude are the calm in the storm.” André de la Porte

It is easy to compare our pain with that of others to minimise it, ‘At least he was not bedridden for years as many people who live with a chronic illness.’ That does not work. My pain is mine to face. My pain is mine to feel. I did not plan to become an emotional giant or build up what feels like an encyclopaedia of practical knowledge on how to journey with depression and the threat of suicide. I agree with Elisabeth Elliot’s definition: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” I wanted my partner back. I wanted connection with my soulmate. The affection of my lover. I yearned for his ability for intellectual sparring. To make a joke and not have to explain it three times.

As I look back with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I am aware that without all of this pain, there would have been no gain. I can never say there is no God because He was present in our pain. He met us without answering all our ‘why’ questions. He sat patiently beside us when we were curled up in foetal posture, distanced and alienated by the apathy of depression. Yearning for the safe security of God’s womb. As André ended his foreword: “May you live with the knowledge of God’s loving kindness and compassion in every moment of your day, and in every area of your life, as with us.”

My suffering is my shaping. Right in the palm of God’s hand, we were on the Potter’s wheel. God’s mercy did not fail us in life, and it will not fail us in André’s death.

Malachi 3:3 “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.”

A parable: A woman went to visit a silversmith and asked him to tell her about the process of refining silver. As she watched him, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. She asked him: “Sir, do you watch while the work of refining is going on?” “Oh, yes ma’am,” replied the silversmith. “I must sit and watch the furnace constantly, for, if the time necessary for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured.” The lady asked: “How do you know when the process is finished?” “Oh, that is quite simple,” replied the silversmith. “When I can see my own image in the silver, the refining process is complete.”

Stir my life, God, and continue to scoop off the dross that Your glorious image may be reflected in my life.

Annette de la Porte

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