I thought I had this grief thing down.
Like delicate china, I’ve stored the echo of my son carefully wrapped in the back of a cupboard: close enough by, but not so near at hand as for daily use.
I can manage it better that way.
Take it out on my terms, when I’m good and girded and able to handle the fallout from it, because, well, you just never know where it’s gonna go.
Giving grief its time and space is vital and healthy, but there are instants when it finds you unsuspecting – naked & exposed – and justlikethat you are back on that day, that couch, that lonely Planet Pain.
Today, I was just looking to get outside. The mountains are closed, so I thought I’d take a road walk, look at spring, watch the water sparkle, get away from the screens and the COVID for a while.
I wasn’t really even listening, the sky so sweet and blue, when through the earbuds came a song I’d never heard before, a line: Are you singing with the angels, are you happy where you are?
Then it hit me. TobyMac. Lost his son, just this past October.
One thing was certain – I couldn’t stay on the road. Had to escape. Not expecting that, no I was not.
This month, Gordie would have turned 26.
April 24, his April 24, was a very good day in a month when lots of very bad things seem to happen. The Boston Marathon bombing. The Humboldt bus crash. Columbine, Chernobyl, the Titanic, the fire at Notre Dame.
Of course, I knew it was coming, this frozen birthday of his; of course, I was already preparing.
So when TobyMac began crushing my heart with Why would You give and then take him away and 21 years makes a man full-grown, 21 years, what a beautiful loan, I tucked in fast to the trees and wondered how it was that April had already arrived, before I was fully ready.
Nothing to do now but let it come: all those lost years flooding out of my face until I found myself literally lost in the woods.
Where did all those signs come from? And how was it that I never noticed them before?
Around and around I went in my head, feet looping the paths, up and down and around obstacles, until I forgot which way was out and had to pull out a map on my phone.
Are you happy where you are?
Where was I, exactly?
A place where life was bursting out of dormant shells and the ground itself was weeping.
Lost for a moment, but believing in a way out.
It’s not possible to outwalk heartache here on Planet Pain, but we have this hope.
Isaiah, that cranky prophet, tells us so.
Of Jesus, he writes:
He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. (Isaiah 25:8)
Face-wiping seems like blasphemy in this current crazy of sanitizer and masks; it is such an intimate act. I’m puzzled as to why I would even be crying when I finally meet my Lord.
Until then, for what it is worth, here is what I have learned so far in the years following a traumatic event as a student of Grief 101.
Year 1 – Brutal. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much.
Year 2 – Brutal, times two. That baseball-bat bruise has changed color, but don’t be fooled: you have push deeper, but the wound still festers. You realize he really is never coming back.
Year 3 – There is light. Some normalcy. When sorrow leaks out, you guard it, carefully. Disbelief resurfaces.
Year 4 – Here is where I find myself. Thinking: how is it that I can now feel joy, laugh and sing and sometimes even forget. Then, an ambush. It’s okay – you know whose you are, and He knows you.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me… all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139: 1, 16)
All the days.
All my days, all your days, all of my son’s days.
As I head into Year 5, I realize could not have forestalled Gordie’s death any more than I can my own.
But we can trust Jesus, this Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)
What seems like a lifetime later, I finally pop out of the woods, grateful for grief and the release that follows.