Walking the Path of Grief

25 04 2016

This past Sunday my church did a service on lament at which I was asked to speak on the topic of loneliness. One of the characteristics of lament is the necessity for honesty; telling it like it is. I did that.  I’ve had some requests to print the text of my talk on this blog, so here it is.

I often think of my father, a widower for twenty years. He bore the burden of his loss  quietly, rarely talking about it, and when he did, he simply said: “It’s lonely without Mom.” I thought I knew what that meant. But the depth of meaning in those few words didn’t fully impact me until loss happened to me.

When Mel died, everything about my life changed. I wasn’t prepared for his death, nor did I have any idea how impossibly challenging it would be to walk the path of grief.

Weariness became my new normal over the weeks and months as I discovered the true meaning of loneliness. My house was so very silent all the time–meals eaten alone, evenings spent alone, weekends without the companionship of my husband. I felt his absence everywhere.

And that loneliness brought me to an unexpected emotion—anger. I was surprised by the depth and force of it. Mel was a good man with much still to contribute to the world. He had great plans for volunteering in our retirement. But he never got that chance, and I was angry. I railed at God, I stormed through the house yelling, crying, shaking my fist at Him. Really, God? Why him? If You truly love me, why did You allow this? I demanded answers.

What I got was silence. God had gone, deserted me, left me to deal with all the baggage that accompanies grief. The sadness, despair, loneliness, helplessness, bitterness, anger.

And the doubt. I couldn’t feel God anywhere.

This thing called faith can be elusive. It’s hard to find in the deepest, most painful days of our lives. How can it even exist in a world where death takes children, spouses, friends and parents way before their time?

For a long while after Mel’s death I had doubts about my faith. I needed that wonderful man as my life partner—didn’t God know that?

As Christians, we believe God knows best….until things don’t go as we’ve planned. Then we have the audacity to think we can control our lives, that God needs us to direct Him. Maybe I felt that way. As if I know better than God. As if I have any say in what happens next. The hardest thing I’ve had to do is let go of all that—all the control—and trust God knows best.

That’s really tough when all you feel is gut-wrenching pain. So yes, I questioned my faith. But gradually through the days and weeks, I realized it was still there.

Because what do we have if we don’t have our faith? I admit mine was tested, but in the process it deepened as I felt the comforting arms of God around me in the middle of many sleepless nights, or in the solitude of a winter snowstorm.

And in those lonely days, God hadn’t gone away, hadn’t deserted me. Instead, He’d given me space in which to work my way through the messiness, all the while quietly walking alongside me. He allowed the process of grief to take its course, gradually lifting the initial blessing of shock so that I could do the important work of grieving.

I still have those moments when I feel as if I’m going through the grief process all over again. Some of my joy is gone, some of life’s wonders are diminished, and there is heaviness in my heart. I miss Mel. I mourn the days ahead without him, the 50th anniversary he won’t be here to celebrate with me this August. As my dad said, at the end of the day it’s lonely.

Chris Tomlin’s song God of Angel Armies says I know who goes before me; I know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side. The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine. The God of angel armies is always by my side.

I awoke with that song going through my head on March 17th, 2013, and I continued to hear it as the day wore on. That afternoon, God took Mel home. In His divine providence, He gave me the words of that song to carry me–then and in the weeks to follow. To remind me I’m not alone. And that has truly been evidence of His amazing grace.This

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The Silence Project

23 10 2013

“I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind.
The God of angel armies is always by my side.”
Chris Tomlin

A squirrel sits on the deck railing inches from my chair, its tail fluffed by the early morning breezes rustling the maple leaves overhead. A hummingbird darts from flower to flower in the garden nearby. It’s the beginning of another of a long string of summer days, each melting into the other so seamlessly that I can’t distinguish their beginnings and ends, were it not for the sunsets.
Above all the everyday noises, it’s the silence that I hear. For some time I’ve noticed it, so loud it’s impossible to ignore.

I heard it in the evening in late August as I sat on the beach and watched the sun work its magic on the western sky. Ribbons of oranges, reds and pinks were interlaced across the horizon as the sun descended beyond the edge of Lake Michigan. That day the wind was pushing the water onto the shore with relentless force. But even through the crashing waves I heard it—that silence.
Several feet inland from the lake, a little boy had dug a hole in the sand and was sitting inside, pure delight on his face as he splashed the water that seeped up from below the ground. Seagulls flew low along the shoreline, squawking as if supervising the child’s work. But all the sounds of a lake at eventide were powerless to drown out the silence.
It was our anniversary, and I had no idea how to celebrate it alone. So I went to the beach to watch the sunset on our special day and sat, cocooned in the silence, that very loud silence which had surrounded me for the past six months.
As I watched the sun glide beyond the water’s edge, I repeated to myself the words I had said to my children on the day of my husband’s funeral.
I don’t know how to do this.
The same way my days had lost much of their brightness, those last rays of sun receded and surrendered to the darkening of night, and it was time for me to go. I made my way back to the car, back to the abnormal silence of my home.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. Walking into an empty house after dark, especially on a day meant to be celebrated by two, being alone seemed so. . .wrong.

I pick up my cold cup of coffee and go inside. The radio plays in the kitchen, masking the silence of my empty house as I dump the liquid and rinse the cup.
And then I hear it.
The song.
And I’m brought back to March 17, a beautiful, sunny Saint Patrick’s Day, the day everything changed.

Chris Tomlin’s ‘Whom Shall I Fear’ had begun to play in my mind that day, even before I suspected the truth. Even before I heard the words no one wants to hear, it was there. I believe God placed that song in my head to help me through the following pain-filled days and weeks ahead.
My husband had gone running and was found collapsed and unresponsive. On the way to the hospital that afternoon, I heard the words over and over. All that night as my son and I sat in my family room waiting for my other two children’s arrival from Chicago and Milwaukee, the lyrics continued.

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in your hands
I’m holding onto Your promises
You are faithful, You are faithful.

I am carried back to that life-shattering day once again, but this time I sense something I was unaware of then. It’s like a warm, comforting blanket around me, and now I know what it is.
Chris Tomlin said it so well; The God of angel armies is always by my side. I know it’s true.
My God of angel armies has wrapped me in his arms, fulfilling his promises to me; ‘And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Matt. 28:20b NIV