Have you ever killed your heart? (Tweet that!) I did, forty-one years ago, as if I’d shot it with a 12-gauge shotgun.

In the middle of the night of January 15, 1976, I was sleeping soundly when the phone rang. I answered and my sister, Karen, whispered with a teary voice, “Daddy just died.” I tried to understand what was going on in my muddled mind. She explained she was with mom at the hospital and my fifty-year-old father had been pronounced dead of a heart attack.

The shock was profound. I knew he wasn’t in perfect health but to die? Only later did we find out he had gone to bed early after writing my mother (who was out at a meeting), a note saying, “I don’t feel well. I’m going to go see the doctor tomorrow.” Tomorrow never came for him.

But tomorrow came for us. The next morning, my husband Larry, our fifteen-month-old baby, and I traveled to my mom’s where I gathered with my younger sister and brother. I don’t remember at what point I decided, but I reasoned this in my 26-year-old immature brain. “I’m the only Christian in the family. If I grieve, it’ll seem like I’m not strong in the Lord and I don’t trust God. That won’t represent the Lord well. I mustn’t cry.” I had only known the Lord for nine years and my belief system was muddled by wrong beliefs about emotions. I killed my heart with a loaded shotgun full of lies, vowing never to cry.

And cry I didn’t. I stuffed the grief inside my heart, killing the feelings, and hardening my heart. Oh, certainly, some tears spilled out regardless but I refused to be “out of control.” I wiped tears away quickly if they dribbled down my cheeks. And I forced myself to smile regardless to tamper down the feelings.

My sister and I remember that we three kids sat on the front row during the funeral giggling at one point. We all were unable to handle the emotions and instead we chose laughter as a means to cope.

For ten years I never allowed myself to fully feel the grief of losing my father. Instead, I poured myself into helping my widowed mother. I doubt we talked about my father much. It was too painful and definitely not the way to submerge feelings.

For ten years, I kept shooting my heart with that shotgun labeled “Don’t feel. It’s too painful and overwhelming.”

Yes, for ten years!

Then God intervened. At a conference, I heard the speaker talk about the dangers of killing your heart. I knew I had been doing that. I found the little chapel at the conference center and for the first time I let myself grieve. I wrote a letter to my father and cried for thirty minutes. Deep sobs. Cleansing sobs. Cries of anguish in losing the most significant male person in my life. I gave myself full permission to feel and even explore what was happening. I knew my heart was being made alive again. And I also recognized the lie that a weeping and grieving Christian is a weak Christian who isn’t trusting God. 

What relief. Comfort. Freedom. Healing. I left that chapel without any make up on and eyes puffy almost unable to see. But I left knowing I needn’t be ashamed of my emotions. 

Since that significant experience of freedom in grieving, I’ve been learning, lo, these many years to grieve healthfully.  (Tweet that!) And as my brother neared his death and as he left this earth and entered heaven a week ago, I’ve experienced God’s power to grieve as one who has hope. 

In my next post, I’ll write more about that. 

Grieve well, my sisters and brothers. It is possible. Don’t kill your heart with a 12-gauge shotgun of lies.