Freedom through Grief

1,357 total words    

5 minutes of reading

An abstract artwork depicting a person standing by water. The image is divided lengthwise by the water, represented by shades of purple and blue, along with shades of green, representing land, and—above the water—shades of red and orange. There are plants on either side of the person. Additional colors include purple and pink. Black lines outline the person’s face and neck.

Coming Undone

While the COVID-19 pandemic was raging, I was going through a divorce. Worse still, I had just become a new father, which meant that as the world felt like it was falling apart, my life and family actually were. Somehow even worse still, I’m the one who initiated the destruction.

One of the most challenging things about getting divorced is the questions that come your way. Almost anyone you talk to will ask you why you’re getting divorced.

Oh my God, what happened?

How could you do that?

Wait, what…why?

The question comes in many different forms but is the same. People want a reason for the death they’ve just been made aware of, and I never felt I had a good reason. Frankly, I’m not even sure it made sense to me. What I knew was that I was coming apart at the seams. Something within was demanding my attention—something deep, raw, and dangerous. My grief knocked at the door, demanding I let it in. I had no idea that was happening at the time. I just knew I needed to heal.

On this side of divorce, I have more perspective on what was, and still is, demanding to be recognized. As a young kid, I abandoned parts of myself, desperately trying to survive the unthinkable terrors of domestic violence and homelessness. Every moment of every day felt riddled with uncertainty, and I couldn’t remain whole while also trying to survive. So, I buried the softer parts of myself and adapted as best as I could.

I was too young to realize what I was doing, so I lived most of my life as a fragmented man, pretending he was whole. Pretending worked for a while, but I could only deceive myself for so long, and the moment I filed for divorce, the seams split, and I came undone.


In coming undone, I had to let some things unravel. Most were dreams, desires, or expectations about what life should be. I was scared of losing people along the way; afraid that the judgment levied against me might crush me; fearful that the people I loved—people I needed to understand me—wouldn’t understand; worried that I’d lose more than I bargained for. In short, I knew my life wouldn’t be the same, and I was terrified of how many deaths I’d have to die before being reborn.

Some of my fears were justified. I took arrows from some of the people I loved. Their piercing words found the gaps in my armor and brought me to my knees. But still, I rose. Other relationships remained, but with added distance. Still, other relationships proved my fears wrong, and I’m finding deeper, more authentic connections on the other side of the death of divorce. I feel such a deep love from the people in my circle, and that love is sustaining me. Though my relationships have changed, many are much richer because I’m bringing more of myself into them.

One relationship that continues to surprise me is the one I have with my co-parent. I’ve learned much about parenting post-divorce, but one truth stands above all others: Co-parenting is a process of constant reintroduction, at least, from my experience. As we heal our broken parts, we have the opportunity not only to meet ourselves again but to meet each other. While that sounds beautiful, the reintroductions are challenging and fraught with missteps and mistakes. I’ve made more than a few myself, and somehow, someway, we’re healing.

The pace of transformation befuddles me as growth seems to happen without rhyme or reason some days, but it is happening. Though this process is rocky, I know we’ll continue to grow together as healthy co-parents because it’s best for our child. Nothing matters more than that.

Other relationships continue to shift and change just as I do. Through it all, I’m thankful for this process of unraveling and uncovering.

Freedom through Grief

I’ve spent most of the last two years trying to uncover the pieces of me that are hidden and bring them into the light for healing and wholeness. It turns out it’s not a quick process. I’d been living an incomplete life. I wanted to be a leader and role model, but I didn’t want to face the wounded boy within. The boy who was hurting, afraid, abandoned, and just waiting to be seen. But I am both the leader and the hurting boy, and I had fallen apart in pretending I wasn’t.  

When you go looking for yourself, be prepared to navigate treacherous terrain. The places I’ve found within myself are terrifying. I’ve allowed the unsteady seas within to churn, even diving through the frigid, tumultuous waters to see what truths are worth bringing to the surface. I’ll be honest: I’m exhausted. I have more grief and sorrow within me than I thought possible. I’ve spent nights curled up in the fetal position and openly wept on the floor more than I can count. I know that sounds dire, and it has felt that way too. I can also tell you that every tear feels like an investment, and every dark night a down payment. I’m moving through the layers of spiritual sediment that have accumulated within me. And layer by layer, I see more of my true self. I feel more expansive and whole. That doesn’t make the moments of crippling grief any easier to endure, but it reminds me why I haven’t yet quit.

Grieving will free me. Grief tells me when I need to slow down and acknowledge a hard truth. It keeps me tethered to reality when I’m tempted to try and escape. I have so much to mourn; the longer I live, the more reasons I’ll have to grieve. This paradox is the tragedy and opportunity of life. We cannot avoid loss, but our grief is the mechanism through which we can release that which no longer serves us: old dreams, unrealistic expectations, false selves.

When we grieve, we soberly acknowledge life as it is and, as we bury our ideas of what could have been, we are changed. The shift isn’t immediate because grieving is a process, not a momentary action. As the sea overtakes the shore and reshapes entire landscapes, so too does our grief reshape us. The process of being reshaped isn’t one we’re meant to embark upon alone.

I’ve been able to face my grief and find the parts I’ve abandoned because I have a robust support system that has ensured I wouldn’t go too far without coming up for air. If you intend to dive into the waters of your grief, you’ll need a team surrounding you. You need people that will tell you the painful truth about yourself while offering authentic love and care. I’m not saying it’s easy to find those people. I am saying you need them in your life to find the lessons in a loss. They can be professionals like your therapist or spiritual director. They can be close friends, family members, or life partners. And they may shift over time as relationships transition, but the important thing is to utilize your support system.

Make Room for Grief

The most important lesson I’m holding is the need to make space for the process of grieving. Some days that means slowing down and feeling the low-grade sadness that is present when I remember a relationship I’ve lost through death or shifting life circumstances. On other days, I’m crying on the bathroom floor as I collect myself before a meeting. It’s rarely pretty. It’s been quite messy for me, but this is my work.

I don’t think the process will remain this intense forever. I’m still working through decades of bottled-up grief, which takes time. With each release, I lighten and uncover more of the boy who was lost. Through it all, I have come to believe that when we make room for our grief, we discover precious information about ourselves. We discover opportunities for growth and healing that we may not have otherwise known.

Image Credit:

Artwork by Greg Rose/Haykidd Media.

  • Ben Tapper

    Ben Tapper is a cofounder of the Kindred Collective, author of The Mix blog, and host of the What Would It Take and Center for Congregations podcasts. Ben explores questions of belonging through the lens of racial identity.

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