...God Himself will be with them...He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4
Heading into the Christmas season, it may seem a bit peculiar that my thoughts are on grief and grieving. But they are. I have a friend who will be celebrating the holidays this year without her husband, who was killed in a car wreck this summer. Another young friend will be "celebrating" for the first time in his life without his father. We all know someone who has lost a beloved spouse, parent, child, or friend this year, and who is facing a Christmas painfully different from their last.
I know some folks - I call them the Happy People - who seem to grieve hard and fast, and then move quickly back to an undiluted joy of living. A death, a disappointment at work, a breakdown in a significant relationship...nothing seems to knock these people off their dancing feet for very long. I'm not one of those happy people, but am instead the melancholy type. I grieve, come up for air long enough to catch my breath, and then grieve some more. Steve commented to me once, "I don't think you're happy unless you're depressed!" Life for a Happy, living with a Melancholy, must be very frustrating at times!
Several years ago, a friend of mine was killed in a horrible car wreck - she and her husband and four of her six children. I remember when I first learned of the tragedy. Fresh grief is raw, electric, soul-shaking, numbing. Then came the realization that the two survivors, fighting for life in a far-away hospital, would have to face the news of the deaths of the rest of their family, as soon as they were physically/medically stable...down crashed a new wave of grief, for the two children who lived. A month later, the thought that a bruised and scarred 16-year-old boy would have to begin the process of "going through" his father's personal things...the awareness that he was now the man of the family, and his sister's spiritual leader...years later, the wedding without Mom or Dad or the four lost siblings there to celebrate...much, much joy in the years since the wreck, but not without the breaking of the surf - of loss, of grief - in the background.
People grieve differently. There was a time when I honestly felt guilty for being so s-l-o-w about the process myself. I considered that maybe, in some twisted way, I really did enjoy sorrow. Or, that maybe my inability to grieve more quickly was evidence of a weak faith. I finally decided that feeling bad for feeling bad was kind of stupid, realizing that not everyone's grief mechanism is alike. I no longer feel guilty for weeping, but am not yet completely free of the wish to be understood by the Happy People perplexed by the tears that seem to ready to overflow even during happy times.
I think that for Happy People, grief is perhaps like a sudden violent storm that blows up on a normally peaceful and beautiful lake, transforming the still water into dark and turbulent waves. Before too long, the storm blows itself out and the surface of the lake grows calm, reflecting once again the familiar and friendly sunshine. For the Melancholy, grief is like the ocean surf crashing rythmically to shore. Peace reigns between each of the breakers, but the waves don't ever stop rolling onto the beach. But, in case you're thinking all of this sounds horribly depressing, let me remind you that the waves bring treasures from the deep that would otherwise remain unseen. Waves of grief are often followed by waves of grace. For example....
My friend Carol left this world (see this post) for heaven almost two years ago, and the grief I feel over her absence is older now, riper, less stinging. But from out of the blue, a fresh wave crashed down on me last week - I found myself once again weeping for the friend I had lost, whom I hadn't seen in so long, whom I truly missed. (Carol, by the way, was a Happy People, but was always gracious and patient with her Melancholy friend!) As I struggled to not be swamped by this unexpected wave, I was suddenly reminded of the greatness of our salvation. It's as if God was telling me, "Camille, you are crying because you can no longer have the old Carol. Have you not even considered how much more you are going to delight in the new Carol? Imagine the Carol who waits for you in Glory!" And remarkably, I turned from looking back through tears at the Carol I had lost - to - looking joyously forward through tears to the Carol I haven't yet met. And the Glorious Carol is probably laughing right now, saying, "What took you so long!"
Now, if only I can learn to apply this insight to the many areas of life where I am still "looking back" through a blur of tears, longing for what was and is no more, instead of for the wonderful things God has in store for me ahead. Oh, if only could say with Paul, "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (2 Phil. 3:13)