Tangible Absence

In response to something I posted in a bereaved parents’ group a friend used the term “tangible absence” to describe what I was feeling.

She is so right.

When I imagine something I’ve never actually experienced-even when I might say “I miss such and such” it’s not the same as when I’ve had something and it’s been taken away.

I can only miss the imaginary in an ephemeral, insubstantial way.  I miss what I once possessed in a tangible way.

I know exactly the size and shape and sound and substance of the person that SHOULD be here but isn’t.

IMG_1815

I know the energy he would add to a room or a conversation.

I know the point of view that’s missing from the debate or decision making.

And I miss him like crazy. 

nicolas wolterstorff theres a hole in the world

~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

What is Suffering?

The slim little book, LAMENT FOR A SON, by Nicolas Wolterstorff was a lifeline for me in the first few weeks after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

It wasn’t just because both of our young adult sons died in an accident.

It was mostly because Wolterstorff refused to distill the experience down to one-liners.  

He admitted that (even ten years later-which was the copy of the book I received) he was still struggling to make sense of all the feelings and spiritual implications of child loss.

And I love, love, love that he picks out every single thread and follows it as far as it goes.

Here is an excerpt on suffering:  

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted — work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain — that is suffering.
Or rather, that is when suffering happens. What it IS, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I understand nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.
We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright; some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.


This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.


~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

My heart receives two truths from his words: 

  • that if I love, I WILL suffer.  That’s the nature of love-risking all for the benefit of another means that my heart is ultimately in their hands; and
  • pain is part of but not all of suffering.  Pain can often be dulled, dealt with, the source remedied.  Suffering is a state of the heart, mind, soul and spirit.  It can rarely be undone.  It must simply be endured.  

Understanding that the only way I could never suffer would be to never love helped me embrace this blow with a willing heart.  Even if I had known it was coming, I would still have chosen to love my son.  All the years I had are worth all the years I will carry this burden.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

And understanding that there is no cure for suffering changes my perspective from looking for a way out to looking for a way to persevere.  

Nicholas Wolterstorff will never know my name but I will never forget his.

I am so grateful for Wolterstorff’s words.  

So thankful that he chose to share them with others.

Forever in his debt for being one of the first hands proffered to me on this journey.  

 

Adjusting to the Darkness

A precious friend sent a small book through the mail just after we buried Dominic.  Lament for a Son-the title was enough to draw me in-and the pages ministered to my soul.

Here was someone who, like me, was wailing for what was lost.

Someone who was declaring out loud what my heart harbored in secret: that the darkness of child loss is unrelenting and horrible.

Will my eyes adjust to this darkness? Will I find you in the dark – not in the streaks of light which remain, but in the darkness? Has anyone ever found you there? Did they love what they saw? Did they see love? And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim? Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?
Noon has darkened. As fast as they could say, ‘He’s dead,’ the light dimmed. And where are you in the darkness? I learned to spy you in the light. Here in this darkness, I cannot find you. If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence. Or is not your absence in which I dwell, but your elusive troubling presence?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

I comprehend Wolterstorff’s question-“Will I find you [God] in the dark-not in the streaks of light which remain, but in the darkness?”

I had long followed the light of Christ.  Walked boldly even when the light was very dim. Trusted the smallest flicker of a tiny candle of hope when night closed in and began to speak fear to my heart.

But this-this unrelenting, palpable darkness that swallowed any light and even the promise of light-this was new to me.

I understood David’s cry:

“How long, O Eternal One? How long will You forget me? Forever?
    How long will You look the other way?

How long must I agonize,
    grieving Your absence in my heart every day?”

Psalm 13:1-2a VOICE

But time is helping my eyes adjust to the darkness.

I am learning to feel my way around in this new room, to navigate days that feel more like night.

I know in my heart that this night will not last forever.

I will be able to say:

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Psalm 13:5-6 ESV

God has promised that Jesus is the Light and even this darkness cannot overcome Him.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was already with God in the beginning. Everything came into existence through him. Not one thing that exists was made without him. He was the source of life, and that life was the light for humanity. 5The light shines in the dark, and the dark has never extinguished it.

John 1:1-5 GWT