Grief and the Path of Beauty

Let me start by saying I do not pretend to be an expert on grief, and I truly hope I never am an expert on grief. My life has been colored by it just enough for me to know that this is something that’s going to stay with me forever. And that it is worth thinking about and wrestling with, because it is going to continue to be a part of my story. These are my own humble thoughts and observations about grief, and I offer them up as a friend, sitting at the kitchen table, over a cup of coffee, with more questions than answers, in hopes that together we may find some words that can anchor us to hope in the wide, wild sea of loss in earthly life.

Grief is surprising. I didn’t know how deep a hollow ache could go through me until I lost a child to miscarriage. I didn’t know if there was a back wall to the cavern that opened up inside my heart, or if that cold-wind-feeling would just blow through me forever. I didn’t know if I would ever stop crying at the breakfast table, or in the bathroom, or driving in the car. At any moment, a look, a word, a thought, a touch could transport me out of my beautiful life and into the hollow darkness of grief.

But grief changed. The surprise became less sharp and severe. The heavy sorrow lifted and gave way to a beautiful hope that life on earth is not all there is. I will forever be grateful for the memory of that profound feeling of loss. Because it showed me a depth to love that I did not understand before. I take comfort in knowing that I am that sweet tiny baby’s Mother, and that little one is my child. And not even death can separate what God has put together.

I recognized the feeling, instantly, again, in the days leading up to my own Mother’s death. Different because this time, I was losing someone with whom I had a deep and rich history. Someone with a familiar name, a lyrical voice, a bright and easy laugh. The first arms that ever held me. The intimate soul who stood by me through every season of my entire life, lovingly and gently allowing me to become myself. Praying for me, encouraging me, blessing my life with her sweet and selfless love. Losing my mother brought a different sorrow, but the same hollow ache. That iconic scene in a movie where you are standing on the high edge of a deep canyon, screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and falling to your knees as the thing you love descends in slow motion below the clouds and out of view forever.

Grief stays with us. It doesn’t just go away. A year later, I realize this. I still want to talk to Mama. I miss her gentleness, her ability to listen, her soft-spoken words of guidance. I grieve that my son, now 18 months old, will not remember her. And that she will not be there to welcome the baby in my womb into this world. I miss her in the thoughts of the upcoming holidays. And even though my hope in heaven is secure, and I know I will see her again one day, I cannot deny that the bleak reality that two lives, lovingly stitched together, can and eventually will be severed for earthly-ever. The finality of death in this life. I’m sure I will never get over this. How a person can be there one day, telling a story, laughing, crying, making plans. And the next day, they are gone.

I have wrestled with knowing how to even respond to grief. I can’t run away from it. I certainly don’t want to drown in the deep waters of it. But somehow, I know that it is something I must learn to allow God to use in my life. I don’t embrace death or loss or despair or sorrow, because I believe we were made to live in a world where these things do not exist. And that one day, we will. But I do want to embrace grief as a teacher and a guide. As painful as it is, I cannot deny that it deepens my gratitude for all the love that remains in my life, and it waters the seed of hope that this life is surely not the end of my story. I believe that grief can lead us down a path of beauty, if we can walk with her. Not looking ahead in fear over what more we can and almost certainly will one day lose. Not looking behind, regretting all the experiences that were taken from us because we lost what we loved too soon. But to take a steady pace of deep thankfulness that there is love, that we have known it, and that love endures forever. To walk forward in this, one sacred step at at a time.

I know that grief has led me into profound beauty. The way that I wrap my own children up, pull them closely, linger longer around the table to talk or on the couch with a good book. The pure joy I have found in my little son, who filled my empty, aching womb with the spark of life and love again. The gratitude I feel, in the absence of my dear Mother, for the memories of her beautiful life, for her likeness that I see in my brothers and sisters. For the words and songs and habits that she planted in my heart. In her absence, I am more grateful than ever to have had her presence in my life.

I find deep joy and comfort in the women who have stepped in to love, encourage, and mentor me in this past year. Surely this is a gift I once took for granted.

Seeing the world as one who has lost deeply can give us a heightened awareness of the ephemeral luster of the ordinary details of our lives. A cup of coffee, a morning shared with a friend, the face of a child… The moon, the stars, sitting by the fire. Color, music, words, living conversation, the touch of a hand. Voice. Breath. The life that is in the body. Awake for this moment in history to tell a singular story. The lives of those we love intertwined in a narrative that has an end here on earth, but a secret sacred to-be-continued in eternity.

Grief doesn’t go away. But I believe she can walk gently with us, putting her arm around our shoulders, taking us down a path that leads to see beauty in this life and in the life to come.

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Walking with Grief (Sketch from my Journal, November 2020)

If you’d like to hear Episode 2 of The Sacred Everyday Podcast, which was inspired by this post, you can listen here:

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