I’ve sat on this post for over a month. Didn’t know if I really wanted to post it or not. It just opens up areas of woundedness for us all that sometimes I’d just rather say nothing about. But then again, if we . . . I mean . . . if I really do believe that God is up to something good all the time (ya know, it’s a real pain when the Holy Spirit uses something you’ve previously written to remind you of your need to step into hard things), then this post is for all of us who are broken by grief and loss that is relentless. So, here goes . . .
The Labor Day holiday has always been a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love holidays–the food and the fun with family and friends. It’s such a delight. But there’s the sadness that another summer is ending. I love the warmth and will miss it in February when the icy Michigan wind is ripping at my face. Yet, the holiday also ushers in the first glimmers of fall–my favorite time of year. Fall–with it’s crisp cool mornings, the pallet of colors soon to be splashed over the maples and punctuated by the brilliant red of the staghorn sumac, the sounds of football on the weekends and geese making their pilgrimage south. And the tastes of apples, pumpkin pie, and my favorite drink–cider.
Okay, I think you get the picture. I like the last blast of the summer holiday. You bet.
But this past Labor Day holiday’s delight with my family and friends was pierced with a call from a close friend who lives just a mile from our home. She was describing to my wife the trauma of being first on the scene of a tragic accident on their way to church that Sunday morning. At the end of their rural country road, a car had failed to stop at a T-intersection and struck an embankment so hard that it was launch through the air, landing on the other side of the embankment completely out of sight of the road. It was the out-of-place plume of smoke in the woods that caught her husband’s attention and sent him exploring. He soon discovered the burning wreckage and immediately dialed 911. But it was too late to rescue the driver.
We later learned that the driver was the 20-year-old daughter and only child of a man who had lost his wife just four years earlier to cancer. The news sent me reeling. How horrible! How unfair! How sad! I was angry. I felt like I wanted to scream. I just imagined if I was in his shoes and that it was one of my daughters. How horrific! How excruciatingly difficult that would be for me . . . and I still have two more children and a wife. How alone when there’s no one else but you. How could this happen! This dear man whose daughter’s life held such promise for him is now gone. No time for goodbyes. Just gone. And he’s all alone. No wife. No daughter. Just alone.
I couldn’t get him off my mind for the rest of the weekend. From now on, every holiday–not just one or two for a while–but every holiday will be stained with the emptiness and loneliness of the absence of not only his precious wife but now his daughter as well. Celebrations will feel futile. Why bother? No one’s here to celebrate with. What’s the point?
When we think of holidays we can easily think of those wonderful, warm, glowing times that are so meaningful to so many. But what about those who struggle with facing their first holidays alone, without the loved ones who have been so precious and irreplaceable to them? When we’re enjoying the good times, do we ever stop to remember those whose hearts are breaking over their grief?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a depressing mood during the holidays. Just that we remember that holidays can be filled not only with joyful celebration but also with heartache that’s crushing for those who have lost someone special to them. And that first year is especially difficult to navigate. To remember brings both joy and pain. And yet, to not remember some how diminishes the worth and value of that unique one-of-a-kind spouse, child, sibling, parent, or friend who is noticeable absent.
To suffer in grief seems to be so unfair. Why would God allow us to suffer and not relieve our grief, our sorrow, our pain. Nicholas Waltersdorf, a professor at Yale wrote about his journey through grief in the wake of the death of his son Eric, who died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 25. In describing his suffering as a father over holiday get-togethers Waltersdorf would say, “Now, when we’re all together, we’re never all together.” He says he came to understand the suffering of God, the Heavenly Father through his own suffering . He wrote:
“It is said of God that no one could behold his face and live. I always thought this
meant no one could see God’s splendor and live. A friend said that perhaps it
means no one can see God’s sorrow and live, or perhaps God’s sorrow is His
splendor. Maybe the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer
with us when he did not have to.”
It is the message of the greatest holiday celebration of all–the invasion of our planet by the Creator God Himself who came to remind us that no matter what losses we may face in this broken world as wounded and hurting people, there is always a reason for hope and joy. Why? Because we are never totally alone. God is with us . . . Immanuel (Matt. 1:23). And God weeps (John 11:35). And, when I think about it . . . maybe it’s true . . . the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer with us when he didn’t have to.
Maybe you have a story of grief and loss that God has brought you through that you would be willing to share with others. Or maybe you’re in the middle of your journey through grief and just want to ask for prayer. Please feel free to share your story or concerns with the community of those who blog and post on this site.