Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; Luke 24:15
To my dear, grieving friend,
Hi. I wish we could get together today, past this screen, and sit down in a coffee shop to talk today. I wish we could hold hot steamy cups to our lips and allow the tears to trickle and the truth of deep grief to eek out. I wish for you one good friend to do this with today, since I can only reach you with words. But with these words, I hope you feel that you are not alone. I hope you feel my hug of friendship and love for you.
This road of grief is such a long one. I had no idea when Caleb died how long my heart could break, and that it could keep breaking over and again and again. I had no idea that grief runs through hearts like a river, carving out a canyon within us that changes the topography of our deepest selves. Whether we acknowledge this river or try to dam it up, whether we step in the deepest parts and feel it whole and pulsing and persistent or try to dry it up by dumping things or food or booze or people-pleasing into it, the river runs.
When we allow ourselves the space to grieve, to take our time to mourn, grief has a softening effect on our hearts like water to dry ground. We may have a canyon deeply carved into our hearts, but giving the river space to run and fill that canyon leaves us more pliable and satiated.
When we try to dry the river up by stuffing it, it will harden, tough and brittle. When we’re dried up, we lose our empathy. We lose our humanity.
This is especially true in our “get over it” culture, in which there is such a need, a haste, a pressure to put an end to grief. After seven and a half years of living without our first-born son, I can’t tell you the number of people who have hinted or stated or demanded that I “move on.” And yet, the more I heal and the more I move on, the more I understand that the grief of losing a child will never go away. I still think about Caleb every single day. Even though I spend little time actively mourning him, I am just as much his mother today as the day he was born.
As that pain continues to flow, I’m allowing it to carve me deeper. The deeper the cut, the more room for living waters to fill me. These waters overflow, this river cares for others who suffer. The river of Life gives my pain purpose and blesses others. In the end, it blesses me.
Allow your heart to be carved out and changed by this pain. Know that there is nothing in this world that will fill you to the point where you will not feel. You can choose to invite Jesus to fill every piece of your broken heart. Or, you can choose to dump the things of this world into your grief and become cold, dried up, and brittle.
If you can’t see or feel God in your grief, don’t despair. Friend, He is there with you, whether you feel Him or not. Just like He walked beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He walks beside you.
If you want to see God while you walk this road of grief, start giving thanks. gratitude will give you eyes to see Jesus. That is exactly the moment the disciples were able to see Him: when they sat to break bread, and gave thanks with Him.
My grief became bearable when I started giving thanks. I thanked God for my child who made me a mother. I praised God for the chance I had to name him, love him, talk to him, and sing to him while he grew in my belly. I cherished the hours I held him in my arms and marveled at how beautiful he was. I praise God for the physicians and the nurses and chaplains who tended to me, for the priests and deacon who drove miles to baptize our son. I counted the gifts of mercy provided in our deep sorrow. I clung to my husband and praised God that together, we two, were still a family. I broke wide open and I chain-smoked and I counted my gifts and I sobbed and I said thank you again and again. And I felt Him come close to me, and walk with me, and make Himself known to me.
Friend, I know how impossible this grief feels. I know what it is to sit up in bed and struggle not to drown in the nightmares. I know how wrong it feels to move forward in this life without this child who came from you nestled in your arms. I know the longing to just lie in the grass above their grave and never leave.
But I also know the joy of living through this heart-break. I know the joy of healing, of letting go of the life I wanted to find the life I’ve been given.
So, take your time and cry. Sit in your pajamas and eat peanut butter straight from the jar. Grieve. Chain smoke and scream out your prayers in the middle of the night. I did. Then, count your gifts. He is giving to you, giving to you, loving on you. He fills the hungry.
I know your heart is breaking. But I also know that there is still joy to be found. Life is not over, and He will never stop working it altogether for your good. He will never stop, I promise! He promises.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28