Grieving is hard work. In most cultures, especially in years past, mourners were given deference and allowed space and time to themselves to grieve. Some people might dress in a certain way (in all black, for example) or wear a black armband for a specified period of time so they could be recognized as being “in mourning.” Such traditions may seem antiquated these days, and most of us would prefer not to advertise our bereaved state to the world. On the other hand, our culture today is often uncomfortable with grief. Most companies give employees 3-5 days off from work in the event of the death of an immediate family member. Then it’s back to business as usual.
That’s less than a week. And that time is often spent immersed in the awful but necessary activities of notifying friends and relatives, composing an obituary, arranging the funeral or memorial service, collecting personal effects, and numbly standing in a church, a cemetery, or a living room vainly trying to wrap your mind around the fact that your child is dead.
For weeks and months afterwards you are still confronted with tasks like writing thank you notes, going through her personal paperwork, closing accounts, and cancelling subscriptions. Every item you pick up that she held or touched or slept in elicits wracking sobs. Grief is all-consuming.
And yet. You still have to go to the grocery store. You have to attend meetings. You have to walk the dog and perhaps make small talk with the neighbor two blocks over whose name you don’t quite remember. How? How do you manage to do this? Why am I not just consumed with the flames of grief and turned into ashes?
Sweet, hurting parent, this is where God comes in. He knows our pain. In Lamentations chapter 3 the prophet Jeremiah says:
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis. I love his descriptions of his personal growth to becoming a Christian and his arguments for the existence of God in Mere Christianity. I gained much comfort and understanding from his memoir about his reactions to losing his wife in A Grief Observed. But, I think even more I love his literary fiction. His Narnia series is considered children’s reading, but adults can glean so much meaning from them. My favorite quote, though, is from a lessor read book called Till We Have Faces. It impressed me when I read it years ago, but I didn’t understand its impact fully until my daughter died.
“And if they [the gods] can indeed change the past, why do they never so do in mercy?”C.S. Lewis
Is there a single grieving parent who hasn’t begged God to bring back their child? To get a phone call from the police or the hospital that there was a mistake in identity and your child is not dead. To miraculously see your son or daughter walk through that front door alive and whole. God could make that happen. He can work miracles. I believe that. So, why didn’t He with my child?
I don’t know why.
The questioning made me bitter for a long time. I raged and wept and argued with God. But, I was not consumed. Even in the lowest depths of grief, there was a glimmer of hope. The Lord understands our grief. He holds on even when we lose our grip. And, even though God did not bring my daughter back, who knows what things He has done behind the scenes that keep my family safe? He does not tire in His care for us. His compassion, His love, and His mercy are new every morning. The only thing that is truly all-consuming is His faithfulness to us.