The thunderstorm that is grief
rips and roars, reverberates
through the empty chamber
of a heart forever scorched
by the searing strike of loss.
A deluge from a place
I thought was dry.
After the storm —
a gentle lean
into the life
that carries on.
A Saturday Caesura
A new week began like most weeks do. The previous week with all of its ups downs and all arounds was, for better or worse, done. So here was this new week and you were grateful for the fresh scent of it, for the whiffs of promise wafting by on the first minutes and hours.
And then SLAM BANG BAM, you were flattened by a Very Hard Thing. Maybe you knew it was lurking in the shadows but hoped that ignoring it would make it go away. Maybe you saw it coming, but your last battle with a Hard Thing left you worn out and ill-equipped for this new Thing. Or maybe it wasn’t really a new Thing, just an old one returned to reclaim ground. Or conquer more ground. Maybe you didn’t suspect that this Very Hard Thing would ever exist in your life. And yet there you were, flat on your face, gut-wrenched, drenched in fear and despair. There were other emotions, too, but separating them from the messy mass enough to name them was an exercise for a calm and ordered mind, which of course, yours was not.
Too many people I know have been bowled over by Hard Things recently. While outwardly, hands, feet, whole bodies continued to propel through the Necessary Things, internal chaos churned and choked out hope and joy and purpose. Hard Things are…well, hard, even though their appearance, their weapons, their power are different for each of us.
I can’t tell others how to face their Hard Things, but I do know that Hard Things can be toppled over and stripped of their strength by prayer. I know this can sound like a pat answer dripping with “Christian-eze” and religious platitudes, but my lived experience keeps bringing me back to prayerful surrender to the God who knows All Things, has faced Very Very Hard Things on my behalf, and invites me to trust and rest in him for Every Thing.
It was through prayer that the Hard Thing of my week was replaced by a gentle and generous grace. Inner chaos settled into a quiet fatigue, then restful peace, and finally, gratitude and growth. Do I feel victorious? No, not really. But I do feel loved and seen and known and sustained. Sola Gratia.
A Saturday Caesura
Almost ten years ago, someone brought several potted lilies to our son’s funeral service. After everyone had gone home and the other bouquets of flowers had faded and withered, I planted the lilies beneath a cluster of trees in our backyard. It was an act of hope that they would survive the winter — that I would survive this loss.
Since then, the lilies have bloomed every year, and each year I have learned more about living with grief.
In preparation for this year’s Great Backyard Redo, I moved the lilies last spring — built a raised bed specifically for them, watched them bloom in early summer, and then worried that their roots would be too exposed to survive the deep freeze of winter.
I began looking for signs of life as soon as the snow melted this spring. For the longest time there was nothing. I started to consider that these lilies could actually die and the thought began stirring and renewing the grief that had brought them to us to begin with.
I began breathing again when they began poking up green.
They had survived another winter.
The lilies are now thick with golden blooms. The taller ones will soon add splashes of burgundy red and I’ll keep breathing in the beauty and breathing out gratitude that although death is inevitable and grief is inescapable, life is full of unfathomable generosity and goodness.
A Saturday Caesura
Last week I spent several days helping my mother-in-law move into a senior’s home. To use a common metaphor, she has entered a new chapter, one of the ones typically reserved for the final pages of life.
The book metaphor for life is a familiar one. The visual of turning a new page seems appropriate to describe new opportunities, especially if those opportunities signal hope for something better than previous pages. We end chapters and start new ones at graduation, marriage, the launch of a career, the birth of a child…the move to a senior’s home. The metaphor seems to serve us well, but I wonder if there is a better one.
Rather than compartmentalizing life into chapters or stages or pages, I’ve been envisioning it as a unified and continuous whole – a scroll, if you will. Although my mother-in-law’s circumstances have changed, she is still the person she was prior to this move. At almost 92, she embodies many experiences and roles and geographies that influence and shape who she is becoming. Yes, I think she is still becoming even at 92 – still learning, still being formed by her choices.
We all are, regardless of our ages.
The person I was before high school graduation is still very much a part of the person I am now as a wife, a mother, a teacher. The person I was before marriage informs the person I am in marriage. I am no less a mother to my adult children than I was when they were toddlers or teenagers. My responsibilities have shifted, to be sure, but motherhood is not relegated to some earlier chapter of my life.
The scroll metaphor challenges our desire for tidy endings. Pages have final words. Chapters have closing paragraphs. Stages of life should as well, shouldn’t they? But what if they don’t? Perhaps our need for closure on certain experiences leads us to peremptorily punctuate them with a definitive end-stop period, and in doing so we fail to recognize that God can use even hard, hurtful things to transform us, to aid us in both being and becoming.
On this weekend, the ninth anniversary of our son’s death, I know the heaviness of a grief that doesn’t have a definitive end in this lifetime. But I can’t compartmentalize it away in some previous chapter. It is written into my life, a scroll that continues to unroll and reveal that God has been at work in me from the moment I was born, from the moment my son was born.
Binding my life into a metaphorical codex encourages a form of survival-ism — a penchant for wishing a particular situation would just end, for adopting a ‘just-get-over-it-already’ mantra, for believing that things will be better when/if this or that happens. I just need to survive until then. If I’m tough and brave and courageous like the self-help gurus suggest, then I’ll make it to the next (and better) page or chapter. Maybe.
There are situations that need to end, we do have to move forward rather than cling to some things, sometimes life does improve when this or that happens, but rather than make those endings or beginnings the focus (and myself the mastermind behind them all), I want to see my behaviour patterns for what they are and recognize God’s relentless work to bring necessary change and growth.
He has begun a good work in me, but it is an ongoing one, a continuous whole that unrolls with each new mercy, with each day’s grace and goodness that never waver in the face of current circumstances, poor choices, or overwhelming emotions.
His steadfast love is writ large across this scroll, not merely footnoted on a page here or there.
Carry many things.
Some useful —
grocery cart loonie,
Some special —
so tender — but tangled
with a grief too heavy
for a pocket to hold
falling out or apart
pocket is stitched,
A memory pocket full
is still better than
one that is
If I could send you a card today,
what would it say?
🎉 Happy Birthday to one of my favourite people
🎉 Warmest wishes and love on your birthday and always
🎉 So grateful that God put you on this earth and in our lives.
You are one of my favourite people
I will love you always
I am grateful that God gave you to us for a time
But if I could send you a card
it would be a postcard.
On the front: a picture of our house
or of the view from the upstairs window (you know the one).
On the back: Wish you were here.
I miss you.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
Oh what joyful delight flowed the day you were born
When sorrows like sea billows roll
And then. That day flooded with deep, deepest despair.
Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say,
And today. Your birthday. With waves of emotion leaving me worn,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
but oh so grateful for all the days we could share.
*”It Is Well With My Soul” lyrics by Horatio Spafford.