In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning, our family was called in to say goodbye as my uncle slipped from this world of broken bodies into the eternal one with perfected souls. Family and friends gathered to grieve and celebrate the life and love we experienced while we were blessed with his presence. Surrounded by people who loved him, he left us to be with Jesus.
Who could blame him?
Mortal bodies are broken things. They break down, and we patch them up. They are not meant to last forever, and eventually, they are beyond all of our abilities to mend. Sometimes the effort of living with the brokenness is tolerable, and sometimes...well, at some point, it is easier to simply let it go.
It was time to let it go. Time for him to let go of fighting to hold onto this temporary place, and for us to let go of him.
I'm not going to tell you the world is a darker place. It isn't. In fact, it is still a world filled with possibility. While the Lord led my uncle home, He introduced two new bundles of promise to our mortal reality. Two more answers to prayer. Two more answers to the world's problems. Two more lights to shine in the darkness. It's not a darker place, but for several of us, it is a sadder one.
I don't know when the sadness will pass. My dad has been gone over six years, and sometimes I'm still sad. Sometimes tears still find their way down my cheeks. It is because of this that I lift up my cousins to the Lord. Their grief is so deep today. Their hearts so raw. But then, why wouldn't they be? They each left a chunk of their hearts in a coffin at a cemetery today. Open heart surgery of the most unwelcome kind.
I try to think of what to tell them. Having walked this road before them, what road map can I offer? I look in all the nooks and crannies of my psyche...of my still falling tears...and I find so little. I pick up the parts I keep tripping over and hold them out hoping they offer some form of wisdom.
Grieve deeply. It's okay. It is not weakness to grieve. It is not faithless or hopeless or failure. It is what comes when our arms are forced to release what our hearts hold dear.
Laugh boisterously. Don't just laugh. Laugh with your whole body, your whole mind, your whole heart. It is okay to be joyful again, and to remember and be joyful gives great honor to the one you love.
Celebrate what they were...and what they weren't. When our friend David passed on, we were all thirty-three years old with small children. Instead of grieving his death, I chose to celebrate his life. He taught science, so my children and I either visited the science museum or did experiments at home. He loved music, so we sang loudly. His favorite thing was his family. We had a big family night with special food, a special movie, or a special game. We celebrated David.
When my dad passed on, my heart was shattered by the empty places left by the dad he wasn't. For a long time, I was angry, and I asked God, "How are you going to redeem this? How are you going to heal this? How are you going to restore this?" He redeemed it by putting in my heart the idea to be the parent I wanted my dad to be. I sat down and made a list of things I wished my dad had done, and I did them with my children. Sometimes I made check lists to be sure I covered everything. Did I read to them? Did I play with them? Did we snuggle? Did I pray over them? Did I speak something positive into them? This was my daily check list, and on my dad's birthday, I did special things that fell into the realm of things he never had time to do.
My questions about healing and restoration brings me to the next thing--be willing to let God fill the gaps. I never expected God to heal and restore me by giving me another dad, but He did. My dad had been gone a little over two years when my step-dad proposed to my mom. I liked my step-dad a lot, and it never bothered me that they were going to get married. I thought it was great for my mom. I had no idea what a powerful healing presence he would be for my mom, myself, and my brother. It leaves me in awe. The impact is that profound.
So don't be afraid to let God heal you. Wylie has never tried to take my dad's place. He's just himself, and I am proud to introduce him as my dad because he is. I've been blessed with two great dads, and I am thankful for them both. It's okay to let God do something new. It does not diminish the love for the person lost. It simply embraces the promise of something new.
Let God do a new thing. In Isaiah 43, the Lord says He is doing a new thing. He is making streams in the wastelands and water in the desert. Have the courage to do a new thing, to let God speak life and hope into your wasteland and desert. So often we prolong the grief or deepen it by looking back. For me, it was Mondays. My dad passed on a Monday, and every Monday sent me into a tizzy. One day I told our friend Chris that Dad had been gone nine weeks, and Chris asked, "And why are we counting this?" I had no idea. It brought no honor to my dad. It only swallowed my day in a sense of loss. Why do that? So I quit. I allowed God to make a new Monday routine, and I moved on.
I think for people who have been care givers it can be intensely hard to find a new normal. It is hard to go from being a necessity to not being needed. Except, you aren't "not needed." You are still here because you are still a solution and someone still needs you. Find a new way to be useful. I'll give you a little tip: Shopping may be a good escape, but it isn't feeding your need to be useful, so you won't feel any better $20,000 of debt later than you do right now. However, dropping off a meal, reading to children, just visiting someone that appreciates you is good therapy.
Of course, the reality is no matter how much you "bounce back" there are going to be hard days. Roll with them. There will be things that blindside you. Don't fight it but don't wallow in it. The first Christmas I was married, my dad wanted a red lumberjack shirt. I looked everywhere but didn't find one. The first Christmas he was gone, I was shopping in a store, had stuff in my cart, looked up, and in the middle of the aisle was a whole round rack of red lumberjack shirts. Suddenly, I couldn't breathe. A wave of emotion slammed me. I grabbed my purse and headed for the car--cart still sitting with stuff in it in the middle of the aisle. I jerked the door of my van closed just in time to fall apart. I held onto the steering wheel and sobbed until all the sobs were done. I went home and took a nap. Later, I went back to that store, bought what I needed, walked by the red lumberjack shirts, and didn't feel any reaction at all. It really was okay.
I don't think there is one way to grieve. In my journal, I wrote, "While loss is personal, it is universal. Grief is as generic as aspirin and as individual as the person taking it." While no one can tell us the specifics of the right way to grieve, I think there are general things we can do along the way to keep from hindering the process. For what it is worth, these are a few of the things I found worked for me. Maybe they'll bless someone else, too.