Into the Light of the Mourning

When I was little my grandmother used to pick me up from school and take me to this little garden in our town. We would walk and talk and look at all the flowers and trees. But my favorite spot was always the little goldfish pond. I would lay on my stomach leaned over the wall and feed the fish watching them for what felt like hours. This space was slow and peaceful to me. We were never in a hurry to be anywhere. For those moments at that garden we were just together, and that was enough for the both of us.

If you know me, then you know I still move at a slow pace through life everywhere I go. I heard the words, “Hayley, come on! Pick up the pace please!” all the time growing up. And if you knew my grandmother, then you know I got that slow steady pace from her. Now that she is gone, I am only beginning to realize the many ways I am so similar to her. The more I am trying to grab a hold of her fading ghost in every space I can.

The world seems different waking up these days knowing she is no longer in it. Most days it feels as if she took so much of the light with her. I do not understand why the Lord does the things He does. My grandmother’s death was a slow and agonizing one for us all. A thousand little deaths over the last year before she finally drew her labored last breath. 

I honestly thought I had so much more time. My maw-maw was the one grandparent I thought would live to see my sister graduate high school. See me get married.  Would hold her great-grand children. Somehow though 83 years is a long time on this earth, I feel her life was cut short. Like she had so much more to live. I honestly thought dealing with her death would be so much easier than it has been. I was prepared this time…I saw this coming as I watched her slowly decline. Towards the end I prayed the Lord would take her out of mercy. But somehow I’ve been ripped open all the same.

I remember that first loss and encounter with grief I had after losing my paternal grandmother. It felt so real and raw, as if I had been broken open in ways that quite surprised me at 19. I didn’t know a pit of grief could open up within someone like that. When I fell in, I didn’t know how I was going to crawl out of that space. The dark walls towering over me. A decade later I’ve seen so much more. I’ve witnessed more tragedy; experienced more loss. I’ve had my heart broken losing what I thought was love but was really a lie. Buried all my grandparents but one. Dropped my father off at a hospital door scared to death I just saw him breathe for the last time. I’ve witnessed and seen things overseas I wish I could unsee, but can never seem to forget. I’ve watched life leave a body twice now which is two more times than I ever have wanted to in this life. In the last year alone, there has been so much loss and deep pain. I have cried what feels like enough tears to fill the depths of the sea.

I recently read a post that said, “If your 20s are for dreaming, then your 30s are for grieving…”. The closer I get to 30, the more I realize how true that statement is. The longer we live the more we love, which is beautiful, but that means the more we also lose. I am sure I have only experienced a small fraction of the grief this life will bring.

What I’ve come to learn in all the ways my heart has been ripped open and sewn together again is that there is a soft tenderness to grief. It’s wild, untame, uncomfortable, and it’s raw. But if we allow ourselves to walk through it, we emerge stronger yet softer with the capacity to experience love and joy more fully. We become bound to others in ways we never thought possible, because loss is perhaps the only true thing we as humans will all without a doubt experience.

We know as Christian’s we do not grieve without hope. But I’ve found that while words like “they’re in a better place” or “we will see them again one day” are very true, they can often sound like platitudes in that soft tender space. I think we are so scared of our own mortality that sometimes there is a need for such blind optimism in our culture. We do not like to sit and feel pain. Death makes us uncomfortable. Grief makes us want to bake a casserole, leave it on the counter, and bolt out the door in fear that somehow death is contagious.

But there is great beauty in the ones who are called to run to the sick and dying. I think of the hospice nurses and around the clock caretakers who so delicately loved my grandmother’s fragile and failing shell even until she drew her last breath. Who didn’t leave her side until there was only peace left. Who held her hand and prayed with her in the dark and scary dead of night. The ones who held space for the pain of grief and didn’t try to run away. Who looked at her ailing body riddled with her own mortality and said, “Yes you, you deserve love. You still have so much dignity. You are beautiful to me, and I will never look away. We will face death together, and I will hold onto you until you let us go.” They have taught me so much about the person I want to be in the face of grief and death.

One thing I know for certain is that God honors grief. The Bible is full of deep rituals of grief and lament. Even Jesus himself took time to mourn the passing of his dear friend Lazarus before he proceeded to raise him from the grave. There is hope in our grief. We know the promise that God is making all things new in the land of the living is as sure as the sunrise. And while I am so thankful for that, I believe we are still allowed to grieve and feel pain even as Christians. Jesus, even knowing that His purpose in coming to earth was to defeat death once and for all, still knew how to hold space for deep grief. He ran to the dying. He sat in the heaviness. He said I will never look away.

Sometimes I wonder how often he thought about his own death. When he raised Jarius’ daughter was he reminded of the cross? When he called Lazarus out of the grave did he wonder how his friends and family would grieve his broken and battered body? In this year of loss upon loss, I am so grateful I belong to a Savior who deeply knows grief. To a God that holds space for all my pain, anger, tears, and questions. To a God who gives us light and hope to hold onto even in the midst of overwhelming pain and suffering. These truths are what have met me in the great darkness of this year.

My world is forever changed. There is now a hole where my grandmother used to be; right next to all the other losses of love I’ve endured. The longer I move about this earth, the more my heart will begin to look like Swiss cheese. There is nothing glamorous about death or Swiss cheese. Grief is dark and heavy. This I have come to learn all too well.

But there is great beauty in knowing that this woman whose cells I carry deep within my bones, who because of her breath I have breath, will continue to live on through me and the other women she gave sweet life to. And when I emerge from this dark hole I have fallen into, I will be forever changed. My heart more tender and soft, yet stronger for enduring yet another one of life’s dark nights. And the sun will still rise and give light to a beautiful morning, for this is a sure promise of my Savior and my God. Because you see that’s the beautiful thing about holes…even in their darkest moments they still let light shine through.

Kuc Obed Kedi sweet friends. Stay by your friends’ sides in the silent, heavy moments of grief. Sometimes your presence is all they truly need…

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