Finishing the sentence I was reading, I glanced up at my daughter who had quietly entered the room. Standing beside my bed, she struggled to get the words out.
“I feel so guilty.” I watched as a wave crashed through her, spilling twin rivulets of sorrow down her flushed cheeks. “I should be able to control this by now!” She swiped her face with frustration.
I snapped my book shut and pulled her into my arms. There was nothing to say as my own flood began again. We had just a few days prior lost a dear man who was our theatrical producer, mentor, and friend. For ten years, this man and his family have poured into my kids, giving them a multitude of opportunities to grow in their love of theater, their creativity, and their confidence. Heck, the truth is, they’ve given me the same inspiration and encouragement to pursue my own creativity and love of theater.
Yet here was my daughter feeling guilty because it hurts so darned much. I get it. We’re not actually family. The loss that we feel is infinitesimal compared to what his wife, kids, and grandkids are dealing with. When someone says, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, I’m uncomfortable because my grief doesn’t matter. I want all good wishes and prayers and thoughts to go toward the real family.
I’d barely begun to process these thoughts when I got word that another friend of mine had passed away. The shock of this brings sorrow upon sorrow.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks.
Grief is a strange and brutal beast, fickle in the myriad ways it manifests. I understand all too well my daughter’s guilt. In the case of both of my friends who’ve passed, my emotions have been unpredictably intense. Their absence is felt on a deeper level than I feel I have a right to. I could write for hours about each of them, but suffice it to say that both of these men had a profound impact on my life and the loss of their brilliance, their love and light, leaves this world a whole lot less interesting, less beautiful, just less…
Sorrow does that, doesn’t it? It leeches the color from life, strangling any kind of coherent thinking, leaving us scrambling to find our emotional equilibrium. Most times death feels far too soon, too unexpected (even if it’s expected) and so, so wrong.
And there’s the rub. Death is wrong. It is an offense that we aren’t designed to withstand. We are created to live in unity with our Father and with each other in the abundance of eternal life. We know this deep within and it creates a dissonance in our spirits making us rage and weep and shake our fists at the chaos, at the wrongness of it all.
Yet even so, snippets of this verse keep springing into my mind:
He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end. –Ecclesiastes 3:11, AMP
Eternity is planted in the human heart. This is the reason for our spiritual dissonance and though it’s actually present all the time, death and grief bring it harshly to the surface. But that’s not all that percolates to the top in times of loss.
As my friends, my family, and I process our recent losses, I hear a lot of phrases. “I should have reached out more….maybe I could have…If only I’d known…etc.” In fact, all of those sorts of thoughts have flooded my mind as well. When we lose someone, we see all too clearly how pathetically flawed our human love is.
Then I realized something. Of course we could have or should have loved better while we had the chance, and we certainly ought to take these wake up calls to heart and learn from them. But we did love, and though our grief cannot compare to that of the families of my two friends, it is real nonetheless. One does not cancel out the other.
So I will practice what I preached to my daughter the other day and own my grief without self-censure. I told her it was more than okay that the waves of sadness were overwhelming her, that it’s proof of her love for this person who was an important part of our lives, and that it will run its course in its own way and time…and that however that looks is her normal. She will be changed by it, I told her, and that’s okay too. No more guilt.
This is where our peace is found; in acknowledging the cracked spaces in our hearts, we are drawn to One who will eventually make all things right, who will heal the brokenness in all of creation. We will praise our Father even in the hurt, thank Him for the privilege of having known and loved such incredible people, and rest in the knowledge that He does have a plan that is far bigger and more beautiful than we can imagine.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4, CSB)
Grace and peace,
I wanted to share a few links, two articles and a video that were shared by friends of mine going through their own grieving journeys. I found them incredibly compelling and encourage you to take the time to check them out.