One very ordinary Thursday, a precious friend poured out her heart to me about her son’s death by suicide.
“She’s gone,” I heard my brother say on the other end of the line. “We sang and prayed with her.” His wife had succumbed to cancer on that fall Saturday morning.
I received a terrible phone call that my best friend from high school’s two daughters were killed in a wrong-way crash by a drunk driver. It was Good Friday.
“Do you want me to come over?” I asked my close friend as soon as she spilled the ugly news that her brother had taken his own life.
I could go on and on and on. Loss. Death. Unstoppable grief.
So much sadness. So little understanding.
Each person loved so fiercely.
Each tender one lost too early.
Each story shared bravely with me.
Nothing is more sacred than to share another’s pain. It brings both great sorrow and surprising healing. Each time I enter into this very “holy ground” space, I count it as one of the greatest gifts I will ever know in this lifetime, the gift of another in their most vulnerable and real and raw place. Sheer, terrible beauty.
For those of you who have wildly loved and lost a precious someone, I pray today that you would find a safe space to share your true heart, the one that might be hurting. I pray that those who listen would dive deep and sit still and share some measure of your grief and suffering, so that you would feel unexplainably loved and cared for. I pray that in God’s vast wisdom, compassion, kindness, mercy and love, He brings unfathomable healing to you in the places only He can reach.
We share every part of this life together, including the great sorrows we face, arms and hearts wrapped around each other, each one of us helping the other hobble along toward redemption.
Please feel free to share the first name of someone you have loved and lost in the comments. I would just like to hold the space for them today.
O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…
The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love. The pain seems overwhelming: a cheating spouse, soul-crushing anxiety, an ex-husband who seems bent on destruction, an out-of-nowhere heart attack, a teen in the struggle of his life with substance abuse, babies who are stuck in the NICU, my own grief over huge life-changes and financial struggles that seem insurmountable. You get it. You might be in the middle of it. Like me, your thoughts are shouting, “How long? How much? Why? Why especially right now?”
I love the holiday season. From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions. Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few. (A quick confession: I like this paragraph more than the first one. I want to live here. I want all good things, happy thoughts.)
The four-week period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent. It’s Advent right now. Shauna Niequist says,
“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl. There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”
Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled. However, Advent ALSO gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting. Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable. But Advent ALSO reminds us there is promise of healing, just as real and palpable. Advent says “do NOT skip over the suffering. Do NOT minimize the heartache. Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.” This is not an easy place. I struggle with Advent. I have difficulty sitting with the grief, the waiting, acknowledging and feeling it. I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come. As Emily Freeman says, “I rush to joy.”
Skipping right to Christmas does NOT work in the end. Rushing to joy does NOT take away the pain. It does NOT prevent bad things from happening (I was in the ER this past weekend to prove that point…I am fine now). It does NOT bring true healing. Advent might be the better place that brings lost-lasting healing. Advent speaks the deeper truth of heartache and hope, suffering and a savior. Both are needed in this beautiful, messy life of ours.
God seems to do some of His best work during the seasons of “Advent” in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times. Especially if we look for those who will “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who will venture into the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us that we are not alone, Immanuel is coming and has come and will stay with us for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.
We still have more than two weeks until Christmas. Let’s not skip to it. Let’s stay in the not-yet, the place of anticipation. Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love. Let’s be okay in the waiting. Christmas will come soon enough. A baby will be here. A Savior will come. What is empty will be filled. Heartache will be healed. Yearning will be fulfilled. What is broken will be repaired. What we’ve lost will be found. But in the meantime, we wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!
(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)
“True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self. The pain you experience from the death of the person you love calls you to a deeper knowledge of God’s love. The God who lives in you can speak to the God in the other. This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)
Grief. Most of us try our very hardest to shy away, or even run away from it. We question what to say when someone is grieving. We are unsure how often or even if to “bring it up” once life supposedly goes “back to normal.” We don’t know what to expect from ourselves or what the other might need from us. Should we come close or give the other space? It can be a very confusing time for everyone. And truthfully, if I can speak candidly about myself, I don’t like to be in pain or be with others in pain. It’s just downright uncomfortable.
The past couple of years have been filled with family and friends who are grieving. And like most things in my life, I am not an avoider. I want to throw myself headlong into the process, engage in it, learn from it, deal with it. After all, it’s fairly new to me and I’ve heard that it’s horrible, sacred, beautiful intimate, and gut-wrenching all at the same time.
I lost my own sister-in-law, Denise Maret, just under a year ago, after a year-and-a-half long battle with colon cancer. My brother and 19-year-old niece are left to raise my nine- and ten-year-old nephew and niece, along with the help of their grandparents.
My friend lost her precious brother to suicide. He has left behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren and her heart is broken.
Our friend and former babysitter lost both her dad and her husband to cancer during her two pregnancies and she is left to raise two young children alone.
I reconnected with someone on Facebook who lost her only son to teen suicide. This was the second time she lost a child, the other, a daughter, in early infancy.
A friend from church battled kidney cancer for many years. His wife faithfully cared for him, only to lose him. He missed his step-daughter’s wedding by only three short months.
One of my best friends from high school lost both of her daughters, her only children, in a tragic car accident on Good Friday. They were only 19 and 20 years old, absolutely stunning girls, one only 10 days away from her college graduation.
You have your own stories. So much horror. So much sadness. Grief multiplied.
This is probably where you want to click off, log out, go find puppy videos on the internet. Me too. At times. But not today. Come with me. Lean in. Learn along side of me. Today, we will catch just a glimpse inside the world of my friend, Annie, who lost her baby brother to suicide at just 51 years old. I promise you that it’s not all horrible.
When she first shared this journal entry with me, my heart was filled with horror, joy, sorrow, connection, injustice and comfort. Yes. All of those things. Loss feels raw and sad and terrible and wrong, but also sacred and beautiful and precious. Entering in to the pain allows our hearts to be touched with a deeper knowing and beauty that we will miss if we click away. I ask that you would read on.
Annie’s Journal Entry on 6/17/2017. Four months later.
Steven is gone. He is gone. He is gone from me. How can this be? How can he be gone, just gone? I don’t feel disconnected from him . . . but definitely disengaged. He is not here to hope, or dream, or plan for a future together. All those things are gone.
My connection to a future here that includes him is gone, and nothing will take its place. It is an empty space…and it will stay empty. It is a space that holds his absence and my missing him. My own future will always hold this empty space. I am suffering. I will suffer, but I will not be destroyed or left desolate by an empty space.
This empty space where Steven is missing is a sacred place. I would rather have this sacred, empty space than no space at all. Our love and connection to each other created a space for our future together. If there had been no love and connection, there would be no space – – and I am thankful for it, for our empty space . . . for my empty space.
I am thankful for all the other spaces, the other spaces that are full – – beautiful, cherished spaces filled to bursting with love and life and memories. Memories of the two of us. All the precious moments we had together and apart-but-connected. All the treasured memories we had together with others. Those spaces are filled up and will stay full . . .
nothing will change that.
I don’t have you with me now my Steve, my beloved Steven, but I am forever grateful for you – my one time little brother, my forever friend.