Grief is a funny thing. And our culture isn’t particularly good at knowing what to do with it, because America tends to worship comfort. Grief by nature, is a quite uncomfortable, so it isn’t any wonder it leaves us wondering how to cope and what to do and with all sorts of pressure to be “over” our heartache in some sort of time frame.
It is five years since he died and I’m still missing him.
Even as I write that, I can scarcely believe it. Five years? Really?
But then I think of all that has happened in my life in the past five years.
A move across the country. The start of our long-distance dating. A new job. Our engagement. Our sweet wedding. Job changes. Our girl being born. A move across the country. Saying hello and good-bye to so many dear friends. Buying our house. Awaiting this boy being born.
And when I look at these five full years, I start to believe it. Maybe it has really been five years.
But it isn’t what feels real.
Not when I can still hear his strong, gentle voice telling me he loves me, his angel.
Not when I can picture his hand holding mine and practically feel it patting me as he walks past.
Not when I can still feel how deeply loved and safe I am when we are together.
Not when I can imagine his smile and quiet contentment simply to have those he loves nearby.
Not when I still miss him so much and want to pick up the phone to share the joy of anticipating the arrival of his second great-grandchild.
Not when I still long to introduce him to my husband and daughter.
Not when I would do anything to hug his tall frame and smell the sweetness of wine mixed with his Chapstick as he leans over to kiss me.
I am no expert on grief. I don’t pretend to be for a moment. But I’ve had my share of grief in recent years, whether it has been from death or loss or transition or the giving up of dreams.
On today, this anniversary of one of my most tender of griefs, the Lord is reminding my heart of what he has taught me through my sorrow.
The Lord has not wasted these five years of missing and longing and aching to be with my kind, strong, generous grandfather again. Instead he has been near and walked with me in the midst of the dark valley of heartache, teaching me truth from my grief:
There is no place for comparison in heartache.
I remember when Grampa Bill first died, when I sobbed and ached to know he was truly gone, I wondered if it was okay to be this sad for a grandparent. Of course it was, but the thought was still there. Other people lost grandparents and weren’t this sad. The Lord whispered to my heart that it was okay. It didn’t have to look like someone else’s sadness. It didn’t have to look like someone else’s story. It was enough that I loved him and that I missed him. That was reason enough to grieve. There are no “shoulds” or “supposed tos” when heartache is involved.
There is no timeline for grief.
It can certainly feel like there is a time to “move on” from grief. When others have forgotten, there is a quiet bully who whispers to my heart that I should have moved on too. But that pressure is not from the Lord. He doesn’t put pressure on us to buck up and get over it. That voice of a bully in my heart is never the Lord. He offers us grace in our weakness. The Lord is gentle to us. He does not demand strength or fortitude. Instead, he knows our weakness and asks for a humble heart that is willing to be cared for and strengthened by him. There are good moments and hard moments. There are days of weeping. There are days where it is easy to get out bed and days when it is the bravest thing of all. And those come and go, not always in a neat and tidy timeline. It isn’t always either/or with the grief. Sometimes, it is a both/and.
I think this is might just be how grief is. It beats to it’s own drum, unconcerned with timelines or convenience or schedules. And in that messy place of heartache, Jesus puts no pressure to look or feel a certain way. Jesus is kind and with us in our brokenness, no matter how long it lasts or how messy it looks.
Grief isn’t limited to death, in a traditional sense.
I think there are so many types of heartaches. Yes, I still grieve the loss of my dear Grampa Bill. But I’ve also grieved the loss of a friendship. I’ve grieved the loss of familiarity and safety. I’ve grieved in the midst of good transition for things I was losing. I’ve grieved the death of a dream, without knowing if the Lord would give me something in its place. I’ve grieved from the pain of being misunderstood and rejected. I’ve grieved for children I don’t know. I’ve grieved for a friend’s break-up. I’ve grieved for babies who have died. I’ve grieved for the suffering of those I don’t know the names of.
I think these are all versions of death and all worthy of grieving. However, these are not always losses that are typically acknowledged as worth grieving. The death of a certain kind of close loved one (parent or spouse or sibling) tend to rank the highest, with very little else even being spoken of in our culture. But the rest, from miscarriages to break-ups to job loss to transitions are not often named or acknowledged for very long, if at all. And even the death of someone, who others can see was loved dearly, seems to have an expiration date for someone else’s sympathy.
But I’m convinced that isn’t how the Lord functions at all. There is no specification of what kind of heartache the Lord provides comfort for, only the truth that he is near to those who are brokenhearted and that he saves the crushed in spirit. If it feels like heartache to us, I’m convinced it counts and the Lord sees us in our suffering and grief.
The Lord grieves with us. I can trust him without understanding.
The night my Grandpa died, I was reading the Magician’s Nephew. Digory’s mother is sick and Digory asks Aslan for something from Narnia to heal her. These words reminded me of Jesus’ tears for Lazarus and have been a special grace for me.
“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’
Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.”
I love that Aslan doesn’t give an answer right away. He doesn’t explain the whys or hows. He simply grieves too.
I may not understand why cancer ravaged my Grampa’s body and why he had to die that day five years ago. There are so many deaths and heartaches and tragedies, so much suffering and loss and pain that makes no sense to me.
But when I look up from my gaze at Aslan’s paws into his kind eyes, all I see is his tremendous compassion, his heart of kindness, his big lion tears. I don’t have to understand it to rest in the grace of being known and understood and loved by Jesus. He is called the God of all comfort, because of how deeply he cares for us and others in our pain and heartbreak. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is near to me.
I don’t have to understand it to trust him. I cling to these words from Hosea as much now as I did five years ago.
“…and [I will] make the Valley of Trouble, a door of hope.” Hosea 2:15
This is the heart of our God. This is the Lion who cries with us. This is the promise of Jesus to his people.
He grieves with us. He sees us. And he makes a door of hope from the place of trouble, the place of pain and heartache.
Thank you Jesus.