Nearly four months have passed since my friend’s daughter, Emilie, and my husband’s friend, Mike, died. We’ve lost more dear ones, and I have been reminded of and become acquainted with the raw grief of other great losses suffered by others near and far.
C.S. Lewis said, after the death of his wife, “I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
There’s no getting over it. There’s no return to normal. Never, ever will those who loved them and those who love their loved ones be the same. We are forever changed.
The mourning goes on each morning. Those early days of shock and sharp jagged raw grief may fade, but the process of exploring the shredded heart and figuring out how to move on without “getting over it” continues even as life continues. Even as the sun dares to shine, the flowers to bloom, the children to grow.
It’s like learning to live with an amputation. Not like suffering from a fracture. While a fracture produces acute discomfort and a temporary disconnect from daily life, once it heals we “return to normal.” An amputation, on the other hand, alters a life forever. The limb is GONE. And there is the need, in fact the requirement, for the amputee to compensate for the absence of what was once a vital part of their body, what once they took for granted, what once they couldn’t imagine surviving without. But survive they have, even though part of them is missing and will be missing for as long as they live this side of eternity.
How, then, to do life with a missing limb? Somehow, it must be artificially replaced to restore even the most basic function. But the replacement, although serving the amputee well enough to re-enter daily life, is really no replacement for the real thing and it never ever will be. It is made of wood, or metal, or plastic, not flesh and bone and blood and marrow.
And after an amputation, is there not sharp and raw pain even in the absence?
And they, as survivors, need help just as much now as they did when they were first wounded.
They need help moving on. They need us to stand by their side, wipe the sweat from their brow, help them out of bed, support them as they learn to walk again, pick them up when they fall. They need us not to abandon them even though the surgery is over, and the stump has scarred over. They need us to understand and acknowledge the pain they still feel in that missing limb, even as we help them learn to walk again. They need us to walk beside them, but not drag them when they can’t move that fast quite yet.
They need us not to pretend nothing life-altering happened. They need us to acknowledge their altered life.
They need our presence. Even if their eyes are closed and they might seem oblivious to us sometimes, when they come awake the pain is there to greet them and they need us to be sitting there, still.
I’ve posted some recently on being broken open in our relationships. Many of us struggle with finding people who are safe enough to be broken with.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in these past months, it’s that I am safest to be broken when I am with the broken. When I acknowledge my own pain and don’t pretend to have all the answers, when I simply cry and wail and grieve with them, when I pray with them and for them, when I feel their pain. I have been surprised by the capacity of the broken to respond to brokenness in me.
No, I can’t pour my own pain on top of the unimaginable pain of my loved ones. That’s not what I mean, and that’s not helpful to them. But we can share pain, and that is different, and it is healing even though we never get over it, whatever the ‘it’ is, and there is safety in the common emotion.
We move on, move forward, our heads bowed together, our hands reaching up with an offering of perhaps the only thing we have to give right now, our pain. We remind each other that even when it seems that heaven is silent, God is weeping. And that we are not only acceptable, but accepted. And that God is merciful, even if it is a severe mercy today.
And that tomorrow is a new day, whatever it may bring.