Grief: In The Words of Others

I’ve collected quotes all my life.

I think it was second grade when I started a notebook dedicated to them-carefully copying out the words of others that spoke the truths of my own heart. Although the topics which draw me are different now, I’m still collecting them.

So here are fifteen quotes on grief that I hope will help another heart:

I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.’

That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.

I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Rather often I am asked whether the grief remains as intense as when I wrote. The answer is, No. The wound is no longer raw. But it has not disappeared. That is as it should be. If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over.

Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides. So I own my grief. I do not try to put it behind me, to get over it, to forget it… Every lament is a love-song.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

Anne Lamott

They say time heals all wounds, but that presumes the source of the grief is finite

Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

What an awful thing then, being there in our house together with our daughter gone, trying to be equal to so many sudden orders of sorrow, any one of which alone would have wrenched us from our fragile orbits around each other.

Paul Harding, Enon

This was how to help a family who has just lost their child. Wash the clothes, make soup. Don’t ask them what they need, bring them what they need. Keep them warm. Listen to them rant, and cry, and tell their story over and over.

Ann Hood, The Obituary Writer

I guess I always thought it would be bigger, when a terrible thing happened. Didn’t you think so? Doesn’t it seem like houses ought to be caving in, and lightning and thunder, and people tearing their hair in the street? I never – I never thought it would be this small, did you?

Dan Chaon, Stay Awake

There are no words, not in English, Spanish, Arabic, or Hebrew, that have been invented to explain what it’s like to lose a child. The nightmarish heartache of it. The unexplainable trepidation that follows. No mother loses a child without believing she failed as a parent. No father loses a child without believing he failed to protect his family from pain. The child may be gone, but the years the child were meant to live remain behind, solid in the mind like an aging ghost. The birthdays, the holidays, the last days of school—they all remain, circled in red lipstick on a calendar nailed to the wall. A constant shadow that grows, even in the dark. As I was saying…there are no words.

D.E. Eliot, Ruined

Words For a Wounded Heart

I cling fast to words that speak aloud what I’ve only thought.

I collect sentences that eloquently express what I can only feel.

I pull them out on days when my head and heart are doing battle and I can’t find any middle ground.

Reading reminds me I’m not the first soul to travel this way.

Others have been here before and left breadcrumbs.

A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.” I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That’s my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

The promise that I will one day see Dominic again makes the pain bearable. But it does nothing to treat the essential wound. He is not here and I will miss him, miss him, miss him until I draw my last breath.

The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it. A section withered and became a scar on the part of your soul that survived. For people like me and Echo, our souls contained more scar tissue than life.”
― Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

I never knew a person could cry every day for months. Not just a tiny overflow that falls sweetly down a cheek but gigantic gut-wrenching, ear-shattering sobs. That was what I hid from everyone-the pillow-over-my-mouth-to-muffle it-crying in my room in the dark.

Maybe we all do.

Maybe that’s why those untouched by child loss don’t really know how much it hurts and for how long.

grief is a house
where the chairs
have forgotten how to hold us
the mirrors how to reflect us
the walls how to contain us

grief is a house that disappears
each time someone knocks at the door
or rings the bell
a house that blows into the air
at the slightest gust
that buries itself deep in the ground
while everyone is sleeping

grief is a house where no one can protect you
where the younger sister
will grow older than the older one
where the doors
no longer let you in
or out

Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere

When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, he was living on his own. He’d been out of the house for a couple of years.

So I was utterly unprepared to find his earthly absence echoed in the house from which he had already been absent. Everything changed, everything was slightly askew.

And it is “a house where the younger [brother] will grow older than the older one”.

For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I remember being surprised the first time I circled back around in my grief and revisited places in my heart I thought I had subdued and conquered.

But that’s how it is.

Grief has so many layers that I honestly don’t believe we could survive it at all if forced to peel them back all at once. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact I will come back to many of the same sore spots over and over.

I do feel like I’m spiraling upward. Each time I circle around, I’m better equipped to face the fear or guilt or sorrow or despair.

The phases recur, but I’ve grown in the meantime.

I’m stronger.

I’m wiser.

I’m more resilient.

And I’m still here.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Earth Has No Sorrow That Heaven Can’t Heal

Can we just admit that life is hard?

Can we stop hiding our sorrow and pain and struggles and difficulties and let people in on what’s going on?

I truly believe that if we did, we’d all be better for it.

Because no one-really, truly no one-is spared from some kind of problem. And for many of us, it has nothing to do with our own choices. It’s visited upon us from the outside.

It comes out of nowhere, happens fast and suddenly consumes every aspect of our lives.

If you are a believer in Jesus, you might think you should be immune to these hardships. You might do a quick calculation and decide that, on balance, you’ve led a pretty decent life and certainly God should notice and spare you and yours from awful tragedy.

Or you might look around and notice all those who leave hurt and heartache in their wake and wonder why they seem to live a charmed life while death and destruction have visited yours.

No matter how you try to disguise it, death is a hard pill to swallow.

Jesus didn’t deny that.

Today’s verses are some of the most poignant in His long discourse to the disciples as He was preparing them for His death.

Jesus knew they had questions to ask of Him, so He approached them.
Jesus: Are you trying to figure out what I mean when I say you will see Me in a little while? 20 I tell you the truth, a time is approaching when you will weep and mourn while the world is celebrating. You will grieve, but that grief will give birth to great joy. 21-22 In the same way that a woman labors in great pain during childbirth only to forget the intensity of the pain when she holds her child, when I return, your labored grief will also change into a joy that cannot be stolen.
23 When all this transpires, you will finally have the answers you have been seeking. I tell you the truth, anything you ask of the Father in My name, He will give to you. 24 Until this moment, you have not sought after anything in My name. Ask and you will receive so that you will be filled with joy.

John 16: 19-24 VOICE

Notice that Jesus didn’t wait for his disciples to approach Him with their questions. Out of compassion and love, He approached THEM.

He does the same with us today.

Many of the questions I’ve struggled with since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven are answered in Scripture.

That’s why it is so, so important to read my Bible. Some days I use a concordance to help me find pertinent verses, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings them to mind. Not every question will be answered this side of eternity. But at the least I am reminded of God’s faithful love and trustworthy character.

Jesus begins by asserting what He knows is true but wants them to affirm: “You’ve got some questions, don’t you?”

Then He acknowledges their pain. He doesn’t shy away from saying that things will feel unfair. It will appear as though evil has won and the Kingdom of God defeated.

But then He offers hope.

Their grief will ultimately turn to joy.

I think this joy is twofold-they had a taste of it when Jesus revealed Himself as Risen Savior during the forty days after the resurrection. But the fullness of that joy for them, like us, is only available in eternity.

Childbirth as analogy for this life leading into the next is so helpful!

When laboring to bring forth a baby, no one knows for sure how long that terrible pain will last. In the middle of it, more than one mama has thought (and sometimes said or screamed), “I don’t want to do this!”

But that same mama, when handed her precious child, often bursts into joyous tears that wash away the memory of how impossible it all seemed just moments before.

How many of us would gladly go through every moment of pain to have our child back in our arms?

No woman is pregnant forever.

Sooner or later that baby will be born.

This life of travail won’t last forever either.

By death or transformation, we will be freed from this earthly tent. The worn out and worn down will be restored and renewed.

One day-one glorious Day-I will have every answer I seek.

Jesus says, “when I return” and “when this transpires” their grief will turn to joy.

I have a foretaste of ultimate joy in the comfort, ministry and companionship of the Holy Spirit. But I cannot know fullness of joy until Jesus returns.

And that joy will overwhelm every heartache.

QUESTIONS:

  • Can you relate to the disciples’ fear of asking Jesus their questions? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a concordance? Do you know how to use it? Have you ever looked up verses when you had a specific question?
  • Just as it’s really impossible to describe both the intensity of the pain of childbirth and the intensity of the joy of holding your baby, it’s impossible for us to fully comprehend how the pain of this life will eventually be swallowed up by joy in eternity. Write 3 ways you think this is a good analogy. How might this help you hold onto hope in the long “labor” of life while waiting for “delivery” on God’s promises?
  • I admit I’m impatient for some of the answers to my questions. I have to remind my heart that no amount of time will seem long in comparison to what waits for me. How do you help your heart make peace with the idea that many, many years may stretch before you without answers?
  • C.S. Lewis was a gifted writer and faithful follower of Jesus. Read the quote above slowly, repeatedly and thoughtfully. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Lord, You do not despise my questions.

You don’t expect me to transcend my frail human understanding. When I bring my questions to You, you may not give me the answer I seek but You always give me mercy, grace and more of Yourself.

Help me hold onto the word picture You shared with Your disciples. No labor lasts forever. I can rest assured that however long life lasts for me on earth, it will be but the tiniest blip in light of eternity. Agony here-yes, and often more than I think I can bear. But joy unspeakable is waiting!

Thank You for the hope I have in Jesus. Thank You for Your grace.

Give me strength to endure no matter how hard it may become. Help me finish strong and enter Heaven with “Hallelujah!” on my lips.

Amen

Child Loss: Finding Courage to Face the Future

I think it was somewhere around two months from Dominic’s departure when my heart realized life was moving forward whether I granted permission or not.  

Not only folks on the fringes and the “bigger world out there” but close by-in my own family, my own circle of intimate friends-people were making plans, having birthdays, going places and doing things.  

I wanted to scream.  

Could the world not take more notice that it was absolutely NOT business as usual?  Was I the only one whose heart was so shattered that the thought of another sunrise was painful?  How could I walk into a future that didn’t include Dominic?

By the grace of God, I did it.  

No one can keep the world from turning, the sun from rising, time from ticking by.  

But it took a great deal of strength and courage.  

takes strengtht to let life pull you forward through grief

First it was a “grin and bear it” kind of courage.  I strapped on my armor and tucked a hankie in my pocket.  I could show up and smile (a bit), talk (awhile) and muddle through.

Sometimes it didn’t go so well.  I had to apologize and leave early.  And I was always exhausted.  

exhausted-over-trying-to-be-stronger-than-i-feel

Then it was an “I’m going to be present for my family” kind of courage.  The last thing I wanted to do was shortchange my earthbound children.  I worked to get a better handle on my thoughts and emotions.  I learned how to pre-grieve major events and milestones.  I found I could bring Dom with me by wearing a meaningful piece of jewelry or tucking a keepsake away where I could touch it if I needed to.

I was able to laugh (most of the time), make small talk and write dates on the calendar again.  

calender

Now the courage that helps me hold on as I’m pulled forward into the future is informed by the fact that every passing day is one day closer to the reunion my heart longs for.  What first seemed impossible is now habitual.  Sorrow and joy can coexist.  I don’t have to be empty of one to feel the other.  The future is not my enemy-it’s where I can and will love ALL my children, husband, family and friends well until the day we are in eternity together forever.

love is courage

My love for Dominic is Background Music to everything I do.  But it doesn’t always demand my full attention.  Sorrow is no longer all I feel and Dominic’s absence no longer all I see.  

 

handprint on my heart

Sunrise is still hard to face some days.  

My heart will always long for the time things were as they should be instead of how they are.  

But I’m thankful for the courage to step into the future even when I’m afraid.  

 

sometimes-fear-does-not-subside-and-you-must-choose-to-do-it-afraid

Not a State But a Process

C. S. Lewis gave voice to so much of human experience in ways that help us understand ourselves and one another.

His book, Mere Christianity, began as a series of radio talks that were later compiled, published and sold millions and millions of copies.

I think Lewis managed to use a conversational, inviting voice in all his works.

When I read them I feel like I’m chatting with a friend (granted, an extremely erudite friend!).  He and I are discussing a thing, reasoning through it together.

He’s not teaching me something, he’s guiding me to learn it for myself.

When he experienced the loss of his beloved wife, this giant of the faith struggled like all us mortals.  His grief journal was eventually published as the book,  A Grief Observed, and has helped many of us who sorrow describe our feelings and find our way.

I particularly love this quote:

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process … There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape … Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.
~C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Lewis understood that grief was not a state which could be changed like ice to water through the application of heat. 

There is no quick fix for a broken heart.  No remedy for missing someone you love.

Instead, grief is a process.

It’s a lifelong journey of remaking a relationship that can no longer depend on physical presence and new memories.  It circles back again and again, asking the same questions, sometimes finding new answers but often having to settle for the old ones.

mixed stages of grief

It’s almost five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and while I have forged new paths in that time, much of my travel has been over well-worn ruts that bring me to the same watering holes.

I’m often surprised that life after loss is not linear at all.

I do feel (as I’ve shared before) that the circles progress ever upward.

I’m not standing still.

But I’m not free to escape the valley.

How Terrible It Is To Love Something That Death Can Touch

I know as a believer in Jesus I’m supposed to be able to look beyond “this mortal veil” and treat death as a mere “address change”.

Well, I can’t.

Death is the enemy and I do not experience it as simply a transition from one state to another.

The last enemy to be abolished and put to an end is death.

~I Corinthians 15:26 AMP

Death is a reminder of all that is wrong with this earth.  It’s a reminder that sin is costly.  It’s a reminder that this world is not my true home.

find in ourselves a longing c s lewis

It’s just plain wrong!

I hated death long before I counted my own son among the casualties.

Living on a farm, we have buried everything from domestic livestock to random wildlife that wandered up, wounded and we tried to save.  I have hatched eggs found in disturbed nests,  loved on baby rabbits, squirrels, deer and woodchucks, nursed abandoned kittens, lambs and goat kids.  Many of them didn’t survive and every one took a bit of my heart when they breathed their last.

how terrible it is to love somthing that death can touch memorial stone

I have said “good-bye” to my 99 year old aunt, my grandmothers, my grandfathers and my own son.

There is nothing pretty about death.  It wasn’t in God’s original plan and I hate it.

Lately, I’ve been worrying about my “therapy” cat-Roosevelt.  He’s aging.  And all things being equal, he won’t last much longer.

r and christmas

 

He sat in my lap as I recovered from numerous surgeries and hospitalizations.

And he stayed with me as I received concerned family and friends when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  I don’t know what I would have done without his warm weight holding me in the chair when all I wanted to do was run away and hide.

hand-coffee-roosevelt

He has been a compassionate companion in many sad and lonely moments-never asking for a thing and giving so much with his presence and unconditional love.

Every night he sleeps beside me, snuggled down tight against my neck, purring peacefully.

But he’s getting old and I am becoming fearful that I don’t have too many more years left with him.  I hate that most nights I drift off to sleep thinking he won’t be here much longer.

And then I feel guilty.

Because the death of my cat (when it happens) can’t begin to touch the depth of pain of the death of my son.  It seems, though, that every death taps that wounded spot in my soul.

dominic at olive garden

But every death-whether a person or an animal I love-opens the floodgate of sadness I work so very hard to keep behind the dam.

I know I’m not supposed to borrow trouble from tomorrow and I work hard not to do that. 

I’m working hard to cherish each moment with everyone I love without worrying that it may be one of the last. 

It’s a fine line I walk every day.  

IMG_2089

 

 

Homesick

I remember the first time I felt homesick.  

I had been away from home before but never without the company of someone I knew well and loved.  

This time was different-I was at a sleepover camp populated with strangers.  Kind strangers, yes, but not a familiar face among the crowd.  

It had sounded like a great idea when I signed up.  So much to do and see:   horses to pet and ride, crafts to be made, campfires to sit around and cook over.

But I soon found that no amount of excitement or distraction could undo the feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was not where I should be.  It was all just a bit “off”.  Everything was slightly skewed.  I never got comfortable enough there to truly enjoy myself.

Instead, I kind of simply endured.

Since Dominic left for Heaven, more than a few days have been spent with that same feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Although I am (very often) surrounded by people I know and love, I still can’t shake the sense that things aren’t quite “right”.

Of course I’m perfectly aware that part of the feeling is generated by Dominic’s absence.

But there’s more to it than that. 

desire-for-another-world-c-s-lewis

I know the Bible teaches that this world is not our home.

Still, I think most of us get so comfortable here that we forget. 

I know I had. 

As my family grew in number and years, I was able to bring “home” with me wherever I went.  Together, we created a bubble of love and companionship.  It seemed nearly perfect-until one of us left suddenly and unexpectedly.  

Immediately, Heaven as my true home become so much dearer to me. 

I know that the correct “Sunday School” answer is that I’ve always longed to see Jesus.

But if I’m honest-and I try very hard to be honest here-as long as my family was intact, Heaven could wait.  

It took the life-altering, heart breaking reality of child loss for me to recognize that this world is NOT my home.  No matter how beautiful, wonderful and fulfilling my life on earth may be, it’s never going to be free of hardship and heartache.

I am homesick-utterly, inconsolably homesick. 

So I point my face to the east-just as Dominic and other saints whose bodies await the resurrection face east-and look forward to that Glorious Day when Jesus will return and make every thing that’s wrong. right.

I admit that my homesick heart won’t ever be satisfied in this world.  

And I lean in and hold on to the hope I have in Christ-trusting Him to redeem and restore.  

I began to try to define the pain I felt. Yes, it was sorrow, but it was something more, something infinitely deeper. I felt it all the time, even when I was happy. It wasn’t just sorrow. It was a longing; a pining for a better place and time … no, not just a better place and time, a perfect place and time; a different reality. It felt like longing for home, but not for a home I had ever been to. I began to see that it was something like homesickness …. Perhaps Christians are the most consistently homesick people in the world because they know this world (as it is) isn’t their true home. Yes, I was home, but I was still homesick.
~Elyse Fitzpatrick, Home