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.  

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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

Vulnerable

It’s tempting when wounded to build walls to try to protect your heart.  

It seems logical.  

Who wants to invite more pain when already carrying a load?

But the wall I build for protection keeps EVERYTHING out-love, grace, mercy and hope as well as heartache.  

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

So I choose to let the walls fall. 

I choose to let it all in and take the risk. 

I will stay soft,

reachable,

vulnerable.  

be soft

 

 

 

Have I Put God in a Box?

I honestly thought I had a fairly accurate and well-rounded theological grid before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

I had studied Scripture diligently for over 25 years, read extensively, engaged in active and insightful conversation with thoughtful believers and swallowed some difficult truths.

But when faced with my child’s untimely and sudden death, I realized that I had also swallowed some untruths and half-truths.

I thought I had God figured out, that I knew how He worked in the world and that I was definitely on the inside track to gain His favor and blessing.

I was wrong.

I wrote this a couple years ago, but it is something I have to come back to over and over in this Valley of the Shadow of Death:

Every idea of [God] we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed…’ I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.’

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964)

It’s possible that you haven’t thought of it this way, but if you are a believer in Christ and have yet to walk through faith-shattering trials, you may have placed God in a box.

I know I had.

Read the rest here:  God in a Box

Wisdom From C.S. Lewis

C.S.Lewis was an amazing man who died one day before I was born and just three years after his beloved wife ran to heaven ahead of him. 

In these later years I’ve often wondered how much grief played a role in his departure.  

I have appreciated his books for decades.  Shared them with others and spent hours reading The Chronicles of Narnia series to my children.

He is a family staple.  

But he can be a bit hard to understand at times-his rich background studying literature informed his own writing style.  So I often have to tease apart longer quotes to get at the meat of what he’s saying.

It’s always worth it.  

I read A GRIEF OBSERVED in my 30’s as another in a long list of “Books You Should Read”.  I gleaned a bit here or there that I thought might be of use later on.

But when Dominic ran ahead to heaven, it was the first book on grief I bought for myself and I read it like a starving man set down to a full table.  

This passage, in particular, was helpful in understanding how my absolute trust in the FACT of ultimate redemption of my pain and sorrow did absolutely NOTHING to take away the pain and sorrow-it only made it bearable.

 

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

~C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

My son is safe in the arms of Jesus.  And that is a comfort.  

And I, trusting in that truth and leaning into my faith in Christ, am also comforted that even here, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, am safe in the arms of Jesus.  I may FEEL lost, but I am NOT lost.

But-and here’s the experiential truth that separates those of us who experience the REALITY of child loss from those that IMAGINE it-my mother’s heart is denied the presence of my son for the rest of my earthly days.

All the things I had hoped for, dreamt of and expected to experience are robbed from me.  

There is no remedy for that.  

Absolutely none.

imagine child loss

 

Map of Sorrow

I take great consolation in the fact that C.S. Lewis, a man who defended the Christian faith in an age of faithless reason was just as stricken by grief as I am.  

All the research, all the thinking, all the gathering of truth he had hoarded in his heart for decades was no defense against unbearable loss and sorrow banging down the door.

He clung to Christ.  So do I.  

But he refused to deny his feelings.  I will not deny mine.  

Sorrow is no longer ALL I feel.  And I am very thankful for that.

But this road still stretches before me, bends and twists and rises and falls. 

It is, as Lewis says, “a process” and it will last a lifetime.

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