God and Grief

A Lifetime of Holy Saturdays

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In the moment of a child’s death, we enter into our own living of the Easter triduum.  We have our hearts pierced, like Mary’s, when our lifeless child is placed into our arms and everything we knew about this world is shattered into a million pieces.  We weep and wail from the depths of our souls. In the one final gesture that we have to offer them, we painfully and lovingly lay them into their tombs.  Then what?

That is where we enter into our lifetime of Holy Saturdays.  Every day of our lives from there on out, echoes that Holy Saturday. It is a time of immense pain when we try to make sense of what has happened.  It is a time where we are brokenhearted, dismayed, our worlds are spinning, and the faith that we thought we had figured out becomes uncertain.  We are still traumatized by the events of yesterday, we grieve deeply for the absence of the one we love, not knowing what will be next.  Yet, there is this glimmer of hope and anticipation.  He told us that death was not the end of the story.  And so, with no real understanding of exactly what that means, we hope for that promise to be fulfilled while we wait in the aftermath of death.  Lingering, grieving, hoping. 

When that long, lonely, painful Holy Saturday comes to its end, the ones who loved Him run to Him, and find that their hope was not lost.  Death was not the end.  There, springing forth after the time of waiting, came life--glorified, rich, and deep, with every moment saturated with meaning and purpose, and a whole new world opened before our eyes.  There is joy. Relief. Gratitude. Adoration. 

Rest in the quiet of your Holy Saturday.  Honoring the grief and the pain, yet holding the hope of His promise. When this day comes to a close, we’ll find that Hope has come to life.

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When a life changing grief becomes insignificant

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After Lach died I read a book called Hello, from Heaven. It was a lovely little compilation of stories that people told of their "visits" from their loved ones. There must have been a chapter in there of people who had their visits in the form very vivid and vibrant dreams. I wanted to have that experience so terribly. I did have one dream about toward the end of that first year. However, it was not the peaceful hope-filled dream that I was yearning for. Instead, this one left me feeling the wound torn open and the ache of living without him feeling very fresh again. I definitely didn't want to have that experience again. 
I had a different kind of dream about a month ago and I'm finally deciding to share it. Sometimes things are too big for words and it feels like you are taking something away from a powerful experience by trying to make it conform to our language. However, in the case that it might bring a ray of hope to someone else, here goes: 
It began as I was parking my van in a grassy area of a park that was somehow connected to Nehemiah, a local high school boy that was killed in a car accident 2 years ago. This is a kid that I had some secondary connections to, but had never met myself. As I was backing into the spot, suddenly I could see Nehemiah through my rear view mirror and he helped me get parked. Then he playfully came around the car and greeted me with a warm hug as I got out. As I started to look around, I saw groups of people around the park. Some of the people had colors that were brighter and more saturated than everything else around them. I came to understand that those who were brighter were of heaven and everything that was more dull was of earth. I stood there in awe, slowly taking it in, and Nehemiah communicated to me without words that he'd see if Lach could come. I turned toward my left shoulder, slowing taking in the view in amazement, and as I got about 2/3 the way around, there was a grand piano sitting just off in the distance. Lach was sitting on the bench reaching toward the keys of the piano. He was still 10 months old, wearing the green and orange striped shirt that he wore both in the picture we used for his obituary and on the day he died. Everything is about him was bright and radiant. When I spotted him, he made eye contact with me and gave me a sweet and knowing little pursed-lip grin. I ran toward him and scooped him up, hugging him and kissing him. 
There was SO MUCH love and peace and joy. SO MUCH! As I held him, I came to understand our grief response as a teeny tiny completely natural response to being separated from something we are enjoying. In comparison to the joy of the moment, that all-consuming grief of losing a child dwarfed into an insignificant and temporary loss. It became more like the feeling that we have when something ordinary that we are enjoying comes to its natural end... The amazing movie that is now over, the fall of the leaves in autumn, the roller coaster ride that comes to an end...the faint "that-was-great, too-bad-it's-over" response.
At the same time as I was holding Lach and coming to understand the loss in a new perspective, I was also waking up. I knew that I would be waking up to continue living in my separation from him. I was SO ok with this! It was no big deal! It is so small and temporary and insignificant in comparison to the overwhelming love and joy that is to come. I woke up with tears in my eyes...Joyful tears that came from a delight at the glimpse of the what that reunion might be like, and the the peek at a joy, a peace, and a love that are so abundant they dwarf even a life-changing grief into something that is barely perceptible.

I don't dream often, and when I do, there is usually not much to make of it. This dream was something else. It was so clear and so vivid. It gave me new perspective to hold onto as well as hope and courage for the journey. It's a perspective could be applied not just to the loss of Lachlan, but to the rest of life's struggles too.

Hold onto hope all you grievers...as much as your hearts hurt now, they will rejoice a million times over!

Find him in the Joy

As bereaved parents we often cling to the pain of losing a child because it is the last thing we have of them. We feel like by even thinking of letting go of the pain, we are somehow also letting go of THEM. Yet at the same time it is such a burden to carry that weight and it can rob us of our joy if we let it. In meditating on how to live well in the wake of such a difficult loss, this was the guidance that came. It brought me some comfort and hope, I hope it does the same for you:

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Lachlan is not found in the weight of the loss. He is not in the hurt or the pain. By laying those things at the feet of Christ and giving away the pain, you are not losing Lachlan.
Rather, find Lachlan in the life, the joy, and the love. He is in the gift of motherhood. He is in the laughter and happy memories. He is in your smile. By taking the heavy weight from your shoulders you are not losing him, but finding him by allowing more of the beauty and light from his life to shine.
Take courage and trust. Don't look for him in the ache, though you'll find shadows of him there too. Look for his fullness, instead, in the                                                                                                            things that bring love, joy, and                                                                                                            laughter to your days.

For His Soul was Pleasing to the Lord

The one who pleased God was loved, living among sinners, was transported--snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul; For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right and the whirl of the desire transforms the innocent mind. Having become perfect in a short while, he reached the fullness of a long career; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness. But the people saw and did not understand, nor did they take that consideration into account. Grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
-Wisdom 4:10-15

To be loved so deeply, to be spared the suffering and struggle of humanity, to be created perfectly in God's image and to remain always in that perfection. That is a blessing that has been given to our children who died so young.  It is a gift that is so easy to overlook in the midst of our grief, but if we dare to recognize it, it is a small source of comfort in the sea of heartache!

Beliefs and Spirituality

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Spirituality is defined as a transcendent dimension within the human experience…discovered in moments in which the individual questions the meaning of personal existence and attempts to place the self within a broader contest of life.

If there’s ever a time that an individual questions the meaning of existence and tries to figure out where they fit in the big picture of life, it will be in a time of big change. The birth of a child is a defining moment in our spirituality. A baby changes EVERYTHING. They change our lives in every way…they change our priorities, the way we use our time and money, they change our relationships with the people around us, and they change our relationship with God. The birth of a child changes everything…and the death of a child changes so much more. The birth of a child fits in with the (mostly) predictable order of life as we know it. We expect some big changes, we prepare for them, and we look forward to them. The death of a child turns all of that upside down plops you all at once onto a momentous spiritual cross-road. What do I believe? Why do I even believe that? Can I still believe that? Will I walk forward with the faith that I’ve grown up with or can I not bear to move forward?

Some are going to be firm enough in their faith, that even this earthquake doesn’t shake them, some will need to stop and steady themselves for a while before moving on, and some will decide that they can’t trust the route they were on (whether that route was with or without God) and need to take a different road. I feel like I was probably one of those that needed to steady themselves before moving on.

I felt betrayed, but at the same time God was the only one that could make this hurt better. I was like the angry child that is mad at mom but needs to throw their fit safely in their mother’s arms. I was hurt, I was mad, and I was broken, but there was nowhere else to go for comfort. The ONLY beacon of hope that I could find was that life didn’t really end with death. If this life here was all there was, then there wasn’t much worth living for. If there was something more beyond the grave then there was hope of being together again in a happier place. So I walked toward the only light I could find.

Since then, my faith has grown tremendously, though in baby steps. I’ve gotten much closer to the place where God is really the center, and everything else revolves around that. If I don’t put that priority first, then I just might miss the whole purpose of my existence and the hope of what’s beyond. Losing Lach has been the launching pad for taking my faith seriously and not as just another thing to check off on my to-do list. I can’t help but wonder if this new growth and the deeper roots will move me into the category of being unshaken in my faith when I come to the next crisis. I don’t know. Time will tell. I’m glad I chose to continue down the road of faith. I think it helps me remember what’s really important. It helps me to love people better. It helps me to be more open-minded and open-hearted. It gives me peace and hope. I can love my life here and still look forward with all my heart to what is to come next.

The only real tip that I can come up with for those standing in that cross-road is to pray. Whether you believe in God or not, just pray. Even if you can’t pray with much heart. Even if you feel like you’re only talking to yourself. Even if you don’t “feel” any response to the prayer. Keep doing it. Pray without ceasing and eventually you will find the truth you need to continue on. 

Beautiful Mysteries

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This prompt is designed with the intent to imagine who your child would be now and to tell a beautiful story about that. I always wonder what Lach would love to do, who his friends would be, how he would interact with his siblings, and what his personality features would be. It is a mystery, but I don’t know if I’d classify those daydreams as a beautiful mystery. They are always laced with the ache of not knowing for sure.

However, conjuring up ideas of what our glorious reunion will be like in heaven—that is a beautiful mystery. I’ve read lots of books on heaven and people’s near death experiences. I wanted and needed to know what “home” is like for my boy. It’s amazing how from so many different authors and experiences, the overwhelming peace and joy is a common thread to all of them. As a family, we often imagine what it will be like when we get there. We always get to hug Lachlan. We’ll see the room God and Lachlan have prepared for us. Together we might go for a ride in a kangaroo’s pouch, sit on a lion’s back, hold St. Michael’s sword, tumble in the soft grass without getting hurt, enjoy new and improved bodies, look into Jesus’ eyes and sit in the presence of God. No death. No pain. No crying. No tears. Ever. It’s hard to imagine, but I’m told it’s true. That’s a beautiful mystery. I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes.

Myths

“God needed another angel” or “God took my child.” Those are phrases that you often hear, and things that I’ve even said myself. As you’re scrapping for bits of comfort you take everything you can find and try it on for size…does this fit? Does this help?

It took me some time to be able to recognize that those catchphrases are really incongruent with the God I’ve always learned about. Our God is the God of Love, God of Mercy, the source of all good and only good. Separating a mother from her child and the premature death of a baby do not even whisper a hint of love, mercy, or goodness. Our response to the death, on the other hand, can be full of all of those things. God does not NEED anything. He is whole and complete in and of himself. He didn’t give me the incredible gift of this beautiful child to say, “Just kidding! I need him more than you do!” That’s rude.

We chose the reading from John chapter 11 of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead for Lach’s funeral. I wanted Jesus to raise my baby from the dead. He didn’t. Surely everyone in Bethany who’d lost a loved one for many years following the resurrection of Lazarus wanted Jesus to save them from their grief and raise their loved ones from the dead too. He didn’t.

Even though a miraculous resurrection wasn’t part of the deal for me, there are some big things to take home from the story. I’m guessing Jesus is getting used to being blamed for the bad things that happen to people. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, did it too. When she met Jesus, her words were “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I know I said the same thing in response to Lach’s death. “Where were you?! If you were here this wouldn’t have happened!” While Martha might not have been saying, “you DID this,” her words were certainly as accusatory as mine were, blaming him for not doing enough to stop it.

When Jesus came to Bethany, he already knew his plan to bring Lazarus back. Knowing ahead of time that their tears were about to turn from tears of sorrow to tears of abundant joy didn’t separate him from the grief of the moment. He wasn’t aloof to their suffering with a “Chill out. Hold on. You’re all gonna be fine.” sort of attitude. He met them where they were, AND HE WEPT.

This tiny little verse says so much. It shows us God’s reaction to the suffering and death of the human experience. He weeps with us. He hurts with us. He suffers with us. Of course, he knows what he came to do, and he has a plan to take that hurt away, but that doesn’t stop him from being endlessly compassionate to our grief, our suffering, our losses, our hurt. THIS is the God I know—the God of Love, God of Mercy, God of goodness. This fits.

Being able to put those pieces together and to see God as my compassionate supporter and my comforter rather than the cause of my strife was a tremendous step for me in finding some peace for my tormented heart and it helped me to restore some trust in the God that I thought had betrayed me. My little boy died---and He wept.

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