The picture I posted on Facebook yesterday made it real that my beautiful niece is dying, and brought tears to my eyes. It’s a touching picture just because it’s so beautiful, but when you find out she is on hospice, and her brother is saying good-by before going home, it’s heart-breaking. It haunted me yesterday, was before me continually on the screen in my mind. Not that I haven’t thought and prayed about her death thousands of times in the past five years that she’s been fighting cancer, but now it’s here.
The love in the picture grabs you. And you realize–as I did a few years ago with my mother’s death–her pain is almost over, it’s for us who are left that the pain intensifies. Their pain is over forever. No more suffering. Ours begins again.
Grief is hard. We hate it.
But if we shut it down, it gets us other ways: It keeps us from moving forward in life. Deposits our anger on other people–usually turbo charged. Gets us stuck in regret or self-loathing. Makes us angry and distancing with God. Tweaks truly loving again so we won’t get hurt. Ferments legitimate anger into rage or depression. And somatizes into physical pain and illness. Nothing anyone would choose.
Grief is important to do. What makes it so hard? We miss them. We feel the loss of love-energy. There is a big hole in our life. We regret lost opportunities. (Regret makes grieving really hard.) And we just plain don’t like to cry or feel the pain.
We hate sadness and pain! But when you need it, when there is that huge hole, that energy drop from love lost, grieving actually feels good. Giving yourself to the sadness feels right. It’s congruent. It is a relief to allow yourself to fall apart and give in to the grief. And when you do that it doesn’t last as long. Let yourself drop out and let go for a time. Honor the person with it. Don’t be afraid it will last forever. It won’t unless you deny it and refuse to do it.
I worked for a man from India years ago, and he told me that there they “give themselves to the grief” for 30 days. They don’t do anything but grieve, and after that you are ready to pick up life again.
I find that another perspective on grief helps me.
Even though Rocky desperately wants to live, (she’s 44, and at least isn’t leaving children) and has consistently claimed and believed Jesus would heal her, her next conscious thought after “going to sleep” (that is what Jesus called death) will be seeing Jesus coming.* What could be better than that? (Unless it would be having Him hold you.)
She is one second away from seeing Him when she gives in to death. And she gets to miss all the evil that happens here, all the suffering, pain, illness, struggle–even the pain of others you wish you could choose for, but you can’t. You have to watch them struggle to grow up and learn for themselves.
I was sitting with Jesus the other day, but I couldn’t see Him, and I found myself jealous of her closeness to that experience. That isn’t the first time.
One particularly painful period in my life, I remember wishing I could have traded places with my little brother who was killed in a car accident at 22. I didn’t know yet then how valuable pain is for growth and definition. It’s important in a world where good and evil are all mixed up together. And I don’t even believe we go straight to heaven at death! But does it matter if you don’t know? For you, it happens the next second, so it’s the same thing.
I know this brings up questions–two off the top: why didn’t Jesus heal her? And why don’t we go straight to heaven when almost everyone says and believes that? I’ll save those for next time.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18