This post has been written in preparation to be linked up to Kate Motaung’s blog to celebrate the anniversary of the release of her beautiful book: Letters to Grief. It is also linked up to Bonnie Gray’s One Word Advent post on Hope because it epitomizes the hope we carry in Christ while grieving on this earth:
On that crisp autumn morning, as I sat there homesick at the departure of my little sister after a wonderful time of chatting, giggling, listening, soaking up each other’s presence, you decided to call your shadow over me. It was November 14th, 2013. I picked up the phone and heard the heavy and tired voice of my Dad speak of my Mum, of tumours, of her lying in the hospital, on the other side of the world from me, awaiting more news.
At first I pushed your descending shadow to the side, Grief. Hope for life on earth prevailed, as Mum battled surrounded by us all. Terminal cancer beckoned, doctors speaking of two to three months, but we were not yet prepared to let you, Grief, enter: neither Mum nor us, her family having gathered at her side from oceans apart. We sat, we prayed, we hoped, we dared not believe in the earthly permanence of your shadow, not yet.
And so my Mum valiantly battled, brain surgery revealing that your shadow was fast encroaching, six weeks of radiation six days a week pushing you, Grief, back out, but not without their cost. Battle-weary, Mum always courageous, carried on, for us. We hoped in the departure of your shadow, as glimpses of light appeared, but the exhaustion returned, vehemently. And yet, my Mum gathered every last ounce of strength to meet me at the airport, a mere five weeks after I had stood there last. A huge smile spread across her face at the arrival of her big girl and youngest little granddaughter.
The descending shadow of death may have robbed me of the immediate recognition of my mother, despite daily FaceTiming slots, as she sat there in a wheelchair, shrouded in the swelling and ageing of tumours and medication as she was. But strangely, it was you, Grief, that invited me to take her in my arms. As tears flowed, I inhaled her presence, no longer oceans apart. Yes, in this precious moment I let you in, Grief, deeply in fact, and strangely you led me into a knowing comfort.
A day later you encroached vehemently, as Mum’s body gave way to her bed, where the weeks to come would take more and more of her. But as each day rolled into the next, I held you at bay. I loved her in the way she had taught me best: I bathed her, held her, fed her, read the Bible to her, sat silently beside her as she spoke of her great love for us, her family: first in her words, then in the pain you pressed upon her entering her eyes, as her words were stolen from her.
I vacuumed, cleaned, laundered, choosing activity above your presence, Grief, which I sought to numb away. Only in the quiet stolen moments with my husband and big three-year-old girl (on the phone worlds apart), my baby girl at my side, with my sisters and brothers, my Dad and my friends would you step in to remind me you weren’t going anywhere: yes, you, Grief, entered long before the last breath was taken. But, still I was determined to press you away, as much as I could.
Day in, day out, I numbed your presence away, Grief. Yes, I felt the ache you pressed down into my heart and constricted my throat with, but you weren’t welcome, not yet. Even as all hope disappeared and we were sure of your shadow descending mightily upon us all, I pushed you aside. I watched my Mum’s body being broken apart and felt her, unlike me, surrender to your shadow as those precious eyes of hers spoke of the deep pain you were inflicting, the pain of releasing us all in her awaited departure.
And yet in letting you in, she also let in Someone Else, much Mightier than you. Yes, her eyes spoke of your pain, but her spirit spoke of a peace that passes all understanding, a peace from above that clothed her and poured out upon me too. I felt its palpable Presence, as I pulled up my chair beside her.
And yet I was still not ready to let you, Grief, fully enter my body, my mind and my heart. Unlike my Mum I was frightened of you, not trusting that the One my mother did, had the power to carry me through your valley of the shadow of death.
And so even as my precious mother took her very last breath, on April 8th 2014, I was determined to set you aside. But your pressure was fast becoming unbearable. As the hymns left my lips, in gathering to celebrate a life your shadow can never take, your pressure released a flow of tears I could not stem in that one moment…but you did not stop me from my words of thanksgiving for a mother who loved me, my husband and our wee girls, only 1 and barely 4, SO very well, from the very depths of her. Even as we laid her 59 year-old body in the earth, your cloak, Grief, did not fully cover me.
As the days, weeks, even months rolled on by and I returned to my home, job and family-life, oceans away, I did not let you fully descend. I was much too busy to give you the time of day you tried to tell me I needed. And all the while I wondered why exhaustion was mounting and anger rising.
Finally, you’d had enough. You pressed so hard, my body gave way and I agreed to rest in November, 2014. And it is in the rest, I heard you calling me: “Anna, you cannot deny me. I exist. I am part of your life. If you press me away, I’ll just press more deeply into you, until I break you open.” And so, in February I wrote about you in my Lament, giving voice to the pressure you were applying, owning the emotions as I released them. But it is then your shadow pierced deeply into the depths of me.
You were not alone, you see. Your friend, Multiple Trauma gathered at your side, as together you sought to overcome me with your shadow of darkness, a shadow that sought to entrap me and press me to numb away not only the deep pain and fear you inflicted, but also my life itself. And yet just then, when together, you were sure of your deathly victory, God’s Voice Spoke loudly. As I cried out to Him, He answered my angered, desperate cry with John 6: 35-40, as my Bible fell open to exactly the Passage He yearned for me to grasp ahold of:
“I am the Bread of Life, Anna. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.
“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. Your mother and you, Anna, put together, upright and whole. Not even cancer can rob you or I of this because this is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.” (The Message).
And so the tears began to flow, to stream down my face, as I let your deep dark shadow press down into the depths of me, Grief, but I also welcomed in my Bread of Life to hold, soothe and carry me through this, your valley and that of your best friend, Multiple Trauma.
And so now, holding my Heavenly Father’s hand, I’ve been walking through your valley, and that of your friend, allowing the tears to flow, as His Mighty Healing River Pours down into me through His Spirit-infused Word (John 7: 38, Isaiah 12: 3). Yes, your pain has not been removed, as you press in forcing me to release my tears, Grief, but my Heavenly Father is using you to usher in the healing and release, not just from the loss that birthed you, but also from the hold on abundant life your dear friend Multiple Trauma was intent on robbing me from.
The tears are bringing a release from the hold of death upon me, as my Heavenly Father gathers them in His bottle, every last one (Psalm 56: 8). In Him I am never ever alone (Isaiah 41:10), He walks this valley with me (Psalm 23), breaking as I break (Isaiah 53), His compassion failing not (Lamentations 3). And as He turns me toward Him, He lights the path before me (Psalm 119: 105). Darkness may still surround me at times, but even then His Light still guides me forward, for ‘at night I’m immersed in the light! It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to [Him], night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to [Him]’, you see (Psalm 139: 12).
And so, Grief, I welcome your presence. Come press into me, deeply if you must. For God is using and will continue to use your valley of the shadow of death to usher in healing (Psalm 23), not just for me, but for many (Isaiah 53). For, as He carries our burden of grief within us, He is justifying many for the Coming of His Kingdom (Isaiah 53). Even you, grief, are a tool to His Glory. Watch it unfold. And hear us “Shout for joy to the LORD all the earth”, hear us “burst into jubilant song with music” (Psalm 98:4), as we “sing [ourselves] into His Presence” (Psalm 100: 1 – 2).
And so I sign this off,
But not wholly, nor forever,
Only partially until His Mighty Kingdom Comes,
Romans 8: 18 – 25
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groaninwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.