Recently I grieved my own death.
Before you think that this post is a posthumous visit, or that I am a total narcissist, please let me explain. I was standing in the kitchen with Mia, the same kitchen where I had been standing almost twelve months previously when Dali had received the phone call from the hospital, a call which we were both expecting and dreading, that his mum had just passed away after an intense but all-too-brief battle with cancer. Mia was perhaps remembering the grief and intensity of those days last November, the necessity of saying goodbye to “Stará mama”, the last ever-so-gentle hugs, the last kind words and the last loving looks. Perhaps her young brain was trying to wrap itself around the concept of future days and her own mother’s mortality. It had been an ordinary kind of day in every other respect but as I worked in the kitchen and Mia chattered merrily at my side something changed, her face crumpled and all of a sudden her mind was on that day in the future, when she and I will say goodbye. In that moment, in our little kitchen, I found myself dealing with the enormity of Mia’s future grief, expressed now in childish terms. I was faced with her own dawning realization that one day I will be gone and she will be left. That in all probability I will die many years before she does. (Perhaps she had just noticed that the number of grey hairs on my head and wrinkles on my face has increased ). Though Mia can be quite the emotional drama queen, her grief at that moment felt deep and it felt genuine to me. And it had taken her to a place where I will no longer be, where my hugs won’t reach, where, one day, she, and not I, will have to deal with the reality of loss. And I will not be there to make it better for her. I grieved with her in that moment, knowing that the pain will come, that in this world there is no escape from the reality of death. For now I held her very close and tried to give her comfort that she will somehow still feel on that future unknown day, that will allow her to feel the closeness of my love even when I am no longer near.
I grieved with her for my own death.
And I faced the reality of motherhood, that love and grief are closely bound up.
I did not understand the depth of grief until I lost my own mother. I could imagine it but I did not understand how profoundly it would affect me. Mum’s death came unexpectedly and with a suddenness that left me devastated and raw for many months and with a permanence that I will probably never completely get over in this life. Without warning I lost the mother who had provided the stability and the framework of my life for so many years. The day she died was the beginning of life without her and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It felt completely wrong that the world kept right on turning when, for me, life had changed shape forever. But there it is. It is on ordinary days that people die and the lives of loved ones are changed irreversibly. People die and lives must be rebuilt and the world keeps on turning.
Since the day I lost my Mum, Dali and I have been through more losses, including the loss of both our fathers and, last year, his mother. We no longer have parents and our children no longer have grandparents. It is a grief and it is a loss which cannot be measured. But aren’t we privileged to have this grief? To grieve the loss of parents means that we had parents to love and to grieve when they passed. I, for one, would not be without this grief.
Where is comfort to be found? Though grief is deep and undeniable, I don’t want it to be without hope. What will bring me comfort when I consider my children and the griefs they will have to bear in their lives?
I am, of course, comforted when I consider the many joyful reunions ahead in heaven and when I consider that there will indeed come a day when all my goodbyes will be a thing of the past, that all my tears will be wiped away, that there will be no more separation, and that there will be no more death. That day will surely come when both my children and I will experience God gently wiping away the last traces of tears from our faces.
But for now I need a present comfort, something that eases present pain. Future comfort can seem so intangible somehow. Now I draw comfort from knowing that the pain has meaning even for my present life.
I would shield my children from pain and suffering but is that wisdom? I think not. God’s path leads us through suffering, for it is through suffering that my compassion for others grows and I am changed. As I pray for my children and for their growth in character, in wisdom and in loving their neighbour, for God’s best for them, I must realize that their greatest growth will come through the trials and not through the blessings.I must trust that God will be enough to comfort them in their difficult moments, that He will store up every one of their tears and turn their trials to gold . And I must trust that when the time comes for painful loss and separation in their lives, that God will give them grace to carry them through – then and not before. The harsh fact is that pain and loss hurt profoundly but anticipating future pain presents us with a burden that we are not yet equipped to carry and which crushes us in advance.
As for that distant day, when we are finally home in heaven, it is hard to imagine its unclouded joy simply because for now our lives are so tainted with pain. Good times are over too soon, friends leave, chocolate boxes empty, beauty fades, bouquets wither, days end and people die. But there is a love that will never die, a joy that will never end, and a fountain that will never run dry. Just because we are not there yet does not mean that it is not true. God has planted in each of our hearts a longing for this very thing. He has placed a longing for eternity in every human heart. Perhaps this is why death jars us so painfully. “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in man’s heart.” writes the preacher in Ecclesiastes 3. “There is a time for everything” he writes.” A time for every event under heaven – a time to give birth and a time to die;..a time to weep and a time to laugh;…a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff)
While we live on this earth we will have mingled joy and sadness. But the time for dancing is coming.
And I want my dance shoes to be ready.