Saturday, April 01, 2006

the winter of grief

i made an emergency trip back home last weekend. on thursday i received a voicemail message from my mom - my heart started racing before she finished a word... i knew it was bad news, i just didn't know who it was regarding. i called her back and learned that it was my uncle john - mom's youngest brother. i'll spare you the details, but he died unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 43.

john was burried exactly six months from the day that my grandfather died. it rained most of the day, and that somehow seemed right. i will never forget the image of my mom and aunt standing on either side of my grandmother - each of them with a rose in hand, a shared umbrella keeping their heads, but not their eyes, dry. they walked through the mud from john's gravesite over to grandpa's where the dirt hadn't yet had time to settle. it was a disturbing but honest picture of the last year in my family's history. so much pain. so much loss. so many things to mourn and attempt to accept, if not understand.

but this sort of thing doesn't get easier with experience, and this situation was so much more abrupt and harsh in its nature. with grandpa's death we were given time to prepare ourselves and say what we needed/wanted to say. we were given an opportunity to celebrate a life well-lived. but we didn't really get that chance with john. too abrupt. too harsh. i still can't wrap my mind around the fact that he's really gone. i'm harrassed by the memory of my last interaction with him - he attempted to give me some uninvited relationship advice around Christmas and i was a total smart-ass and blew him off and i felt bad at the time but didn't make it right. and that was it. now he's gone. i didn't get to say that i love him and appreciate his perspective. but more honestly, maybe i didn't choose to realize that i love him and need his perspective. a lesson learned, but the regret is still with me. having a random well-intentioned soul (who i've never had a real conversation with) tell me that uncle john is dancing in heaven (while i'm staring at his body in the casket) doesn't exactly make me all cool with my caustic attitude a few months before. i still feel that i hurt him and i still feel that i deserve to be avenged in one way or another... that's a weird personality issue of mine... we'll save that for another time...

but the funeral was filled with a million trite little phrases and sayings and word-pictures about heaven that we Christians use to make us feel better. it's like pain medication. it will ease the discomfort, but it does nothing to actually confront the source. why can't we sit still and think about the bad stuff for a second? the truth is that this world is really ugly sometimes. yes, there are many beautiful things, like life itself for one, but there is so much suffering and pain. and we really can't pretend like it's not there. i think one of the most harmful aspects of the holiness movement is it's tendency (not accross the board, but please hear me out) to step right past good friday and into easter. sorry, but that's not how it works. i think that we really miss out on a huge aspect of the character of God when we are afraid to look at the suffering. i mean, the cross is the symbol of our religion, yet we have such little regard for what that means. this has all been said a million times and million times more elloquently than i can say it, but it is very real to me right now. if we cannot find God IN our disappointments and sadness and suffering - not just on the other side of those things - then we cannot know God completely.

i have mentioned before, maybe not on this blog, but on several occasions, that the last 9 months or so have been filled with little and big lessons about grief. i won't say that i have "a calling" because i still don't really know what that means despite 25 years in the evangelical world, but i think that i am in the process of learning the importance and value of our lament and tears. i think that i am strangely wired to handle the weight of this load, and somehow feel that in the same way that we should seek to use our hands where God's are already at work, we should also allow ourselves to mourn over the things that break God's heart - the things that were never intended for a single one of us on this earth.

so i mourn the loss of my uncle, my mom's little brother, my grandmother's baby boy. i cry because this isn't the way God intended things to go when adam was given life. and i grieve because i know that God does too. only when i am able to see God's reflection in my tears, hanging from the tree on that friday afternoon... only then can i truly celebrate the risen Christ who defeated death on our behalf. there will be joy in the morning, but there is sorrow tonight. the darkness may make God more difficult to see, but God is no less present.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen.

It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.

Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:

For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,

And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

-from The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

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