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After Church: Grieving
Welcome to phase three of After Church.
At this point, you’ve left your church or institutional faith spaces for good, or at least, for now. You’re leaving what you’ve known. You’re stepping out.
Now, you’ll grieve.
While the first two phases, recognizing and leaving, maybe have a bit of a finality and even steadiness to them, grief is different.
As we know, grief can last for years, and grief is fluid, cyclical, chaotic at times. Grief surprises us, often traps us. I’ve written before about grief as a journeying partner, and I still believe that to be true.
Leaving a community you’ve known for years, possibly decades, is hard. Starting over is hard. It feels a lot like an identity crisis, and for some of us, it is. Many of us are told that the only way to community is through a church, and when we decide that isn’t true, we begin unraveling a lot of other mistruths.
Facing a spiritual life that is unknown is hard. But when it’s right, it’s worth it.
It’s interesting for me, because by the time I left institutional church spaces, I was ready to leave. Even though the grief has been sustained and shows up a different times, I experienced a lot of deep breaths, freedom, and gratitude for the decision we finally made.
I didn’t have to be a church leader anymore. I got my Sunday mornings back to rest or spend time in nature with my family. I could explore my own spirituality without feeling a certain level of guilt about it.
It was a time of expansiveness for me.
Even still, grief is there.
I wonder if it’s a similar feeling to when we find out that America isn’t really what we were taught it was growing up, or that Thanksgiving is, in fact, a colonial holiday born from a history of oppression we don’t talk about.
It’s those moments when we suddenly understand something we didn’t before, but that means we can never go back. I can never look at America the same again. I can never celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday without a lot of turmoil. I can’t go back to not knowing or not understanding, and when it comes to institutional church spaces, I feel the same way—I understand something now, and I can’t find a way back to the way things were before.
I want to name that it doesn’t matter how old you are. Whether you make a big decision like this in your 20s, your 40s, your 70s or 80s, if you’ve made the decision for yourself and it’s a spiritually healthy one, then take the next step of the journey and let yourself grieve and explore.
And also, I can’t really tell you how it’s going to work, this journey with grief. It’s so different for all of us, so unique to our own pain, trauma, and fears.
But I do know that in the grief, all the questions show up, questions we were afraid to ask before, questions we’ve been waiting years to ask. Don’t be afraid here. Let the questions show up, pour out of you and make room for the journey that comes from them.
I want to share two things as we head into this grief journey. First, some practical things, and then a poem that I hope will be a friend to you on this journey.
First, some things to do in times of grief:
counseling/therapy—this isn’t available to everyone, everywhere; I was able to start therapy because a follower on Twitter offered to pay for it for my first year or so, and I can never re-pay her for what it gave me; I also had to find the RIGHT therapist for my journey, which is always important—advocate for yourself and trust yourself along the way
grief journal—I have journals for a lot of reasons, but one of my most important ones is for grief, where I get out all the emotions and thoughts built up inside of me; take the time to do this when things get hard and trust your journey
movement/exercise—my exercise journey really started because of grief, grief about relationships and a difficult life season and grief about how that stress was affecting my body; finding ways to move that works for our bodies and lives is a really important part of the grief journey
conversations with your child self—this can also be its own journal, a space to connect with your child self; you can also use this space as a meditation, deep breaths to remember that this is an ongoing relationship we are working to heal, and to notice the things that Little Us has held for a lot of years
a few trustworthy friends—find those people who you can process and share with; maybe join a book club or support group where you can talk about the grief that comes from leaving spaces you’ve known for a long time, and ask questions together in community so you remember you’re not alone
don’t pinpoint a short timeline for healing—I often say to people who are grieving don’t let anyone rush your grief and I’ll say it here again to you—don’t let anyone rush your grief and at the same time, trust yourself to move on to the next season when its time while giving yourself plenty of room to work through things
And if you’ve been in a grief season, what has helped you along the way? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
And, poet that I am, I wanted to give us some tender words to have as a companion on this journey. Grief shows up differently for each of us, but remember you’re not alone, and your grief matters as much as your healing.
A poem for grieving:
Here I am, back at this desk again, journal open, words tumbling out in no particular way that makes sense. But I feel, deeply, the pain, and it comes as sure as the dawn, making a mess of me. Grief has arrived at my doorstep, and I invite them in to stay a while, to make up their bed in the guest room and drink from my coffee cups and fill the air with some mixture of sadness and the perfect kind of company. Grief is a friend I don't want and I always need. I crossed a threshold recently, without knowing, opened a door I didn't know needed opening, and here we are, together again, journeying. I watch the seasons change outside, but my inner season will remain for a while, I know that. Grief hands me another cup of coffee, and I find that today will be one of the hard days, and maybe tomorrow will be a better one. That's the way it goes when Grief stays a while. But here, at this desk, with these words, with this pen to paper and my heart splayed open I remember what it means to be human, and I know that one day, my time with Grief will look different. One day they will leave and visit now and again instead, and the guest room will stay empty, the mugs put away, except for that one afternoon in winter when I'll be tired, and I'll need the friend that doesn't make sense to me, and they'll show up, and we'll talk, and I'll remember that I am not alone and that I am stronger because of the seasons that have held me, hurt me, changed me, freed me. Grief is a friend I don't want and I always need, so I'll get things ready and open the door when they knock, always at the threshold with pen, paper, and my entire heart.
Guess what's out T O M O R R O W!
My first children's book, Winter's Gifts!
This book means a lot to me. I wrote it for the child in me, in you, for the kiddos in our lives, for our relationship with Mother Earth. Please pre-order it to get it in time for the upcoming chilly season!
I shared a reel on Instagram about why I wrote this book and what it means to me, check it out below:
There’s still plenty of time to order the book, and as we ease into Native American Heritage Month and the holiday season, I’ll be sharing more thoughts and stories around gratitude, care, and our relationship with our Mother.
For now, please:
Ask your local library & local bookshops to carry it
Check out the landing page where all four of my books will be shared
Share about the book on social media
Add it to your holiday wishlists