Nothing New Between Us

Why are the photographs of him as a little boy so incredibly hard to look at? Something is over. Now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memories, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. So it is with all the memories of him. They all lead into blackness. All I can do is remember him, I cannot experience him. Nothing new can happen between us.

~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

 

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

Death is never welcome.  

It is always a reminder that I live in a broken world where sickness and time, accidents and sinful choices press the life out of bodies and I am left behind to mourn.

But when people die at a ripe old age, I look back fondly on what they’ve done, where they’ve been, the legacy of work and love and family they leave behind.

No one lives forever.

In the back of my mind I can make room for that fact, even though I don’t like to bring it out and consider it very often.  Those that are much older than me will (all things being equal) leave this world before us.

I joined them. 

There is part of their lives I know nothing about.  And there will be part of mine they will not share.

But my child?

I have known my child since before he entered the light of this world!  I felt him in my womb.  I experienced who he was before anyone else met him.

I never, ever expected for my life to outlast his!

I always thought there would be new experiences between us, new memories to tuck away, new adventures to look forward to.  

Out of order death is unexpected, unnatural, unbelievable.  

“Nothing new between us.”  

Breaks my heart every time. 

handprint on my heart

 

 

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.  

 

Death Is Awful

I have friends who have not only buried a child (some have buried more than one) but have also buried parents, siblings, in-laws and other people close to their hearts in a very short span of time.

And I am appalled when they recite the trite comments doled out by others meant to patch broken hearts and sweep the leftover pieces under the rug of social propriety.

Let me just say this:  Death.  Is.  Awful.

Full stop.  No easy change of subject or laughter allowed to make the hearing of it softer.

It should be hard.

It should make us pause.

We should stop in our tracks to acknowledge the passing of the breath of God from a person’s body.

Death is an unavoidable reminder that the world is not as God intended it to be.  It’s a reminder of the cost of sin.  It’s a reminder that our time is short.  And it’s a reminder that we are NOT in control.

Those are very uncomfortable truths.

My hope in Christ makes those truths bearable but it does not make facing the death of those I love hurt less.

A broken heart is a perfectly natural and reasonable response to the awfulness of death and to the absence of the presence of one I love. Great grief is the price of great love.  

There’s a scene in The Magician’s Nephew where a little boy named Digory meets Aslan. His mother is sick, and he wants to ask for Aslan’s help, but he’s afraid. Lewis writes:

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front 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. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

For those outside this great grief, it seems helpful to toss words like bandaids but it’s not.

I’m sure you mean well when you try to circumscribe my grief-to give limits to its expression and duration.

But unrealistic expectations make it more difficult to bear the burden I’m already carrying. Your words add to this weight of sorrow and pain that I cannot untie from my bent back.

carrying-a-heavy-load

Presence-often SILENT presence-is the balm for my wounded soul.

But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.

~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

 

Death Matters

This talk that death doesn’t matter, that the grave isn’t awful and that separation from the ones we love for the duration of our earthly sojourn is not all that bad in light of eternity upsets me.

Revisit the first three chapters of Genesis and you understand.

God’s original creation did not include death.

It was beautiful.  It was perfect.  It was good.

Sin brought death.  Blood was spilt because only blood can cover sin.

Every time a living thing dies, it’s a reminder of the high cost of sin.

It’s a reminder that the world is not as God intended.

It’s a reminder that there is something better, something more real and perfect than this place we live in now.

It is an undeniable reminder of God’s great love for us and the price He was willing to pay to lavish that love on us.  

A friend wrote this to me and my heart cried, “Yes!

“I do not think it belittles life or the present to say “I am left inconsolable by love”.  I think God made us to love like this.  I think our grief is what it means to Love.  And how He feels about us. Inconsolable longing and agony.”

We should not dismiss death.

We cannot make it small.  

death matters lewis

 

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