Some bad news comes like a punch to the gut.
A midnight phone call and you want so badly to be dreaming. A request to sit down and your knees are already weak. Then the news: A car accident. A collapse. A turn for the worse. Dry mouth and uncertainty and wind-knocked-out-of-you pain, heaving sobs like you’re birthing something from the depths of yourself.
Other bad news comes slow, like an unraveling, like a long descent into unknown, darkness; into pain and fear and finally, the goodbye you saw coming a year away but still, until the last moment, wished away.
In an instant, all has changed, but everything looks curiously, painfully the same.
A young grandmother, a young aunt, a older but still young brother. All gone, all over this last month, all connected to me peripherally-but-not-really, but still the sting makes me catch my breath.
Where is God when it all falls to pieces? What is he doing when the loss all around you seems to turn monstrous, insatiable and relentless?
At my own dad’s funeral, someone read from the scripture, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
I glared down at my hands, weary from the hard crying, and I thought, It stings. It does. I could feel the grip of it all the way down in my bones, and it would stay there, uninvited and unwelcome, for a decade.
- – - -
There is the numbing that comes, the weary forgetting, and don’t you dare feel guilty. You can’t live in the depths of your grief every hour of every day or you would drown, and your soul know this. So you’re granted brief respites, some fitful sleep, sometimes an airy movie that you forget as soon as it’s over, but at least there was some relief from the relentless questions and thoughts and what ifs and if onlys.
In the dark moments, there are questions with echoing silence. There are no answers.
- – - -
You don’t want to see it at first, I know. You want black and white, you’re lost in loss for a while. But then a bit of beauty breaks through, and you find your heart lifted for a half-second by your baby’s laugh. You feel warmed when a friend knows just what you needed today. You get through one of the hardest days and you’re sure you didn’t make it on your own.
You might start noticing holy fingerprints everywhere, little graces in final conversations, mercies in last acts on this earth. In any other circumstance they would be sweet and forgettable, but now are priceless and eternal gifts, to be recalled for years as a testament — an altar to God’s faithfulness, to his care and incredible tenderness towards us in our pain.
This is what to do when all seems swallowed by loss: You find pockets of love. You see glimpses of grace and mercy. There is a silver-white thread that is holding you even now, and you don’t know why or how, but you know it is your lifeline. When all is loss, confusion and pain, the fact of your next breath is pure grace, and you can start believing in the miracle because you’re witnessing it. A breath. A friend. A sweet gift, a memory pushed to the surface, a hot shower, a hard cry.
Signs and wonders, every one.
- – - -
You can trust now. You can let go and stop trying so hard to “do grief” right. You can let your body go limp and be carried by the current, out to sea some days, closer to shore others, but always tethered, don’t ever doubt it, you are held by an everlasting love that will not let you go, no matter how you fight and rage and push.
If you simply drop the striving, stop looking for the end of your grief, give up and let the sadness in and out, you’ll feel the tender tug of holy connection, and you can trust it more than the darkness, and it will eventually pull you into everlasting light.