Greetings. I wish I could say “it’s nice to meet you,” but we both know that would be a lie. “Greetings” is the best I can do right now. It’s incredible actually that I’ve made it this far in life without fully getting to know you. I mean, I’ve seen you around. I’ve walked with friends and family as they have journeyed with you. You and I have flirted a time or two. But this was the first time you showed up on my doorstep, suitcase in hand, announcing your intention to hang around a while.
Seeing as how we’re now roommates, at least for the time being, I have so many questions for you. For example, why do you come in waves? The moment that I think you’ve finally moved on, there’s a smell or a song or a memory and suddenly you’re back, crashing in around me, making it difficult to breathe. I think I’ve locked you away and I’m doing ok, and then you somehow manage to show up unannounced in the middle of a friend’s kitchen during a coffee date and I’m left sobbing into my latte. Or worse yet there was that one time you showed up at a restaurant during a lunch date…honestly you have the worst possible timing. And absolutely no sense of social intelligence. A steady stream or gently flowing river of grief I could handle, but these unexpected waves are getting old. Will I ever be able to walk past her picture again without my throat tightening and tears threatening to spill forth?
Which leads me to my next question-why are your tears so hot? They burn my cheeks like rolling lava. That was actually the first thing I noticed about you. As I was curled up in bed after receiving the news and the tears were staining my blankets, my face was on fire. What makes your tears so different from other tears? Tears of joy never burn my face. Tears of frustration never feel so hot. But your tears, tears of grief, they flow like lightening bolts. It’s as if they are bubbling up from the deepest possible place inside, the very center of my being, and boiling over like a pot of hot water.
And speaking of being curled up in bed, one would think that at least there you would let me rest in peace-but no. First you make it difficult to sleep. I’m left tossing and turning until all hours of the night. Then, when I’ve finally drifted off into exhaustion, you visit me in my dreams! I see her and I hear her and even in my slumber I cannot escape you. You crawl into bed with me and cover me like a heavily weighted blanket that I didn’t choose to put on and can’t seem to take off. Morning comes and I have things to do and children to care for, yet there you still are-smothering me and making it seem impossible to get up.
Why are you so heavy? Why is it that when I walk with you I suddenly feel that I have feet of lead? And what’s with this fogginess that you brought with you? Where is my creativity and my focus? Why do I feel so uninspired and unmotivated? And for heaven’s sake why on earth did you have to move in just days before a global pandemic sent our lives into lockdown! As if there wasn’t enough going on in the world already. So now I’m left not only with you but also with feelings of selfishness swirling around in my head. My grief feels trivial in light of the complete upheaval our world is currently in. I try to minimize my own pain and sorrow because I’m a leader for goodness sake. I should be doing more! I should be responding and helping others figure out how to navigate this new landscape. I should be using my platform to creatively connect and encourage and inspire others. But I’m not. Instead I’m curled up in my favorite chair, still in my pajamas, because you can’t just leave me the hell alone.
And it’s there, in that moment, in that chair, as I’m staring out the window and crying and willing myself to get up and do something, that I hear the whisper…
“You are not alone.”
Suddenly I realize that you are not some looming monster that I need to escape or defeat. You are actually good. You are not to be ignored or rejected or powered through. You are designed to be experienced. You are here to help. You, good grief, are a gift. Death, and loss, and sickness, and disease-these are not good. We were not meant to experience these things. Yet here we are in a fallen, broken world where loss is a reality. And our Father, in His goodness, gave us you. Where would we be without you? Rejecting you does not make death or loss any less of a reality. Rejecting you simply means that we live in denial with all of our natural, human emotions bottled up and corked-just waiting to explode. And on the other side of the same argument, acknowledging you does not mean we are denying God’s goodness. No, in fact by acknowledging you we are opening ourselves up to receive even more of God’s goodness. Because He is close to the brokenhearted. He comforts us in our affliction. He heals us and binds up our wounds. Blessed are we who mourn for we will be comforted. He has taken you, our grief, upon himself and kept track of all our sorrows and collected our tears in a bottle. Even Jesus himself wept and was compassionate towards those who were grieving.
So then, Grief, where does that leave us? You and me, caught in this awkward dance. This dichotomy of the now and the not yet, the joy of the hope of life eternal yet the sorrow and tears of loss in this life. Where do we go from here? Will you move out? Will you eventually grow smaller and smaller until suddenly I look around and realize you’re not there anymore? Will you hang around forever, or will you pop in from time to time for a visit? I suppose we’ll figure it out as we go. What I know now is this-you and I, we aren’t alone. We have both been pulled up into the Father’s lap and He holds us, you and I, grief and griever, simultaneously in His big, strong, loving hands. And the mother of all comfort whispers peace and promise into my ear as she shows me how to relate to you.
Our journey is not yet done, I can sense that. I’ll no longer try to fight you or deny you or push you down deep inside. I’ll feel you, I’ll experience you, I’ll cry, I’ll rest. But at least now I know that your presence is not a condemnation. Your presence does not mean that I lack faith. And most importantly, I do not have to walk with you alone. You do not have to be debilitating. You can actually leave me stronger, wiser, more compassionate, and more full of faith than I was before. So if it’s ok with you, Grief, I’m just going to keep bringing you to the foot of the cross and letting the one who ultimately bore you hold us both.
Dedicated to my Grams, who has been my person from the very beginning. I love you.
In loving memory of
Mary Clarice Hebinck
April 16th, 1941-March 12th, 2020