Learning Grief

What is grief? I've never been too close to death. I can only begin to imagine the pain of losing someone who is a part of my every day. But I am quickly approaching the age where death is starting to just happen around me. Everywhere. People leave. They leave this world. They leave us here to remember them. We know they will never be back. Somehow the pain of knowing this wells up within us in a flood of memories. The end of who they are on Earth has come. They will no longer add to their story. There is an ending. We are afraid we will forget. We are compelled to celebrate their completed story, all the while feeling the devastation and finality of mortality. We shoulder the weight of what they won't contribute to the world. An abrupt halt of life and yet we saw so much more for them.

I'm slowly becoming acquainted with grief little by little. But I have yet to feel the sledge hammer that comes when someone very close is lost. If I can survive it, it will happen to me. That's the way it works, I believe. Meanwhile, I lose a few loved figures of my identity. A couple of friends' moms and my all-time favorite mainstream singer/songwriter. I was hit unexpectedly hard with grief. It's like the dark reality of death finally busted down my door again and a few brushed-away tears weren't enough. Having no close experience with loss makes me sensitive to it, perhaps.

But death is temporary. Really, people just move on before us but they can't tell us what's there. I strangely float between jealousy and mourning. But mostly, I think, grief is having to let go. All those expectations and hopes vanish. The empty places where they might still have been, make the memories of when they were there painful. It's missing out on the story.

There are many levels of grief. Closing a casket on a loved one is a deep grief I've yet to fully endure. Closing a book after spending weeks with fictional characters is a shallow grief. It's just practice. Walking out of a theatre after intense emotional connection to actors is also a small grief and shallower still. More practice. We take the memories from entertainment with us and pull them out of our back pocket brains as long as they'll hold together. But the memories of real people who knew us and loved us in return, this get engrained.

But what's gone is gone here. Time passes and grass grows over graves. Bodies that were once warm and full of magnificent life are empty and cold, becoming part of the ground around them. It's so wrong. Hands that once gave loving touches become crooked like roots. Bones that no longer move with the grace of a dancer crumble like white clods of earth. The person is long gone from it. They've only left their pieces and headstone behind as a memory of who once dwelt here with us.

It's a clear message from eternity. The message whispers that these bodies are merely instruments used for the glory of their Creator. They were never intended to contain the entire story of their inhabitant. They are merely the introduction to existence. This life is only the preface to the actual Life. It's where God gives us a start and so many chances too fail. This shadow sparks our appetite for something more and something real. So many generations before us believed rightly that there is a world beyond this one. It's the hunger in our souls that is never satisfied here.

There's so much that I don't know about grief. But as I learn in small ways and am prepared for the agony of loss I can remember the greatness we were created for. Death is the ultimate evidence that we need God. It's the flaming sword that keeps us from the Tree of Life. The only way to Him is through the fire. The only way to survive the fire is by going in with Jesus.

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