I first met Grief when I was very young. I did not know him then, he was like a passing shadow, a brief interlude of dusk, gone momentarily. Aged three I breathed Grief in and exhaled him out in one rise and fall of my little chest. He revisited, perhaps too often, over the years of my childhood, a familiar but detached presence. In those early years the one thing I knew of Grief was that he left me alone eventually. Sometimes he followed me for a few months or years but at some point I would look around and realise that he wasn’t with me anymore. Grief had done his work it would seem.
Then at nineteen Grief came to my side again. My Dad died in the early hours of a Wednesday morning, we had only known he was ill for eleven weeks. It was a swift and vicious cancer of just about everywhere you could think of that took him. There are plenty of things that were unfair about it and a whole barrel-full of trauma and pain that ensues from a death that occurs out of the natural order of things. You shouldn’t lose a parent at nineteen. But that’s not the point here. Plenty of things in life are unfair, we all have our pain to add to the pile.
What struck me over those following years was how my experience of this Grief I thought I knew had changed. You see in ‘Grief: The Early Years’, he had only stayed for a while and he kept a measured distance for the most part. If Grief came close it was only for a short period of time, that’s what I was used to. But when my Dad died, all previous reason and reputation Grief had held for me was out the window. Grief became my everyday experience, this loss had wounded me so deeply that in the beginning, my response sat only in two extremes – a guttural howl, or hollow and silent disbelief. Grief had invaded my world and at that point felt more like a rampant burglar who had upturned all that was home to me; the precious pieces of the life I once knew lay shattered before me and a deep sadness sapped me of any energy to try and put the pieces back together.
The beginnings of this time spent with Grief can be noisy, full of people and cards and food and sorry’s but all that dwindles eventually, as it should and the world seems to walk on with ease. The grieving one limps on out of the early clamour and on into the silent valley. The silent valley holds no less pain or questioning, in fact it probably holds more because the shock has worn off and reality bites down hard. I hadn’t spent very much time in the silent valley prior to this loss, but here I was now having to find my way through this new and rough terrain. It was in this place that I had no choice but get to know Grief. He was present with me, he didn’t seem to be excusing himself as before and actually, I didn’t want him to go.
If you believe in God, as I do, then your experience of walking with Grief has this extra complex layer to it. No matter how rock-solid your faith your silent valley wandering will cause many questions to arise. On some days they will be yelled out with anger and ferocity, on other occasions they will amount to no more than an inaudible, bitter groan but almost always they will be directed at a person. God. ‘Why God, why would you take him from me? Don’t you know that I need him? Don’t you care? Did I do something to deserve this? How can I possibly live the rest of my life without him?’. These questions of course are not reserved only for the mourning ones, but rarely are they absent in the presence of Grief. God received the brunt of my questions and wails and cries; Grief stayed in earshot. It’s a very strange thing to cry out in need to God while still figuring out if it was him that did this to you in the first place. In that particular corner of the silent valley I was grateful for the unchanging character of God; his far-stretching grace, his never-ending love, his steadfast faithfulness and his knowledge of all the things I can never hope to understand meant that he could and still can take all my anger, all my pain and every single one of my questions. He has proved that again and again, over and over and once and for all in the person of Jesus, after all he was one well acquainted with Grief was he not? And if Jesus bothered to acquaint himself with Grief on my behalf then I should give Grief my time as well. So as I followed Jesus along this worn and dusty path that none are exempt from, I finally let Grief come by my side and fall into step with me. He became my companion and I no longer resented his presence, in fact I welcomed it.
Grief may not be a friend but rejecting him, ignoring him or wishing him away especially amidst unfathomable loss means a rejection of the things that only Grief allows you to feel. If I do not grieve then I did not love, and I loved immeasurably therefore I will grieve, to give honour to a life that is dearly missed. Grief is not my friend but he is a worthy companion and he is a companion we will all have to journey with in our lives, I hope your journey starts later than mine did but if not, then friend, we at least are together on it.
If I hadn’t walked with Grief, if I hadn’t acquainted myself with him, allowed him to accompany me, then I think there are actually many wonderful things that I would’ve missed. You see, it has become clear to me that all those shattered, precious pieces of the life I once knew and thought gone forever were not abandoned to be swept up and thrown away. They were lovingly gathered by the calloused and wounded hands of a Saviour who saved them up, and gently made them into something far more beautiful that I could’ve imagined. I never asked him to do that, it was his good pleasure. As I look back on the last eleven years I can see now the traces of gold that radiate indelibly from the most broken places of my life and I know now, what I didn’t know then that despite the ache I still have and will carry for all my days, I would not turn back, nor now would I wish it any different. As hard as that is to say, and those words don’t come easily believe me, but I mean them; I would not wish it any different. For God, my God has taken that which seemed dark and ugly and is working on making something of lasting and unbreakable beauty and light. And Grief, my worthy companion walks with me while I watch it bloom.