I wish I had something deeply profound to write. I’ve been searching for the profound in the middle of a deeply painful time. My journey through life was not supposed to contain this kind of pain. A few years ago I stumbled upon a poem about a father during the Depression having to dig a grave for his very young child who died during a bitterly cold December. It talks about how hard it must have been for him to dig the grave in the frozen ground, how laborious to pound a stolen piece of wood deep enough for it to stand as a grave marker. While the poem clearly depicts the harshness of the land and the bleak, poverty-ridden environment, it is only in the last line that you catch a glimpse of the real story, the heart of the matter. “There are no words for this.” Whether in poverty or in wealth, in summer’s beauty or winter’s bleakness, with crude grave marker or granite tombstone – whenever a parent has to bury a child, the grief really is beyond words.
We buried a son this summer. There was no frozen ground, only the grief-frozen faces of my husband and youngest son as they worked together to shovel dirt into a hole that contained the box of ashes that was once a strapping six-foot-tall, intelligent young man. I have no words for this, and yet I have a heart-wrenched and mind-crammed so full of them that I don’t even know where to begin to sort them into something coherent. Grief has a way of filling every available space, of seeping into the tiniest crevices of the heart. It is possible for other thoughts to dwell in those spaces too, but I’m finding that grief can be a greedy and jealous occupant. It either wants to push everything else away so that it has free reign, or it tries to stir everything into such a mixed-up stew that the normal functions of thought and clarity, purpose and reason become disjointed, blurry, confusing, overwhelming.
Perhaps my search for the profound, for coherent words, is nothing more than a grasping attempt to figure out where this new journey is going to take me. In my self-sufficient way, I begin looking for a map – surely this new road is well marked and I can figure out where it is headed and perhaps find a better route – or even better, find a way to get back to the original road I was on before this sudden, jolting, jarring detour began. I do know how to read a map, plan a journey, and compensate for the unforeseen construction zone or accident scene – in fact, I think I’m quite good at it. But this new road I am on? It is far from clearly marked. Oh, people who have travelled it before tell me that it does have a destination, that it is passable, that it will actually get easier as I go. I have no reason to doubt them… and yet- were they really on exactly the same journey that I am now on? Can they speak with absolute certainty of what is around the bend, or over the hill, or behind that tree looming on the right? Do they know that you don’t just bury a son – you bury dreams, too. You bury a potential daughter-in-law. You bury potential grandchildren. You bury potential memories while clinging desperately to the ones you still have, fearful that they, too, will crumble into a pile of ashes. I’m told that time will bring healing – but will it also bring faded memories? I don’t need a map to tell me that this is going to be a treacherous journey…
It is one thing to write about seeing the grace of God in frost and waves and trees and flowers – but what about in death? In suicide? There is nothing philosophical or esoteric in this – it is numbingly real. I might be inclined to say that grace is too gentle of a thing to be found in such a harsh reality. But then I remember the lesson of the waves – forceful, unrelenting, and anything but gentle. And the reality also is that I have seen the grace of God in the midst of this devastating detour. I’ve seen it in the faces of dear friends, family, people of faith, and even those for whom God is yet unknown. They have been the hands and feet of grace to pick up the pieces of wreckage, shoulder the burden, and point me in the right direction for the journey ahead. I’ve felt it in my heart as I have sought to trust God that His plan is bigger than these moments in my life. He does have the map; He knows not only the journey ahead, but the destination and the purpose of the journey as well. I’ve known it when the grief does overwhelm and disorient my soul – His Word and His promises pull me back from the precipice of despair and calm my pounding heart of pain. I see it in the sun that rises every morning with a promise that life can and will continue and that the God who makes the sun rise has not changed for millions and millions of sunrises, nor will He change for an eternity of them. The grace that was sufficient for Apostle Paul in his weakness, is sufficient for me in my grief. The grace that is greater than all my sin, is also greater than the choices that led to death. I see now that the lessons in grace that God has been teaching me have been preparing me for this time – preparing me to see that His grace is in all of life. “All is grace”(A. Voskamp A Thousand Gifts). Grace is linked to peace and peace is linked to joy and joy is linked to gratitude and thanksgiving. Ah – I think I can more clearly see some of God’s purposes in this journey….
“Peace discovered will never minimize what was lost, but experiencing peace does afford us the ability to finally disengage from the battle of resisting what has already happened and what we cannot change. It is that place of acceptance called healing” (N. Zacharias Scent of Water).
I know I am not at the place where I can honestly say that I am thankful for my son’s death. I’m not sure I ever will be there. But I have begun the process of being thankful for the change in travel plans. This is not a journey I wanted to be on, but I can choose to be thankful for it simply because God does have a purpose and a destination. His plans are for good and not for evil. He can glorify Himself in this. He will sustain me and guide me and carry me if necessary. He is my refuge and my strength. If that isn’t grace, I don’t know what is. Oh how amazing is this grace of God.