#89: On Grief

#89: On Grief

Twenty years ago this week, a cardio-pulmonary embolism abruptly shoved me out of the last fog of my naive and mostly innocent early years. I, along with my three brothers, had to chart a new course without our mother.

“With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” C.S. Lewis

Earlier this year, I lost my father. It is a profoundly different grief, for a number of reasons. He wasn’t well, so there is a true sense that he is better off. Also, my brothers and I are 20 years older, so there is less of the feeling of not knowing how to “do life” without him. One of the most difficult aspects of losing my father and my maternal grandmother this year was having to re-grieve the loss of my mother.

Back then, people asked me if I was angry, and I understood that anger was a typical emotion experienced by those who grieve. I thought about it, but no – I didn’t have the energy to feel angry. Not even at God. I had believed in Him too long for an event that took place in the blink of an eye to change that. There were, however, some things I didn’t understand.

       Couldn’t we have had some warning?

       Why now?

       Why me?

And more fundamentally:

       I believe that You could have prevented this. Why didn’t You?

       How could the good that could possibly come out of her death outweigh the goodness of her life? (can you tell I was raised in that kind of church?)

One cold night I lay on my neighbor’s trampoline under a clear, starry sky. In spite of the cold, I was determined to wrestle with a new thought. Could I handle it, I wondered, if I knew the absolute truth about death and life and heaven and hell? I grappled with the puzzle in my mind, trying to make the words of old sermons, old ideas, and older people fit into this new realm of experience for me. I couldn’t.

Faces of family friends at the funeral home four months ago floated into my vision. They said asinine things like ‘Jesus has the victory, Melissa – we should be rejoicing!’ and ‘God needed your mother in Heaven to plant flowers and bake cookies.’ (The word ‘asinine’ reminds me of her. I remember Grandpa, her dad, using it as well. It was strong and only used in extreme situations. You know, like the things people say at funeral homes.)

What I really wrestled with were 24 years of sermons that clearly outlined my failure to behave as a Christian apparently was expected to in times of grief. Perhaps I was angry with the teaching that gave Christians the liberty of telling a girl who’d lost her best friend and mother that she should be happy.

What comforted me often was the Bible verse that enabled me to win numerous Sunday School drills as a child: “Jesus wept.” It was all that the verse said, and especially all it didn’t say, that comforted me. There was no other action, no other motion, no other thought to be found. Jesus lost a friend, it grieved Him, and nothing but the weeping became important.

And he KNEW all the answers to the questions I had! He KNEW exactly where Lazarus was! Did He rejoice in the complete knowledge of the joy or sorrow of Lazarus? Did he blithely assume that Lazarus was needed in Heaven to plant trees or practice his vocation?


He wept, even knowing what he knew. I don’t know why he wept. Did his heart also feel like it was going to explode, the way I grieved for the world without my mother in it? I don’t know. He just wept.

So – to my friends who have also just lost a parent, who have had their guts ripped out by the hard things, who have walked through much more than I have – I just say this little thing.

All the information that you want, that you think you need, that you wish you had earlier? Jesus had that.

All those spiritual disciplines you’ve learned about? Jesus was perfect at those.

Your anger at your lack of ability to do anything about the situation? Jesus understands that.

And yet – he wept.

There is a time for everything,and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
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