What Happens When We Get Real With Our Pain

We sit in a circle in the dim room, hands fidgeting with phones and coffee cups, waiting for the facilitator to start. A few in the group joke around; they know that sometimes what you need in grief is a connection.

The group facilitator asks us how we’re doing. One person tells how their child is struggling, how he acts out in ugly, horrible ways to get the grief out.

There is a place in the grief center for children called the volcano room.  It has padded walls and piles of pillows and phone books to destroy.

The children can beat each other with pillows and bounce off the padded walls and rip out letters J-M in the phone book.  The room is like a rock concert, full of screaming and yelling and ironically, laughter.

Sometimes grief comes out in a thousand unexpected ways, like laughter.  Other times, like a pent-up dam, it doesn’t come out at all.

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The group leader begins the discussion and the same people talk while the same people listen, pain etched on their faces as they sit in silence.

There is the family with the son who’s in trouble, and the woman with the daughter who hurts herself.

Then there are the quiet ones who try to stuff their grief like shaken-up soda bottles ready to explode.

It could be anything that cracks them wide open, all those tears spilling over like carbonation running wild, leaking mess all over the floor.

They hold it all in until they can’t hold anymore.

It’s not just the grief-stricken who do this—it’s the angry and frustrated and the worried and panicked. It’s all of us at one time or another. Those emotions, pent up too long, find a way out, in moments unplanned and ugly.

Some of us get good at holding things in.

We put on our stone faces no matter what’s brewing under our skin.

So when the argument turns heated, we turn and walk away.

We close off.

Slam the door.

Smile tight-lipped and hold resentment like hidden ammo.

We grip worry and fear until we can’t breath, until it all pushes so hard at our insides it makes us sick.

Until the truth makes us sick.

Some in grief group share the truth about what it has done to their families and how they have tried to put a band-aid on it to make it better, but the band-aid gets ripped off and wounds bleed and whole families bleed.

We see what happens when those holes in their hearts fester and inflame, when the scars get ripped open again.

Grieving families talk of children who sob in their beds at night, teenagers who close their angry hearts, and parents struggling after a decade has passed.

A decade of festering wound because the truth just wasn’t something they could face.

We are all afraid of what really hurts us the most.

We try to cover up all the pain with happily-ever-afters and fairy tale endings. We smile and say its all fine instead of sharing the deep-down hurts, the ones that rip us up.

The healing begins when we get real, when we live authentic with one another.

When we lay all our cards on the table, there’s no hiding a losing hand.

Because we all have losing hands in this life, we just try to play like we don’t.

But if you believe in His promises, then you are not afraid of a losing hand or what happens after death.  You already know, even if you can’t see it clearly.  Life is a lesson in learning to see through the dim light.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

“O death, where is thy sting” is the mantra of the those who have felt the sting in this life but know the truth about the next.

We say it and sing it and live it because death does sting, but we know that someday it won’t. When we proclaim it out loud it has less power over our hearts.

We get beyond a mediocre existence when we get real, when we share what matters, when we stop hiding.

When we’re honest with ourselves, when we’re ready to be authentic  with one another and share what breaks our heart, what breaks us, then we’ve taken the first step toward healing.

What I find is when others around me live that authentically, then I want it too.

I want to live heart wide open.

I want to take off the mask and see the real surface of things underneath, what breaks your heart, what brings you tears, what makes you shine.


Recently I chaperoned a field trip that involved riding in an old school bus with no working defrost.  The rain poured and puddles filled the roads and the front windows fogged up like a sauna.

The bus driver, trying to see the road, grabbed a roll of paper towel and rubbed the entire roll across the windshield.  The cleared window lasted for approximately 5 seconds.  The window fogged up again and he peered through one tiny circle in the middle.

A grandmother sitting next to me leaned forward to the bus driver and said, “Do you want me to wipe the window while you drive?”

“No” he said and continued to peer out the tiny hole.  Another chaperone told her daughter, “We need to stop breathing so that the windows clear up and we can see.”

The bus driver blindly drove on, wiping the windows with the roll of paper towel every once in awhile, then finally giving up and going back to the tiny hole that only he could see through.

When we finally made it to the school and stumbled out of the bus it felt like someone had wiped the fog out of our eyes.


Such is the beauty in being able to clear the windows of our soul, to wipe away all that hinders us and step out into clarity.

We think we know the way forward because we’re looking through a tiny little hole, but mostly we are buried in emotional fog, not able to see things well, or even find our way back.  We’re following bread crumbs through the fog and we’re losing our way.

Only when we share what really hurts us, when we show our scars, can we get to a place of vulnerability and authenticity.  We find healing and finally, some clarity.

It means we learn to forgive.  We face the pain. We accept help.  We admit faults.  We live with fewer regrets. We share what hurts.

We live with hearts wide open.

After we have poured hearts and tears out, there is a relief in that freedom, in not holding back.

We sing our mourning songs with more hope.  Our wings feel lighter.

Gratitude rests in our hearts, songs of freedom filling our souls with new life.


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