Grief, the Uninvited Guest

Quite a few friends and acquaintances recently entered seasons of grief. For them, I repost a piece I wrote the summer after my father died from the ravages of a brain tumor.

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I have a guest these days. Grief is his name. I did not invite him, but he came and at the worst of times, too.

Grief is a strange beast.  Sometimes I don’t mind him very much and we sit with each other awhile. Other times, I mind him very much, especially when he surprises me in public. I’d prefer he just stay at my home. DSC_0150

I always hope he’ll follow the rules I lined out, but he doesn’t which annoys me. He rarely takes up the guest room but stays in odd places like the shelves of a cabinet, between the pages of a beloved book, or in the smells of familiar food. He’s often in my way when I’m trying to get things done.

He has some shockingly bad habits. He’s a nocturnal sort and has the gall to shake me awake in the night and, then, not let me go back to sleep! He stares me in the face upon waking some days which is a horrendous way to meet the day.

Kind friends come over expecting to meet him, and he is out for the moment. Things are like before, and it’s strange. Then, Grief barges in without knocking. We quickly lay a place setting for him. Then, he doesn’t use the proper utensils if he uses them at all!

If you caught a look at him, you’d know why. Grief is a foreigner. His customs are strange. Though I’ve befriended those with this same house guest, I learned little about how to host him myself. I’m not sure anything can acquaint one so well with grief except a house visit, which no one really wants. But, we all seem to get at some point in our lives.

I get the feeling grief means to stay for a long, long time-maybe forever. I don’t know how I feel about that. Some expect grief to behave, stay for a respectable amount of time, and then depart.  But, as I said, he hasn’t yet followed any rules, even the rules of hospitality.

I’m learning an odd comfort in grief’s companionship. It’d be nice if he paid some rent, though, or helped out a little with the chores. I’d prefer a kickback to the pain in the arse he is from time to time.

My close friends expect grief to stay far longer than I hope he does and seem to welcome him with much more grace than I can afford. I’m afraid grief means to put his name on the deed, and I’ll never be rid of him. I get the feeling that once he comes, he never completely leaves. I also see that others who host grief graciously are ones I respect. I long to learn how to host as they do.

There is one Friend who is with me every moment. He is well acquainted with my house guest having hosted grief himself for a long, long time. He is such a comfort and an excellent help with this added load.

I’m beginning to recognize when other people are hosting grief like I am. So many are these days. Sometimes they don’t want others to know, and hide their guest which I think is a shame. He is a tough one to manage, and I can’t imagine trying to do it alone. I guess I understand. Grief is not the most attractive.

Others host a grief that is so painful and soul crushing, I can only shed tears for how violently he invaded their home. I, too, am at a loss to know what to do with such shocking behavior.

I hope I will not run from my guest or scorn him or shut the door on him. He’s not the type that tolerates that well. In fact, I know he chases those down that try to escape him. He always catches up. It’s better, I hear, to just let him in.

My best Friend says there will be a day when grief will leave. When there are no houses with tears, sorrow, and pain. Everything my Friend says seems to come true, and I believe that day will come.

It’s a great comfort to anticipate such a world, a world without grief.  It helps me deal with today and Grief’s demands with a little more energy.

But, just a little.

Grief, the Uninvited Guest

For those who are mourning, here is a repost from a while back…

I have a guest these days. Grief is his name. I did not invite him, but he came and at the worst of times, too.

Grief is a strange beast.  Sometimes I don’t mind him very much and we sit with each other awhile. Other times, I mind him very much, especially when he surprises me in public. I’d prefer he just stay at my home. DSC_0150

I always hope he’ll follow the rules I lined out, but he doesn’t which annoys me. He rarely takes up the guest room but stays in odd places like the shelves of a cabinet, between the pages of a beloved book, or in the smells of familiar food. He’s often in my way when I’m trying to get things done.

He has some shockingly bad habits. He’s a nocturnal sort and has the gall to shake me awake in the night and, then, not let me go back to sleep! He stares me in the face upon waking some days which is a horrendous way to meet the day.

Kind friends come over expecting to meet him, and he is out for the moment. Things are like before, and it’s strange. Then, Grief barges in without knocking. We quickly lay a place setting for him. Then, he doesn’t use the proper utensils if he uses them at all!

If you caught a look at him, you’d know why. Grief is a foreigner. His customs are strange. Though I’ve befriended those with this same house guest, I learned little about how to host him myself. I’m not sure anything can acquaint one so well with grief except a house visit, which no one really wants. But, we all seem to get at some point in our lives.

I get the feeling grief means to stay for a long, long time-maybe forever. I don’t know how I feel about that. Some expect grief to behave, stay for a respectable amount of time, and then depart.  But, as I said, he hasn’t yet followed any rules, even the rules of hospitality.

I’m learning an odd comfort in grief’s companionship. It’d be nice if he paid some rent, though, or helped out a little with the chores. I’d prefer a kickback to the pain in the arse he is from time to time.

My close friends expect grief to stay far longer than I hope he does and seem to welcome him with much more grace than I can afford. I’m afraid grief means to put his name on the deed, and I’ll never be rid of him. I get the feeling that once he comes, he never completely leaves. I also see that others who host grief graciously are ones I respect. I long to learn how to host as they do.

There is one Friend who is with me every moment. He is well acquainted with my house guest having hosted grief himself for a long, long time. He is such a comfort and an excellent help with this added load.

I’m beginning to recognize when other people are hosting grief like I am. So many are these days. Sometimes they don’t want others to know, and hide their guest which I think is a shame. He is a tough one to manage, and I can’t imagine trying to do it alone. I guess I understand. Grief is not the most attractive.

Others host a grief that is so painful and soul crushing, I can only shed tears for how violently he invaded their home. I, too, am at a loss to know what to do with such shocking behavior.

I hope I will not run from my guest or scorn him or shut the door on him. He’s not the type that tolerates that well. In fact, I know he chases those down that try to escape him. He always catches up. It’s better, I hear, to just let him in.

My best Friend says there will be a day when grief will leave. When there are no houses with tears, sorrow, and pain. Everything my Friend says seems to come true, and I believe that day will come.

It’s a great comfort to anticipate such a world, a world without grief.  It helps me deal with today and Grief’s demands with a little more energy.

But, just a little.

Grief, the Uninvited Guest

I have a guest these days. Grief is his name. I did not invite him, but he came and at the worst of times, too.

Grief is a strange beast.  Sometimes I don’t mind him very much and we sit with each other awhile. Other times, I mind him very much, especially when he surprises me in public. I’d prefer he just stay at my home. DSC_0150

I always hope he’ll follow the rules I lined out, but he doesn’t which annoys me. He rarely takes up the guest room but stays in odd places like the shelves of a cabinet, between the pages of a beloved book, or in the smells of familiar food. He’s often in my way when I’m trying to get things done.

He has some shockingly bad habits. He’s a nocturnal sort and has the gall to shake me awake in the night and, then, not let me go back to sleep! He stares me in the face upon waking some days which is a horrendous way to meet the day.

Kind friends come over expecting to meet him, and he is out for the moment. Things are like before, and it’s strange. Then, Grief barges in without knocking. We quickly lay a place setting for him. Then, he doesn’t use the proper utensils if he uses them at all!

If you caught a look at him, you’d know why. Grief is a foreigner. His customs are strange. Though I’ve befriended those with this same house guest, I learned little about how to host him myself. I’m not sure anything can acquaint one so well with grief except a house visit, which no one really wants. But, we all seem to get at some point in our lives.

I get the feeling grief means to stay for a long, long time-maybe forever. I don’t know how I feel about that. Some expect grief to behave, stay for a respectable amount of time, and then depart.  But, as I said, he hasn’t yet followed any rules, even the rules of hospitality.

I’m learning an odd comfort in grief’s companionship. It’d be nice if he paid some rent, though, or helped out a little with the chores. I’d prefer a kickback to the pain in the arse he is from time to time.

My close friends expect grief to stay far longer than I hope he does and seem to welcome him with much more grace than I can afford. I’m afraid grief means to put his name on the deed, and I’ll never be rid of him. I get the feeling that once he comes, he never completely leaves. I also see that others who host grief graciously are ones I respect. I long to learn how to host as they do.

There is one Friend who is with me every moment. He is well acquainted with my house guest having hosted grief himself for a long, long time. He is such a comfort and an excellent help with this added load.

I’m beginning to recognize when other people are hosting grief like I am. So many are these days. Sometimes they don’t want others to know, and hide their guest which I think is a shame. He is a tough one to manage, and I can’t imagine trying to do it alone. I guess I understand. Grief is not the most attractive.

Others host a grief that is so painful and soul crushing, I can only shed tears for how violently he invaded their home. I, too, am at a loss to know what to do with such shocking behavior.

I hope I will not run from my guest or scorn him or shut the door on him. He’s not the type that tolerates that well. In fact, I know he chases those down that try to escape him. He always catches up. It’s better, I hear, to just let him in.

My best Friend says there will be a day when grief will leave. When there are no houses with tears, sorrow, and pain. Everything my Friend says seems to come true, and I believe that day will come.

It’s a great comfort to anticipate such a world, a world without grief.  It helps me deal with today and Grief’s demands with a little more energy.

But, just a little.

Twilight

I rounded the corner in our orange car. Yes, orange. People do strange things in foreign countries like buy orange cars. I sped up in my orange car to merge into traffic. As I met the sight of the hills I saw everyday, a word sank into my heart.

Twilight.

The setting of the sun on a time, a day, an era. We were still living in Asia, but I knew then in my heart, not for much longer. It was the beginning of the end and the knowledge settled warm and uncomfortable in a deep place in my soul.

In the coming weeks and months, time was infused with meaning. Knowing our life in Asia was passing away, we visited people and places to enjoy them, but also to say goodbye.

I tried to remember the roots of the word, “God be with ye” in the moments that felt too final. I wanted normal. I wanted conversation not to revolve around the present, the twilight time, me, but it often did. Such is the reality of saying farewells. They exist in the present. They are personal. They are hard.

Twilight is also the time for good photos, I hear. The light casts warmth and enhances beauty. So it is with the end of things, or it should be. The harsh light softens the edges. The beauty of what was and is and the hope for what will be comes through in twilight.

I wish I always saw people in the glow of twilight, but I don’t. I forget and I focus on the wrong things. I take measure at the wrong time. I’m human. Flawed.IMG_1282

Now, I’m experiencing twilight again with my father. The soft glow of what matters and the ache knowing the sun continues to sent on his life. Feeling and significance infuse normal life with meaning. But the sun keeps setting and the shadows cast longer and there’s no stopping. How I wish I could push pause.

But, life moves on.

Dad and I eat in the roar of a good diner full of people in their own worlds and we in ours. We prepare for the night in this twilight morning. How to walk through widowhood with my mom. We talk about finances and relational anchors and the practicalities of funeral arrangements.

I’m not as frightened by the night of grief and sadness that comes. It weights heavy on my heart as grief is prone to do, but I know morning comes after the night. There is a time for everything. The trouble is not knowing how long is the night.

Grasping at time, as I’m prone to do, exhausts me. Not every moment can drip with significance. Sometimes you have to do the dishes and vacuum the floor. I’m left with the aching experience of living the times and receiving the gift in all its broken beauty.

We call it a severe mercy from time to time.

P.S. There’s a good book by that title, A Severe Mercy. Worth a read.

Walking the Shadows

Time is ticking and I want to make plans. I want to write on my calendar what happens what days and every time I lift my pencil, I think of what I do not and cannot know. I do not know the path of my father’s growing brain tumor. I do not know when he will die. I am not in control.

I long for certainty. Certain of attending a graduation event with my daughter. Certain of attending a dinner with my small group. Certain of chaperoning my son’s field trip. Certain of something.

The only thing I feel certain of is death.

My hand stalls in midair but I press through and fill blank space on the calendar knowing death may interrupt every thing I write.

I do not know the times God plans for my father and his brain tumor. I cannot know the measure of days for him, for myself, for my husband and children, for anyone. So much uncertainty and I want to know, to make a plan I feel certain I can fulfill.

But I cannot. God forces me to open my clenched fists and receive what He gives for today. To sacrifice plans I make if necessary to accept the ones God hands down for today. He forces me to release so much so that I can take hold of what He gives.IMG_1410

I do not like what He wants to give me. I do not want to release my plans, because I think they are better than grief and mourning. They certainly feel more comfortable.

Years of practice and many difficult farewells overseas and I know a shadow of grief. I know it’s pain and  I’d rather not. I’d just rather not write grief, mourning, sadness on my calendar in ink for the next few years. But, that is God’s plan for me.

He’s walked me through the shadows before. Can I trust Him to walk me through the reality of a more final farewell with my father?

 

The Sting of Death

Time is a gift. I know that today more than ever. My father’s tumor spreads as I write, moving us closer and closer to the end of his earthly, physical days. There are few treatments and they only promise an extension of days. Apart from miraculous healing, we know the end is coming. It always was, death comes for us all, but knowing a time frame brings life into focus.

This is the time under heaven and each moment swells with importance. A time to weep over the missing and laugh over memories past and the foibles of the present. To uproot from life as we knew it. A time to embrace what matters and avoid what doesn’t. A time to search out disconnected family members and reconcile those we can’t find. Times of silence together and times we speak.

Sacred time is what I call it. Not everyone experiences these moments. There are things worse than death. Things that make death a jagged sword that rips out flesh after it pierces the heart.

It’s inescapable. Death does pierce the heart with grief. It keeps me up at night, it makes my heart pound. I physically hurt. But, death doesn’t have to sting the way it can.  It doesn’t have to drag a pound of my soul on the way out.

The red trees are called poison wood trees.
The red trees are called poison wood trees.

Some things are worse than death. I’d take a brain tumor over my parents divorcing any day. I’d take this over parents with a contentious marriage fraught with selfishness. Unreconciled relationships and unforgiveness are sins that infuse death with a harsh sting. Before that, unforgiveness kills the soul and binds the heart tight and small. Those that encounter such hearts sustain injury to the deepest places in their soul. We’ve all met them and we’ve all been them, too.

I see my parents holding nothing against each other, though I’m sure they could find something. They spent the fall looking deeply into their relationship in a small group. It was painful at times, but I see that it washed their relationship from resentments. They feel closer than ever.

My parents and I sure have our moments we’ve needed to forgive, too, but this time together assures me we hold nothing against each other. And, lest you think we don’t have opportunities, you are wrong.

The freedom this brings to my soul is unspeakable. The freedom this brings to my father is beautiful. Though I see his sadness, I see that death has lost its sting. He says it himself. He woke my mother up one night to tell her. He is forgiven, and he has forgiven. He experiences freedom from fear and crushing regret and flaming anger.

I want this for myself. I want this for others too. The sting of death is sin (I Corinthians 15:56-57). Victory is through Jesus Christ.

Be reconciled, my friends. To God first, then to parents, spouses, children, friends, and co-workers. Even the person on the road that cuts you off in a blatantly offensive way. The politicians that get under your skin. The doctor that does the paperwork too slow.

Sow the seeds of forgiveness and uproot the weeds of resentment and bitterness. Let it not be on our shoulders, the crushing burden we do not have to carry. I long for the freedom that comes through receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness.

Day after day, as long as it is still called today, don’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).

Walking the Blind Side

His plate sat there half full of scrambled eggs as he reached for more. I watched as he spooned some more on the right side. Then he ate the right side leaving a line straight up the middle. Eggs on the left. No eggs on the right. I turned the plate and it was like a magic trick.

The brain is fascinating. When signals don’t come from the eyes, it fills in the blanks, interpreting from what it’s learned. My dad doesn’t realize he can’t see his left side. That means walking into walls and furniture, knocking things over.

Now he often needs help on his blind side to prevent a fall or running into things. It’s a lesson in humility, I’m sure. For me it’s a lesson in service.

I’m constantly watching and adjusting on the blind side, learning his limits, walking the fine line between parent and child. Sometimes I tell him like it is, and he follows. Other times there’s no leading him anywhere, only hanging on for the ride. Like when he wanted to do a pre-op snow angel outside the hospital.

Walking the blind side is a privilege, but he’s a man not used to being guided. He’s led where he doesn’t want to go. Like Peter in the Bible.

When you were young , you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go. John 21:18

At this point we’re not tying him up. Its a tempting option when he’s home alone and inclined to test limits that are steadily changing.

He’s not the only blind person. I’m as blind as my dad about what’s next. My mom less so, but this is the first brain tumor in our family. We pray it’s the last.

None of us wants to walk this path. We’re learning and we’re taking faltering steps into unknown territory. I’m growing wary of what I can’t see ahead, like my dad.

Follow Me. That’s the big question, bound on this path, will I follow Jesus? Will I go where I don’t want to go, because that’s where He’s going? What does faith look like on this path?

I will walk the blind side again today and tomorrow and for a long time to come. At least, it will feel long. Doctors say it will not be nearly long enough.

God knows the path. Will I follow?

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