A story of facing suppressed grief through time, healing, counseling and faith.

My Apa was battling COVID-19 heading into July 2020. He was hospitalized and on a ventilator, making slight progress but not enough to take him off of the machine.

During this time my family and I were trying to operate normally, whether it was work, sports, seeing friends or hanging out with each other. No matter what we were doing, it constantly felt like a cloud of worry was over my head. Some nights family friends would gather with us outside the hospital to pray for my Apa, and while it was comforting, it also served as a reminder of his current state.

I remember hearing the news that he was starting to breathe better and that the doctors would lower the level of the ventilator. It was much needed encouragement that lifted my spirits.

Then, one night after picking up my brother from football practice, we received the news that was always in the back of my mind.

July 24, 2020, my Apa went to be with the Lord.

I remember that day clearly, but everything before and after that moment is a blur to me — everything from work, that semester of school, coaching my brother’s team and even the funeral. I don’t remember much of that time.

Anger was my first reaction. I couldn’t believe that my Apa was gone, especially after hearing news that he was doing better. That anger soon changed into sadness and depression. I stayed up late because I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts and feelings, stopped trying academically and would often isolate myself in my room.

The depression was short-lived thanks to the love and support of my family and friends. My friends got me out of the house and back to hanging out and working out with them. I was out of my room more and spent more time with my family which strengthened our bond. 

But there was still a dark cloud of sadness and grief over the household.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, but I was my Apa’s favorite. I was the first male grandchild, which meant I was special to him, and he was special to me. When I was a toddler we went on Universal Studio trips, he would get me a toy from Target, we would go to the local theater to watch movies, I would get snacks with him after football practice, he would show up to all my sports events and I was his walking and TV-watching buddy.

I had lost my best friend, the one who I spent most of my time with and the one who cared for me for most of my life. At the same time, my mom lost her father, and my siblings lost an amazing grandpa. They were mourning just as much as me, yet I didn’t want to show it because I was ashamed of how I was feeling. 

Since my dad was out working during the week, I was left as the man of the house. I was around all their sadness and mourning, but I didn’t want to contribute to those feelings. Instead I pushed all my feelings to the side so I could be there for my family. I thought that if they could see me function normally and comfort them, it would serve as an encouragement.

This was how I “coped” with grief after my Apa’s passing. Then, after two years of suppression, grief came back into my life. 

Inside, I felt like a clutter of emotions. It was hard to differentiate what was me and what was the mess within me. 

Whenever I was experiencing any type of grief, like missing my Apa or memories going through my mind, I would isolate myself in my room or car to let the emotions out. I still didn’t want others to see me in that kind of state. Sometimes my temper would be shorter than usual, and it caused me to lash out at undeserving family members or friends.

Some days I didn’t have a problem talking about Apa or doing something that he and I did together. Then other days I couldn’t talk about him or do anything we used to do.

I accepted that my ways of handling myself weren’t working and that I needed actual help. I was done going through this personal storm.

In January my church started their 21 day fast. I felt compelled to confront my grief through faith. I spent time praying for healing and reading devotionals about grief. I also started to regularly attend my college’s free therapy sessions. 

While I am still on this journey of healing, these are my main takeaways that have helped me and I hope can help you too:

  • Grief isn’t just a one-time event. It is something we experience throughout daily life, and that is okay. 
  • You are not destroyed. You are strong and can be who you are again.
  • Everyone grieves in their own way.
  • Jesus was fully God and fully man. His heart broke just like ours (John 11:35). In Matthew 14:13, after Jesus heard the news of John the Baptist’s death, he went to be alone to grieve. Similar to us, his quiet place was interrupted. How did he respond? Instead of turning away from the people, his grief fueled his ministry, and he began to go out and heal the people. Therefore, it is possible to use our pain and grief to not only fuel our passions but also to be able to serve others.
  • It is okay to cry, feel angry and question God. Jesus didn’t stop Mary and Martha from feeling that way (John 11). Continue to ask your questions and go through the emotions. Eventually change your “whys” into “hows,” and you’ll see all God wants is our faith in Him.
  • “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time” – Oswald Chambers
  • “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalms 90:12). Life is short and precious. Let’s grow and learn throughout it.
  • “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
  • God keeps the most precious secrets. I’ll never know why God took my Apa home, and that is okay.

Lastly, and most importantly, Jesus desires to be with his people. In John 17:24, while Jesus prayed, he had one request for the Father: “I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.”

Our loved ones will be in the place that is being prepared for us. There, they get to cheer us on while we run our race. Our sadness and loss is Jesus’ answered prayer and gain. That is our hope.

What a joy it is to know that God understands our pain and feelings and wants to be our comforter and healer.