When death comes at the end of a long life, we don’t wonder if it was time. We don’t wonder if God is good. But when death comes unexpectedly to a child or a teenager or a young parent, it is hard to believe that death can be a good thing. It is hard to believe that God is a good God.
Maybe you are in that dark valley now, the valley of questions. Maybe the fingers that turn this page are the same that felt a fevered brow turn cold as illness gave over to the death of someone you loved very, very much. Maybe the eyes that read this sentence have also learned the very color of death on the face of a parent, friend, husband, wife, or child. Maybe you are in the dark and cold shadow of endless loss, in the long night of waiting for morning’s joy to come again.
Can we talk about that kind of wait? It’s a journey unlike any other. It calls for a patience all its own, that waiting and watching for signs of spring. The grief journey is a hard path to walk. Yes, it’s difficult because it’s long and dark and winding, but it’s also hard because not everyone understands your sadness. They did at the beginning. They understood at the funeral. They understood at the graveside, while the soil was fresh and dark at the cemetery. But very soon, they no longer understood. Or maybe they didn’t have the capacity to understand. They returned to their routines and calendars and appointments and lives. They meant to understand longer, sure. But they couldn’t stick around the way grief could. Grief has some serious staying power.
Why does grief linger the way it does? Why does sorrow remain so? What gives it this lasting strength? Why can’t sadness just do its thing and then leave you alone?
It stays because you are dealing with far more than one emotion. You are dealing with the loss of far more than a person. The memories alone are a tidal wave. You’re not just dealing with sadness. You’re dealing with disappointment and abandonment and anger. Anger at life. Anger at death. Anger at the diagnosis or the accident or the situation that took the person you love. You may feel anger at the person who died, maybe for their carelessness or selfishness, or for their inability to get well, or for how they left you behind for a much better place. You may feel anger at God, and your anger may live hard and strong in the word why. Emotions are not right or wrong; they just are. Further, emotions are not time-bound. It’s not true that time heals all wounds; healing heals all wounds. In the face of grief, we may not even know all the things we’re mad about, and we don’t have to place extra guilt on ourselves for not healing fast enough. Emotions exist outside of time, and sometimes they live outside the bounds of logical explanation. You just feel how you feel.
In my imagination, memories are tangible things we collect and store. And I like to imagine that we carry them in a box—or a basket or a travel case or a treasure chest. You carry these together with the person who made the memories with you. The closer the person, the heavier the box. When that person is suddenly gone, it feels like they dropped their side of the load. It feels like you have to carry it all on your own, now that the person who knows your stories isn’t here to remember them. And I don’t think the memories ever get lighter. I think you get stronger. But without warning and without notice, you can get a whiff of sunscreen or cologne or spaghetti sauce; you can hear a love song on the radio or a Christmas carol at the mall or a worship song at church; and suddenly you are saying good-bye all over again.
It’s a whole lot to process and deal with. That’s why it takes so long. There is a time to mourn. Give it the time it needs. Be patient with you. When the light goes off in your world, don’t rush to turn it back on. And when someone tries to rush you, to flip the light back on because it’s easier for them, choose to forgive them—but do not obey them. They simply don’t understand.
God will bring the sunshine again. Just you wait.
Just. You. Wait.
Patience, Contentment, and Hope for the Everyday
Releasing July 9, 2019
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Thank you for this post today. It is timely as the 55th anniversary approaches of the murder of the husband and father of two friends of mine, a mother and son. I was going to send them each a card, but your post expresses my feelings far better than I could have done.
Have a great Fourth of July! And give those handsome men of yours - all three! - great big hugs and kisses for me!