I told my mom if someone was writing a blog like this, I would read it.
Why? Why read something so downhearted? So fixated on one aspect of life?
Because I need to acknowledge what I’m going through, and yet I can’t look too closely at the reality. Just like the wake for my Grandma Naldrett two years and two months ago, I came into the auditorium and saw the beautiful, honey colored box. I knew they had put her in there. I knew people would say how beautiful she looked, but I had seen enough people in boxes to know that’s one of the obligatory sayings we use to comfort ourselves. I could not look toward her or walk up to her knowing, but not fully acknowledging what I did not want to be true.
Around midnight I finally did look at her. She was sleeping; it was surreal because she looked like she was sleeping. Seeing with my eyes that she was asleep, knowing with my brain that she was not alive, and wanting with my heart for her to get up…it was hard to take it in and make sense of the three pieces of knowledge.
That’s how I am now, knowing but not looking at him. Not looking too closely at the past, the future, the present. Just moving forward in my day, stalling, moving forward, waiting for something, moving forward again.
A couple days ago, I was exhausted and laid down on the bed to close my eyes for a few minutes. Napping isn’t something I do often or look forward to because it’s too bright, and usually there are children like babbling brooks and falling rocks keeping my brain on alert. When I wake up I feel disoriented, and later my sleep will be poor because I slept during the day. But it feels good to close tired eyes and let my skeleton relax for twenty minutes on occasion. I was coming out of a two day stint in deep depression, and everything about my dad had kind of taken a back seat in my mind. I relaxed my body, hearing but not listening to the kids. But when I came crashing out of twilight sleep like a raucous silent movie, the reality broke in on me as if it was new. Eyes open like birds startled to flight, I panicked for a moment. Dad!
But only for a moment, because there is nothing to be done about it. Dinner has to be made, children have to be directed to their chores. And I’m going to Montana soon. I will see for myself what I already saw for myself.
What is this strange existence?
I hear from others, mostly daughters, that it seems like yesterday still for them too. They still catch their breath, cry, think of calling their mom or dad, even though it’s been seven, ten, twenty years, and more.
Why are they like that? Are they willfully choosing not to believe? Are they stubborn? Do they actively refuse to let the past be the past? Will I be like that in two decades? Some say, “He is a peaceful memory for me now, a part of my life that is in the past. I don’t feel sad anymore.” Are they better than the ones who are still trying to call, still hanging on to memories, and fighting waves of sadness? Have they moved on more successfully?
Does it matter? Am I asking questions into the wind like a flapping yard decoration?
We had a neighbor some years ago whose husband had died. Brad had known her before he passed away, but I had not. She was often in her yard or taking a walk along the road. She had garden patches of flowers, and her house was adorned with signs of life and beauty. But she herself was a picture of misery. She never smiled or raised her hand to greet us when we passed by. Brad told me she took this countenance on after she lost her husband and had never regained her joy of living. We would wave and smile anyway, and several years later I noticed she would raise her hand, usually without looking our way, as we drove by. Before we moved I had still not seen her smile, though she had begun to make eye contact when lifting her hand.
There is the urgency to say, “She should move on. She should smile. She should– she should–” But why force her? She does. She obviously gets up, tends her yard, takes walks for her health. She came to the point where she could lift her hand, and then make eye contact. Maybe she should do exactly what she is doing.
Grief for me is like going to a new place where I’ll be staying forever, a resort or an amusement park, or perhaps a new job or a prison camp. At first everything is unfamiliar even though I’ve seen it all before in pictures or through the descriptions of those who have already been there. Rides, rooms, and routes loom like obstacles to be explored or avoided. I’ve taken on a certain uniform consisting of hollow temples, aching chest, weak legs, numb soles and palms. My eyes feel bigger than normal; there’s a sick feeling in the roof of my mouth. Everything good, like a peacefully sleeping Grandma and a sleeping Dad without caked on make-up, even the bright sky in May, is also sickening because he won’t be getting up again.
As the days pass and the weeks turn into months at this new location, Grief, I begin to know the ropes. The uniform is getting familiar now, and I learn to talk, laugh, live as if I have always worn it. There are times when I don’t even think about it, because I know I won’t be here long. I’m going to Montana soon, to see for myself, and to right the wrongs and to leave Grief. Right? Because I will find him.
I see that some expect me to fit into Grief already, move on, and forget there was any other way of living. Others tell me they have been here for more than two decades, and they still can’t get used to it.
Should we be more functional, those of us who wear our grief uncomfortably? Should we have all the answers neatly stacked up? God said we don’t grieve as other grieve. But as I talk to people, I have questions. I met another lady just yesterday who doesn’t believe in God and Jesus and salvation, but she functions and smiles and finds hope–in the occult. And as I talk with people who don’t believe, the wrapping comes loose off the neat box called First Thessalonians 4:13-18.
We don’t rush, my mom and siblings and I. We don’t try to rush through this place. Everyday he is not here, still. We have everything he left behind–physical belongings, most of which have not been moved, and his impact on our lives, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. But we don’t try to categorize everything right away, wrapping it up neatly and putting it away.
We had to do this with his body, which is shocking to say even though we did it already. We had to wrap him neatly in his usual clothing and place him—literally pick him up with our hands and move him—into the beautiful box. That could not be avoided; he couldn’t just be left in the blue chair. But everything else, we sort slowly through it. Pictures, memories, papers, things he said that have now become quotes–we sort through them with our minds and hands as they come, not rushing to get to everything at once.
During the week of January 19 to 27 when we were planning for his last two appointments on earth, Jason, Shelly, and my mom looked at hundreds of family photos to create a slideshow of his life. Somehow they allowed me to stay in the background lifting and looking at pictures now and then, but mostly avoiding facing this reality: only pictures of his face remain. Even now looking at pictures of him is painful; I look but look away. I don’t want to forget a line of his face, the way his hair no longer covered his head, his particular nose and the source of inside jokes, his hands, his mannerisms, his voice, his laugh. But I can’t look at those pictures too long. Memory will have to serve without the paper and ink renditions.
Everyone’s journey here is a little different. But there are the aching similarities. Even now, at 42 years old, there are people older than I who have not experienced a loss like this one. We have not all been through it. Finding my way as a half orphan is a strange experience, not without its comforts. There are so many of us, grown up children missing one parent or both, navigating the world. I don’t know the statistics, but most of us remain functional–working, raising children, enjoying life, fighting the old weaknesses despite being stronger for our losses. There are scores of dysfunctional people too but for the most part, we appear to go on–scheduling twenty important meetings this month, missing one on accident, making the dinner everyone loves, stepping out in new kicks, finding a hole in our favorite shirt. We ebb and flow just like we did before the unspeakable loss.
So what of it? My delving and diving into the why and what and how of this new place. Not “why did he go?” so much as why do I react this way or that way? What do I do with everything he left behind? How do I remember him without looking at pictures? What behavior is off limits? Will everyone think I’ve lost my mind if I do XYZ? What does God expect me to do? Who cares what anyone thinks? Am I going to lead someone to Hell by asking too many questions? What kind of hope are people living on when they actively do not know God? Why do they appear so successful? Why do people say what they say to comfort me or push me forward or encourage me? All the questions. Found here in my brain.
Sometimes for me the key is not the answer to the question, but the ability and freedom to ask the question.
I formulate the questions and the thought processes and take a good look. Men, classically, like to problem solve. Present a problem with questions, and they will solve it with the logical answer. But so do most people who are confronted with a grieving friend. We all want to make it better; we want to make the suffering person rise up from their pain. We know First Thessalonians 4:13-18, and we quote it because it is true.
I’m grateful for the hope. I wish my friend who is trusting in the occult would trust in Jesus instead. But I am also grateful for the freedom to ask the questions, all the questions. And not necessarily have answers wrapped up neatly. It’s like a person who has never touched the hot stove or gone down the monster water slide or jumped out of an airplane. They’ll never know exactly what it’s like until they do it. It’s inadvisable to touch a hot stove, but more than a few of the little children will do it anyway. And then they’ll call me to the same conclusion everyone else came to before them. But now they know, by experience what is true.
In the same way, it may be inadvisable for me to pretend like I am going to Montana to find my dad, but I know that’s what I’m doing. Maybe I shouldn’t ask so many questions. And then not finding him, I will —-
What? I will keep doing what I am doing now. Which is to turn my figurative face to Jesus, and not try to write out the answers to my questions. I’ll come to the logical conclusions every other person has come to, maybe
Because he won’t be there in his house. In his room. In the unfinished sun room studying. In the garage. In the mountain, the Jewel Basin. Not at the camp. Not at the mill. Not in the church. Not at the prison ministering. Not in the hospital. Not at the Farmer’s Market. Not at the Shelly’s Jelly’s kitchen. Not even in the ground at the spot designated in the, as yet, unmarked grave. Not here. Not there. Not anywhere.
What will I do?
Turn my face to Jesus. Hollow temples, sickened palate, eyes engulfed with tears.
And what does He day to me? He says, “Woman, why are you weeping?” He looks me full in the face, and I find understanding, comfort. I can’t swallow the pat answers; they frustrate me to no end “It was his time. He did all the work God called him to do.” But I look into the face of Jesus as He has revealed Himself to me, and find my safety. I don’t find my answers, but I find my Answer.
He who suffered everything, whose Abba Father left Him too, looks back at me and says, “Gina, why are you weeping?”
And I will say, standing on the grass over his head, “Jesus, I am walking alone now without my dad. I took care of him to the very, very bitter end. I wanted to. And now I have come back here to find him, even though I know. And he wasn’t here. Even though he told me specifically last summer, to my face, looking into my eyes, that he would never leave me on his own. And now he has left me.”
God knows everything already. He doesn’t ask questions because He needs the answers. He asks questions so I can know He is near me, watching, waiting, leading, knowing.
He is looking for me to Look at Him, Hebrews 12:2. My dad taught me this, seems like a hundred years ago. “God came down to the Garden of Eden after Adam sinned and asked ‘Where are you?’ as if He didn’t already know. He wants to talk with men.” My dad said, “So he asks them questions. He invites them to communicate.”
So this is how I live these days. I have the irreplaceable knowledge that God is with me. For me, it is not reckless love, chasing me down, overwhelming, like the song on the radio. Maybe it should be….
But no. For me it is gentle, it is the warm, comforting knowledge that He is always there even in the great, gaping emptiness. Especially in the emptiness.
I am like Hagar crying under the bush, Hannah weeping in the temple, Mary Magdelene defeated in her search, Mary Jesus’ mother looking up in silent horror at what my brain says is true but I cannot believe.
And He is ever so kind, so gentle.
I listened to my friend yesterday, explaining why she has hope and can’t give up yet, and I tried not to whisper, but my vocal chords were stuck. “I get it,” I forced out quietly, standing so close she was about two degrees inside my personal space. “I get it, because….[say it, Gina!]….I just lost my dad.” I want to rush in with the Gospel, so she’ll have Real Hope, but instead I said, “You’re doing the right thing right now. Taking care of him, talking with him.” Because the Holy Spirit is a guide saying, I will lead her. Just establish credibility, love her where she is.
Her face changed a little when I spoke, but she was focused on the object of her affection. Leaving an hour later, she hugged me tightly, and I knew she had heard me loud and clear.
I don’t have it wrapped up; I do ask questions. There is the ache, worse now than it was in January. I know the source for my answers, and the source of my comfort. He became a man, and yet was still God, so He could feel my agony and relieve me of my sin.
He is walking with me now.
I AM here.
Walk with me.