We don’t grieve as the world grieves

Last night, I had the privilege of being somewhere most people wouldn’t think a privilege: I sat with one of my best friends in her living room, waiting and watching as her husband of almost twenty years passed from life on earth to eternal life with Jesus.

Only a couple weeks before, they’d found out that a supposed clot in his arm was actually a “mass.” After immediately beginning radiation, only a week or so later they were told the mass was actually a lot of aggressively growing masses, rapidly spreading throughout his body—and untreatable. The decision was made by both of them that he would come home with hospice care for the time he had left. The doctor guessed “weeks to a couple months.”

He came home on Friday. He died six days later.

Today, I’m pondering the nature of grief in a Christian household. From the beginning my friend has had peace, and her husband did as well. That doesn’t mean they would have chosen the pain—physical, often extreme, for him . . . emotional for her and their two teenage daughters—but it certainly changes how they reacted to it.

Instead of becoming angry at God, they turned to him even more steadfastly. Instead of becoming bitter, they prayed that others might see Christ through their behavior during trials. In fact, when I visited for a couple hours two nights ago, I walked in the door to the sound of worship as close friends played guitar and sang at his bedside. The singers included his daughters, who recognized that God alone was the source of their comfort.

So last night, when my daughter and I gathered a few things to spend the night, she decided to bring her ukulele and chord charts so we, also, could minister to our friends through music. Again, we worshiped, and again, the house had an atmosphere of peace, not despair. Amazing how that works.

There were tears, certainly, at the moment of that final breath, but overall, still that sense of peace that truly passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). God gives us peace, and he guards our hearts and minds in the process. These guys knew who was guarding their hearts, and it got them through a night that will change their lives forever, leaving a hole that can’t be filled by another person.

My friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter even recognized God’s providential timing of her father’s death: a day later, and her best friend would have been out of town on a school field trip; her sister’s best friend (my daughter) would have been at the prom and not at her friend’s side. As it was, I got to witness four girls between the ages of fifteen and almost-seventeen comforting each other with a maturity that would have put most adults to shame.

In my friend’s own words, less than twenty-four hours after her marital status was changed to “widow”:

“I don’t know what the days ahead will hold but the girls and I are confident that the peace that God has given us will continue. We are blessed to have so many amazing friends and family members carrying us along! It is such a comfort to us to have people who will not only grieve with us but also rejoice with us.”

We do not grieve as the world grieves, “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b), but as John 16:22 states oh-so-clearly, “. . . you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

I try not to be a person who makes sweeping statements or who makes everything into a drama, but I can say—with absolutely no exaggeration whatsoever—that 2017 so far has, in a word, sucked. Let’s even use two words and say REALLY sucked.

The year is young, only one quarter complete, so I’m hoping with everything in me that the trend will reverse itself. And by the very nature of grief, it must. Yes, it could get worse, but I’m going with the law of averages here and assuming things will ease as the months go by, and my heart will once again soar on a regular basis.

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for so long that it almost feels like starting completely from scratch. The past couple years were a whirlwind of activity and life changes that took everything in me to keep afloat, and every time I started to draft a post, I would find it irrelevant by the time I got back to it, months later. This blog has always been my “dear diary” of sorts, the most personal version of myself, and many of the things I began to draft were not the type of thing that could even be posted, because sharing what I was struggling with would have only hurt others . . . not that any of them read this, but I would rather err on the side of grace when I can (great advice given to me by a friend and coworker).

Last year was especially hard on many fronts, so I was looking forward to that magical fresh start that always comes with the turn of the calendar page to January 1. To be fair, January actually wasn’t so bad. It was full of determination, introspective moments, busyness, silliness, promise, and a few surprises. I had some new experiences opening up for me for work (both jobs) and for personal growth.

But then in February, I lost a close friend. Not due to a death, though it’s just as permanent. One day things were fine, and the next, the friendship was ripped from me with no recourse on my part. I spent most of the next month reeling, denying that this was my new reality and trying to make sense of it in my mind. It still seems unreal in many ways. The sadness of not getting my birthday phone call or texts that start with “I have this great idea . . .” out of the blue only cemented the oh-my-goodness-this-nightmare-is-real feeling.

All the while, life had to go on. I still had to work. I still had to love and take care of my family. I still had to get up each day and function because there was only one person, my bestie, I could talk with to try and sort it out, so the hurt had to be kept a secret. Talking about it hurt too much, and holding it in hurt no less.

I tried writing out my thoughts and it only made me cry more. And then it made me angry. And then cry again. Angry. Crying. Angry. Crying. What an awful cycle. Toss in a lot of bewilderment and disbelief, and self-medicating was starting to sound really good, though I didn’t go that route. I wondered if my former friend was hurting as I was hurting—as I still am hurting—or if it was a simple thing to dispose of that part of life, to dismiss it with an “oh, well.” In my worst moments, I wondered if the friendship was only on my end, and that our rapport was not what I thought it had been.

But the single phrase that keeps going through my head (and has been for weeks, in fact) is this: Why do you seek the living among the dead? Straight out of the Bible, that one. Luke, chapter 24. In that passage, angels at the empty tomb are speaking to the women who have come to tend to Jesus’ now-absent body. He’s not there, and the angels even tell them, “He is risen, just as he said.” I was struck by the thought once again as Easter approached.

Why do I seek where there is only empty space? Why do I seek joy where there is only disappointment? Why can’t I turn away from what is irrevocably gone and look toward the good things? There is plenty of joy around me, and I bask in it. And yet . . . why do I seek the living among the dead? Looking harder only reinforces that there is nothing to be found, and creates more of a downward spiral.

In my case, I am still struggling with the “dead” part of it. I am looking for a friendship that is no longer a living, vibrant, fun and active part of my life. I am looking for what once was, because I simply cannot believe it no longer is.

There is life all around me, and though I am enjoying it in a compartmentalized sort of way, the times when I’m tired or alone with my thoughts are still a huge battle. I sincerely appreciate the good things—and there are many, thanks to a spectacular husband, great kids, a bestie who knows all of it from start to finish and still listens to me, and wonderful coworkers—and yet I still feel the empty space. I replay conversations. I remember good times. And I get angry at myself that the good things don’t always feel like enough, because they are. In fact, they’re more than enough if I allow them to be. In fact, I have to allow them to be, because I have no choice; this is my new reality.

But I think it’s kind of like when you lose a child . . . something I’ve had experience with. There are the other children, and they are a great comfort, but it doesn’t negate that there is grief to be processed and someone is still gone. Those who remain are no less essential, but they don’t fill in the space and replace that which was lost. They can’t. Each space, each person, each relationship, forms a specific shape in a person’s life, much like a puzzle piece.

To lose a friend is no small thing. Not if that friendship was real. That puzzle piece is as unique as God created them to be. And only God can fill the empty spaces where no other piece fits. He has allowed me to be broken in many ways over the past few years, and this is now one more addition to the list. Have I mentioned that I hate being broken? It hurts like nothing else, at times a physical ache that rivals the heart-hurt.

The good news is that God’s pretty decent at brokenness. He’s waiting for me to give it over to him—fully—and believe me, I’m trying because I need to move on and stop looking behind me. I’m trying. I really am. I’m tired of feeling broken and I’m tired of not being myself anymore.

But Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells me this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

In other words, he has given me a longing which nothing else can satisfy, except God. I can’t grasp his plan. I don’t need to. Because he knows me and is waiting for me to hand over what is dead so he can point the way to what is living.