What You Lose (or, grief still feels like fear.)

“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen…”–C.S. Lewis

Some feelings strike all at once, like being suddenly slugged in the face. There is no denying the impact, no gnawing anticipation for the pain you know is coming sooner or later. The pain is there, throbbing and ever-present, always calling you back to the moment of collision.

But other expressions of emotion take time to fully form, like a sickness that you know is there, but takes a long time to show any side effects. Grief is one of those expressions for me. I have seen it take so much from me and from those I love that sometimes the part of me where doubts and fears run rampant wants to respond to Paul’s admonition of death in 1 Corinthians 15 (O, Death where is your sting?) with a biting, “It is here. And boy does it sting!” And I still do not understand nor can I articulate the depths of pain grief brings.

If you know me personally or have followed this blog for very long, you probably know that I started it back in 2012 as an outlet for me to deal with losing one of my best friends. I stand firm on the belief that the pain of loss is one thing about this world that shows you that all is not as it should be. As much as I may or may not be adjusting to life without Jordan, over 2 and a half years later, and as much as I stand firmly convinced that God’s mercy and grace is overwhelming in the face of all that overwhelms me, I cannot shake the thought that a 21 year old dying in a freak accident is an atrocity, a tragedy that cannot just be explained away as an act of God that would make more sense to us if we were only spiritual enough.

All that said, it is with a heavy heart that I add a chapter to the story of how I personally have interacted with the closeness of tragedy.

It was a normal Sunday morning. I went to church as usual and sat in my pew. I felt a staggering peace come over me that morning. Let’s call it gratefulness. And I remember praising God for blessing me with this job, this church family, for relationships in my life that truly meant something, for teaching me even when my stubborn self did not want to be taught, the whole nine yards.

I drove the church van that morning. As I dropped off the remaining teens, my cell phone started ringing. My friend DeMarcus and I sat at the stop sign for a minute for me to answer. It was my Dad.

“Hey, Dad. What’s Up?” I said, as if everything was normal. It wasn’t.

“Hey son,” he replied. Something was off. “Where are you?”

“I’m driving the van, on my way to drop DeMarcus off and then back to the church.” Silence. Odd silence.

“Oh. Call me when you’re done…we need to talk.”

We needed to talk? Was this a father-son conversation or was I being dumped?

“What do you mean? Is everything okay?” I stammered.

“No. It’s not.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

He sighed, “Charlene passed away this morning.”

Tears welling up. Heart hammering. My mind full of questions, doubts…fear.

“I’ll call you back.” I barely got the words out before I hung up. I apologized to DeMarcus and told him in what probably sounded like broken English what was wrong and that I needed a minute. He graciously gave me all the time I needed.

There at the stop sign, right outside of two of my teenagers’ house, I wanted to unbuckle my seatbelt, jump out of the van and beat the ground until it broke. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t form coherent sentences. I couldn’t stop shaking. I wanted to get out and run as fast and as far away as my legs could carry me. I wanted to run from Kannapolis to Belmont and hug my Mom, who just lost one of her closest friends. I wanted to embrace her and let her cry on my  chest until the tears couldn’t come anymore, like she did for me when I lost Jordan.

I wanted to take the pain of Charlene’s kids, her husband, her brothers and sisters, and throw it into the ocean. I wanted to reverse time, or pretend it never happened.

There are so many questions.

So many unanswered questions.

—————————————————————————————–

I’ll never forget how she made people feel loved. How she, in my entire army of “second moms”, always took the role of the one who would remind me that everyone could see my underwear and I needed to pull up my pants…NOW.

How she always gave me the most creative (and hilarious) birthday cards.

And, most importantly, how she (and all my parents’ other friends) showed me the importance of surrounding yourself with good people, with loyal people who loved you and supported you. They modeled what healthy friendships looked like, and that has made all the difference in my own friendships.

————————————————————————————————

I guess I say all that to say this:

I am 24 years old, and I have lost so many people, gone way too soon. And it’s sometimes hard to balance what I believe about heaven and the afterlife with the gnawing emptiness that comes after experiencing a loss.

After Jordan died, I always felt bad that I felt bad, if that makes sense. I believed he was in heaven. I believed he was free from pain and from suffering. I believed he was with God and met Christ, the object of his affections, face to face.

But the gnawing emptiness did not leave. On some days, it still resurfaces. And I miss him. I miss him like I miss my friend Jennifer, who also died young due to complications from surgery. And Ariane, a friend from college who fought a terminal disease to the very end. She died on her birthday. And like I miss Charlene.

I want to make a few things abundantly clear:

1.) Fellow Christians, never minimize anyone’s grief. You may think you’re doing them a favor by reminding them that they are not God and do not know the big picture, but I promise you they have a crushing awareness of that already. If you invalidate their grief and dismiss it, you are not helping, you are damaging what is already damaged. You are kicking them while they are down. This is the most un-Christlike thing you could ever do.

2.) To those experiencing the kind of grief I’m writing about, you are not alone. Your feelings are normal and you have no reason to feel wrong or stupid. I promise you that God is a big boy, and he can handle your sadness, your depression, your darkest thoughts, and your most cruel indictments of his Character. I pray for you. That you would let him hold you close, let him heal those wounds and let you grieve how you need to grieve. He is a God who loves you as you are, not as you need to be. But God’s love is a transformative love, one that changes you, one that embraces you and leads you to embrace others.

The thing about loss…it isn’t the initial loss that hurts. It is the pervading absence.

It is the thought of living day after day after day without hearing the sweet voices of those you love again.

It’s those torturous moments where you think you see them in a crowd and you hold your breath. You know it is too wonderful to be true, but a part of you hopes the rumors of their death were greatly exaggerated.

It is the crushing defeat the day you finally have to delete their telephone numbers because you’ve accidentally called them more than you’d like to admit.

And it is the embarrassment and wave of nausea that hits when you accidentally call your other friends and family by the name of the one you’ve lost.

Grief is the sickness that leaves you guessing when it will rear its ugly head. I’ve had moments in the past two years (and two days) where I just start crying with no provocation. Where did that even come from? I think to myself. But it is there.

I have grown significantly in my walk with Christ in the past several years. My orientation towards grief is daily becoming less one of fear, and more of acceptance. That I don’t have all the answers to life’s injustices, and frankly, I don’t need them.

I am learning to rest in God.

I am learning that when Paul writes those bold words to death in 1 Corinthians, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” He is referring to the encompassing victory of Christ over our damnation. His proclamation that death is not the end. That there is peace, overwhelming peace to be found in Him alone, and nothing can overcome his furious mercy.

So I have hope. I have peace, like I felt Sunday morning, I know that I will grieve and I personally don’t fear it anymore, I know it is coming and I welcome it, trusting that Christ who bore all of my burdens bears them still.

When Jordan died, I raged against the very God who knit me together, who held me close to his chest as I soaked him with tears and curses and voiced all of my grievances, believing they were falling on deaf ears.

And though I am at a place in my life and my faith where I do not need answers to be sure of God’s well, God-ness, he has so graciously given some of the answers my heart has asked for in groans and hushed sighs.

The main one: Where are you in all of this, God?

His response was simple: Stephen, I am right here. With you.

——————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve made it this far, thanks. These are unfiltered thoughts, they may not make a whole lot of sense all jammed together. But I’d ask that if you are a believer, please pray for the family of Charlene. And please pray for my Mother. My heart breaks for her as I have lost a best friend. I know what that’s like and it isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. May God bless you all.

Here’s a song that came on my iPod as I drove to my hometown yesterday. I thought it was appropriate:

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Author: panicpreacherpanic

I am not good.

12 thoughts on “What You Lose (or, grief still feels like fear.)”

  1. I am so sorry about your losses and your Mom’s loss. I lost my brother when I was a teen-ager and death of a loved one truly is the hardest thing you will ever go through! You are right God is BIG enough for our tears and anger and I pray that He continues to hold you and your Mom and everyone else affected by these tragedies in HIS everlasting arms and helps you to walk again when you feel like you don’t have the power to take the next step. I have always loved the Footprints poem, if you haven’t read it, you need too! You have my prayers!

    1. I sort of went on unintentional blogging hiatus for a while, or else I would’ve commented on these before.

      Thanks so much for the kind words and the prayers. I read a book once that says that we mistakenly believe that our pain is a storm we need to fight through to get to God, who is on the other side. But that is not true. God is in our midst, holding us through the struggle. That picture does not settle all my questions, but it surely reminds me that I am not alone and God is with me during those times of questioning.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post, my friend! I can remember the night of November 3rd in 2010 when I received the phone call from my mother to tell me that my oldest brother died while in a diabetic coma. When I tell you I just sat in my car (I was returning from a date), and said absolutely nothing…no tears…nothing…It did not make any sense to me because we did not know he had diabetes. I learned later that he was informed of it earlier that day. But I never understood what happened because it happened so fast. He went into the hospital on Monday and was gone on Wednesday…but through that experience, God reminded me of the urgency of the times and my role in the Kingdom. He reminded me that we are not promised a long life (my brother had just turned 44 a few months earlier)…it helped me to bring things into perspective…it did not take away the void left by my brother’s absence…but it did help me as I began to return to the path and journey I had begun…I appreciate your willingness to share this with us…definitely praying for you and your family 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your story.

      C.S. Lewis also said of pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

      When we suffer, we experience not only pain, but a new sense of urgency that we either run full-speed-ahead toward or retreat from. But surely, through the pain, God is shouting in the middle of it , wanting to bring us comfort, and bring us back to him.

  3. Thank you for your post. It really helped me today. I’m grieving, not for something I’ve lost but for something I’ve never had. Real parents. I did have two people one of whom gave birth to me with the help of the other, I did live with them for 24 years, but I never had parents. This is something I actually began to find out 4 years ago, when I opened up to a friend and told her about the things they did and still do and was met with an appalled reaction. But it still hurts so much. Today was a sermon about how Jesus pointed out a child to say that we should become like it. The pastor talked a lot about what children do and how they aren’t perfect and innocent but also annoying, demanding, spiteful and have other bad traits. So Jesus can’t mean we must be “innocent”. And he also said we love them still and so God loves us still, no matter what we do. And he made serveral examples like “you still love your child when it interrupts you watching TV” or “you still love your child when it’s bad at school” or “you don’t hate your child when it breaks something while playing”.
    I thought I had overcome it. I thought I had understood that my mother is very probably mentally ill, that can’t take serious whatever she said or says and that I had overcome the fact that my childhood was horrible. Yet today hearing all those examples of situations, in which my mother would have yelled at me, told me she’d send me to an orphanage or beaten me, and hearing the pastor say parents would usually still love their children for it – it made me cry a lot during and after service and I am still crying. But reading your text helped me at least feel better about still crying so much.

    Just wanted to share that.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I cannot personally relate to your situation, but know that you are in my prayers, and shame does not come from God. Don’t ever be made to feel wrong about the grief you feel.

      Grief reminds us that all isn’t right with the world, and I pray for you as I pray for myself that my confidence would be in Christ alone, who is big enough to take all of our pain and comfort us when we feel hopeless. He is your hope. Thanks for reading!

    1. Thank you for sharing part of yours. I cannot imagine the depths of pain in losing a child. My heart is broken for you. I am praying for you and yours. God is good, but that statement feels trite and lifeless in the face of that kind of grief.

      I pray for you that God would find new ways to show you his goodness.
      And that he would hold you close, even if he doesn’t always make sense.
      And that you would find peace.

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