Three years ago today I sat in a back bedroom with my laptop trying to summarize a whole life into a few paragraphs.
It wasn’t any easier doing that for my mama who lived a long life than it was for my son who (by most standards) lived a short one.
Ain’t nothing easy about death.
Ain’t nothing easy about walking away from a hospital room or a morgue or an accident site knowing that whatever wasn’t said will never be said. Nothing easy about facing final arrangements, making phone calls, writing obituaries, finding photos for a slide show, wrapping up a life into a few words and a few songs and a few pictures.
My heart is used to the dull thumping pain of sorrow.
It’s grown accustomed to setting aside despair and doing what has to be done.
I know how to forge ahead and keep living and plan as if my world hasn’t imploded, making calendars and clocks and seasons and holidays irrelevant.
On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall.
Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.
~C.S. Lewis, Miracles
Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal.
The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.
The calendar is relentless. There’s no respect for seasons of mourning or grief anniversaries or weeks of sickness or unexpected early births of grandchildren.
The sun rises, the sun sets and another day is crossed off into history.
So somehow-without my permission-I find I’ve woken to mark the eighth anniversary (do you call such a horrible thing an anniversary?) of Dominic’s death.
It’s humbling to realize I (and my family!) are not only still standing but flourishing. It’s horrifying to comprehend I’ve continued to live and breathe for 2922 days since Dominic left us.
Most days are pretty good.
Today is hard.
When the numbness wore off (maybe around six months) I remember vaguely wondering what years down the road would feel like.
I tried to project the “me” of that moment into the future and imagine how I might deal with life changes, new circumstances, an empty nest, grandchildren (if there were any) and growing older alongside the heartache of burying a child.
But just as it’s impossible to comprehend how the addition of a child utterly transforms a family, it’s impossible to understand how the subtraction of one changes everything just as much.
We are all so very different than we would have been if Dominic were still here.
Life most likely wouldn’t be any more perfect because we would each grow and change, find common ground and find points of conflict, make new memories and drag up old hurts.
Still, none of us would carry the deep wound and traumatic injury of sudden and out-of-order death.
THATis impossible to ignore. Even eight years later it’s a red flag, a sticky note, an addendum to every family gathering and holiday.
So we carry on.
Like generations before us who have walked this world dragging loss behind them, we keep going. It shapes us but doesn’t limit us. It informs our views but isn’t the only thing that molds our opinions and frames our choices.
My faith in God’s larger and perfect plan helps me hold onto hope even as I continue to miss my son.
But today is a hard day and I don’t think that’s going to change as long as I live.
I’m getting better at remembering Dominic’s birthday in ways that honor who he is and the man he might have become. I can’t say I’ve figured out any good way to walk through the yearly unavoidable and unwelcome reminder of the day he left us.
I’m learning to allow the grief waves to simply wash over me without resisting them.
Eventually the hours tick away, the day is over and I find I’ve survived yet again.
If you’ve ever woken in the night only to have every thing you’ve left undone or done poorly or done selfishly line up like pointing fingers across your eyelids then you know the power of shame.
If you, like me, have buried a child, you know the long hours between when you hear the news and can once again touch the earthly shell of your loved one drag on and are fertile ground for what ifs, should haves and could haves.
Shame is a powerful emotion. It declares me unworthy of love, affection and even consideration.
Shame is undoubtedly what drove Peter back to his old fishing habits having denied the Master he swore to love unto death.
And shame can keep me prisoner behind walls of self-protection that aren’t really effective at all.
But I don’t have to accept those feelings, I don’t have to listen to those voices and I don’t have to live behind a stone rolled in front of my past.
Christ died for this…He not only bore my sin but also my shame. He not only died to bear my punishment, He rose to declare the debt has been paid in full!
Jesus did not merely dust me off and iron out a few of the more stubborn wrinkles in my life. He saved me because I was in desperate need of saving. I am alive only because He lives.
Alicia Britt Chole
When the women went to the tomb only to find the stone rolled away and an angel declaring the Good News, their lives were changed in an instant. There was no longer any need to live in the despair of death and fear.
And when I receive the new life God offers me in Christ, I am changed in precisely the same way. It certainly isn’t as earth shattering (literally-there was an earthquake!) nor as dramatic (no angelic visitor here) but it is just as real.
The women didn’t feel like they needed to keep visiting that tomb repeatedly to prove to themselves Jesus had risen. It was fact and they lived in light of what they knew to be true from that moment forward.
I don’t need to keep revisiting my dead sinsand past mistakes either.
Jesus has carried them away.
I am free to live in the resurrected life I share with Him.
Is shame standing watch over any dead things in your life? Jesus died to forgive you-follow His example and forgive yourself. Fast guarding that tomb. Let an earthquake or an angel roll away the stone so that you can see that nothing is there anymore. It is empty. Jesus conquered it. Jesus removed it. All that is there now is light and hope.
I used to look at tombstones in cemeteries and do the math between the dates.
I was most focused on how long this person or that person walked the earth.
I still do that sometimes. But now I do something else as well.
I look to the left and the right to see if the person who ran ahead left parents behind. My eye is drawn to the solitary stones with the same last name next to a double monument clearly honoring a married pair.
And then I do a different kind of math.
I count the years between the last breath of the child and the last breath of his or her mama.
Because while that first date marked an end for everyone else, for the mama, it marked the beginning of the rest of her life- a life she never imagined nor would have chosen.
We live in a noisy world. If we happen to be in a quiet place, we bring our noise boxes with us our pockets.
Does anyone go anywhere without their phone?
Connectivity invites us to constant interaction with others and only the rare, out of the way, unconnected corner leaves us to contemplate our own thoughts or our own feelings.
Yet we need to seek silence. We need to sit with our inner selves and reflect on the work of Christ in our hearts.
If the enemy forces us to give up quietness, we must not listen to him. For nothing is like quietness and abstinence from food. They combine to fight together against him. For they give keen insight to the inner eyes.
Abba Doulas, c. 3rd Century
Grief is brutal.
Dominic’s death and burial so closely following the pattern of Holy Week has led to superimposing my own experience on that of the disciples and Mary.
When Christ was declared truly dead, taken from the cross and laid in a borrowed grave it surely must have felt as if there was no hope. This Rabbi, this Miracle Worker, this Man of God who claimed to be the Son of God had not stopped evil men from wrongly accusing Him, wrongly convicting Him and wrongly putting Him to death.
I don’t have to imagine how that felt.
Dominic was killed late Friday night/early Saturday morning. Days of silent waiting filled the space between when I knew and when I could finally see his body.
If I could have filled that time with distracting noise I would have.
But there is no sound that can drown out grief.
I often imagine the company of those who loved Jesus sitting silent in a room together each with his or her own thoughts. What was there to say?
Today, Chole invites us to fast our voice-spoken and written-and to make space to hear our own thoughts as well as the still, small whisper of the Lord.
It’s no coincidence that communities honor the fallen with a moment of silence.
In that sacred silence we are drawn together and also forced to face our separate sense of loss, fear, hope-or lack of hope- and mortality. It is an exercise we frequently shun but should instead embrace.
Today I encourage you to sit in silence with your own loss, with the hope and light of the gospel, with the promise that every bad thing, every wicked thing, everything the enemy means for evil will one day be irrevocably and beautifully be undone and redeemed.
Have you ever been silenced by a painting, symphony or play? Have you ever been moved so deeply by an experience that words failed you and the only worthy offering was silence? In fasting our voice we are focusing-not remotely emptying-our minds to behold Jesus with love….Join the disciples today in beholding Jesus in His death.