Today marks Charlie's and my 6 month anniversary, and in a "coincidence" that only God could have arranged, it is also the wedding anniversary that Jettie and I shared for 41 years. In light of this remarkable blend of past and future, I write some brief thoughts about what I have learned about the grief process, a grief brief of sorts.
I am sure that some of what I write here, I have written before, but it seems good to write from a place that's farther down the road since I last wrote. This is the year of 2nd anniversaries (birthdays, anniversary, other significant holidays), and it's also a year of new beginnings (wonderful new beginnings!), so perhaps I have learned a few more things to share. Here goes.
First, this whole healing process takes longer than we think. Although some of the people I know who have experienced great loss try to "get on with life" by ignoring their pain, the general consensus of those who are healing well are united in their agreement with this statement. Significant, life-altering loss takes more than a couple of months to recover from. This is not to suggest that we cannot move on with life, but I do believe that failure to allow for deep healing, failure to anticipate how our internal timekeeper tracks events we want to ignore, failure to gather others around us who will listen and understand will leave us walking with more of a limp than necessary. There is something profoundly healing in itself to just let the process take its time.
Second, as I just hinted, we need others with us on this journey who will listen and understand while we continue to process. I see now God's wisdom in my asking Him to give me a widow for my next life partner when I began to consider getting married again. Charlie's grace has been extended to me many times over the period of our relationship and marriage because he listens and loves me from a point of deep understanding. (She also prayed expectantly for her spouse to be healed from cancer and felt many of the same things I did when that didn't happen). And God has placed others in my life who have been there to listen as well. I could not have reached the point of wholeness I am approaching without a loving and safe community around me.
Third, if you ignore it, it won't go away. I doubt that the old adage about ignoring things works very well for anything, but it certainly doesn't work with the process of restoration from loss. Although we are not to wallow in sorrow and should only visit the valley of shadows with our hand in God's, it is not at all helpful to ignore depression, anger and similar emotions when they arise and we become aware of their connection to the loss. Better to hold things up into the Light and let God's searching gaze discover and heal the wound than to pretend we aren't still hurting. As I have said in many contexts, anxiety in any form (anger, depression, whatever) is God's invitation to healing, a beckoning call to come aside and let the Spirit of truth expose the lies and speak the Truth as He also embraces us. Although I have known that I am Abba's little boy for quite some time, grief has solidified this to me in a remarkable way. I realize more than ever that there will be times in my life until I see Him face to face that I will need a hug, some "lap time," or "shoulder time." So, dear one, when you are tempted to ignore, listen instead for Papa's invitation.
Fourth, scars are not wounds. This may be a no-brainer, but it needs to be stated. Those of us who have sustained great loss will never be the same. We will bear scars in our hearts from the ripping and tearing that our loss (whatever kind of loss it is) for the rest of our days. But scars are not the same as wounds. When we first face loss, all we have are wounds! But God's healing love and power can, if we allow it, lead us to a place where the wounds are tended to the point of healing over as scars. Funny thing about scars: the deep ones never go away! Thus we carry reminders of the battles we face all of our earthly lives, but they no longer hurt to the touch like a wound. And that's the other thing about scars: you can tell the difference between them and wounds by whether or not they hurt to the touch. If it hurts, let Papa show you how to let it heal. If it doesn't (it's really a scar) view it as a mark of God's faithfulness and redemption. Wounds are God's work in progress, and they hurt! Scars are God's work displayed and they give honor to the Healer and comfort to those still wounded. Thank you, Papa, that far more of my wounds are now scars!
Fifth, walking with a limp isn't all bad. In the first paragraph I made reference to "walking with more of a limp than necessary." The truth is, I will always walk with a limp in some ways even while I am dancing in a new dance in many other ways. But this limp, like Jacob's, is not a handicap but a means to more of His presence and power flowing through me to others. Paul writes of this in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, and I see more clearly than ever why Papa had me memorize that passage long before the battle began. I am deeply aware of my weakness, in more ways than I can take time to describe here, but I also find that my character is now softer to His shaping, my heart more capable of loving others to the point of its own hurting without flinching, and many other remarkable things that come with the limp. God's power is and will continue to be perfected in my weakness, so I am beginning at least to be ready to rejoice in and embrace my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Walking with a limp isn't all bad!
Finally, joy really does come in the morning and God does bring beauty from the ashes. My life now is more amazing that I could ever have imagined. To have "married up" twice has been my grace gift from God! And as the future stretches out before me with Charlie by my side, I smile even as I sometimes have to tend to a residual wound. I find myself leaping even while limping. Perhaps that is one of the great mysteries of life lived in the flow of God's redemption, eh?
Limping and leaping.
Tom, one of Abba's little boys.