The top of a hill in middle Tennessee was where my family convened. And when I think of the smell buried deep in my senses and the 80s clothing and the grownups talking and kids playing, I would give everything to go back for just a night. To catch the fireflies and sing the songs. To hear the guitar playing late into the night.
11 years and one week ago, I missed a call from my dad, then a text and I knew. When I called my dad, his first words were “you may want to pull over.”
The thing was, I knew. I had a feeling that my Pop’s routine surgery wouldn’t be so routine. I knew deep down, that any prayers I prayed might go unanswered. That I couldn’t outrun grief much longer.
I wept on the way home. And then my sister and I tethered loose ends before joining the whole clan and my heartbroken Grandmother 6 hours North for a Memorial and then the eventual ride to our hometown, Memphis for burial.
The thing about grief is that it just keeps marching. It fades a little over time. And then somedays it hugs you so tight you have to gasp for air.
I can remember in the months following his death, I’d awaken with random revelations:
his blue pajamas…
his weezy laugh…
his can of hard candies in the car…
his quiet presence reading in the corner, always reading…
Even now, I’ll breeze past an old man in a store whose aftershave or coveralls smell like my Pop, hoping he doesn’t notice me slowing down to breathe in the memory.
In August of 2015, Bunny followed Pop into eternity and then my uncle a month later.
The first part of grief, that initial break, snaps hard and painful, like a punch in the gut. But it’s the next part, that no one prepares you for. The part when the world goes back to normal; the part when you remember things you never asked, or you want to hug them tight, or hear their voice. The part when you whisper up little messages to Jesus so maybe he’ll just tell them this one answered prayer, the one they didn’t stick around to see. That’s the hard part. The raw part.
Like when Pop’s day came around last week and Bunny wasn’t there to pray for…
Like at the beach this year when others stepped up to buy the donuts in the early morning hours…
Grief is a lot of things, but it’s not a weekend guest. It’s a new piece to the puzzle, inevitable albeit unwanted. It’s a new outfit, that will stay in your closet until you die. Taken out, tried on, put back, sometimes worn all day, sometimes just for moments.
Grief is not predictable. It will reach up and grab you by the ankles in very public and private times. It can wreck you or inspire you given the day. It can dissolve you into tears or giggles.
Grief is not something you can ignore. Plenty try. Whether it’s an actual death or a figurative death, a loss. Grief will not be smothered or pushed aside. Grief would rather be confronted head on, honestly, awkwardly, authentically. Because grief ignored manifests dangerously, often angrily, haphazardly. Grief will have its way.
Grief is not weak. In fact, grief adds character. It adds depth, and compassion, and understanding, and eventually kindness, when we let it.
Grief is not bad.
Most importantly, grief is not a loner. Why oh why, do we insist on keeping grief alone? I’m so guilty of quiet moments alone in the kitchen while the children are waking up or behind my sunglasses in the car. But grief is universal. We’ve all felt it and are more than likely living it. Grief can be healing when experienced in community.
Remember that time Jesus’ friend Lazarus died?? Jesus finds out he’s sick and declares immediately “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the Glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified in it.(NASB)” And then Jesus stays where he was for two days. Can you believe that? Two days, just enough time to let the illness take hold…as if he didn’t care…as if he didn’t know how serious it was. And then he goes to Bethany and finds Lazarus and raises him from the dead. The End.
No. Jesus knew all along that he would raise Lazarus. He knew all along that the sickness would not ultimately end in death, however, when Jesus finds his friends Mary and Martha, heartbroken over their brother, he weeps with them. The shortest verse in the Bible might be one of the most poignant, “Jesus wept.” He grieved. Not only that, scripture says he was “deeply moved,” after he wept. Here we see the very Son of God entering into grief with brothers and sisters, even though he knew what is ahead. Yet so often we are too proud and too “strong” to grieve.
I wish we lived in a pretty unbroken world, without sickness and disease and loss and death. I wish there was no injustice, no murder, no wrong. But there is. If Jesus wept with his friends, we too should stand beside brothers and sisters in their grief. But more importantly, what a gift that we have a Savior who grieves when we grieve. We have a God who gives us freedom to hurt and be healed.
If you find yourself in a season of grief, it’s ok. You are allowed. You are loved. You are not alone.