“Around Another Bend…The Journey through Grief”
This is an excerpt from a chapter of our book,
“No, God…Not My Child”
There are people who make it their life’s profession to analyze. Some analyze other people, some analyze crime scenes and others analyze financial matters. I try to analyze life. I am a thinker and I want to live in the moment and not look back and wonder what happened and how I got where I am. One thing I know for sure is that life is a journey. A journey filled with twists and turns and sometimes winding paths. Much like a golf course or an interstate follows a specific pattern; our lives are preordained by God for a specific route. Sometimes we leave the interstate He planned for us to follow and we end up on detours, side roads, or seemingly dead ends. But always, even when it does not appear to be so, there is another bend or path. God always provides a way out of the chaos we create on our own and redesigns our route to lead us back to the path He intended for us to follow.
Recently Mike and I spent a week exploring the southwest coast of England. We discovered the beautiful towns from Plymouth to St. Michael’s Mount and on to Lands End, the southwestern most point of England. Then we traveled north along the coast and saw some quaint fishing villages and thatched roof cottages dotting the horizon. The most striking part of the trip was that around every bend there was something else that would make the previous town pale in comparison. Just when you thought it could not get more beautiful, there would be another cove dotted with fishing vessels, another moor where sheep were roaming and cows were grazing as if their only reason for existence was to add to the beauty of the landscape. Each curve and winding road led to more breathtaking scenery and made you wonder how you could have lived your life contentedly without seeing this incredible beauty.
Reflecting on the journey God has planned for our lives to this point, I am amazed to realize how much beauty has come from every twist and turn. Even the sharp detours we took without seeking God’s direction, somehow have added beauty and charm to the patchwork landscape of our course.
Getting anywhere successfully requires that you trust the one who laid out the plans. A map is useless if you do not adhere to it and trust that someone drew it and figured out the route for you. I trust that God knows the route for my life better than I do. I believe that even when I am not fond of the valleys and curves that are on the route He designed, they are still best for me and part of His flawless map for my life. The thing about maps is that they are only as good as the extent to which they are followed. God’s plan for our lives can not be fully realized if we do not adhere to the path. And so, to that end, I continue my journey.
One patch of landscape that God has included in my life on many occasions is that of grief. The journey of grief is not a pleasant trip. There is not much beauty to admire along the way. However there are very significant points of interest if we are paying attention. It is a journey whose potential to change and shape us lies in our ability to recognize the mile markers and postings along the way.
Some people reading this musing may have never had to take the journey through the land of grief. In ways, I am thankful that you have not had to endure the depths of the valleys that we have had to endure. On the other hand, I almost feel sorry for folks who have not traveled to the caverns and crevices with the Lord that only grief provides. For me, it yielded an opportunity to get to know the Lord in a way that I had not known Him previously. It gave me pause to pour out my heart and share parts of my soul with the Lord that I might not otherwise have shared.
Or perhaps you may be on the other end of the journey of grief and be able to look back and appreciate that you survived. You know what I am talking about when I say there is sweetness in completing the journey. Not that grieving is ever totally over. Sometimes, seemingly out of nowhere, grief will sneak up and tear at our heartstrings again. Yet there is sweetness in reaching the point on the journey where you can finally say to the Lord, “I do not necessarily like what I just went through and I am not even sure I agree with you but I do trust you and know that You know what is best for me.” That, my friend, is a sign of a successful journey. It is the point on the track where God may wave the checkered flag and say “you have won this lap…you get it now.”
I do realize that there are others of you who may be somewhere on that journey right now. For you the pain is so intense, you are reading this and perhaps assuming I am being too lighthearted about the intensity of pain you currently feel. Please know that I do empathize with your pain. I have hurt so badly that I have prayed for the physical release to just die and go on to Heaven because I could not imagine enduring the pain one more minute. I have cried until my eye sockets hurt and I wondered where the tears were even coming from. I have been to that place the Bible talks about where the groanings of our soul are the only communication we can have with God. Times where words were worthless, hugs could not touch deep enough to relieve the pain and minutes seemed to last for days. I know that the journey is very painful for you and I am not minimizing it at all. I cannot fast-forward the process for you. I cannot wave a magic wand and have you speed through the phases of grief. But I can say that there is hope. With every moment you feel you cannot survive, know that each moment leads you to another and another and another and one day you will wake up and the pain will still be there but it will not be suffocating. Each breath will not be choking on a sob. You will be able to creep through the days and use fewer tissues than the day before. And, above all, know that even when you cannot see the way, there is a way. When you feel you cannot trust the road beyond what you can see, there is beauty around the bend. When you cannot see behind the clouds, there is still an amazing sun shining up there. When you cannot clearly see the markings on the road, there is a map that has been perfectly drawn and designed for you and it will lead you to a place that is safe.
When designing roads, engineers use different methods for us to mark the journey. Sometimes there are exits which are numbered to coincide with the distance traveled. Sometimes exits are numbered sequentially. Other times, roads are marked by landmarks. Things along the way that let you know where you are in relation to where you are going. An oak tree, a particular restaurant, a fork in the road, etc. can all be used as landmarks.
I too have marked my journeys through grief in different ways. I could spend a lot of time telling you of different things I have done to mark the journeys but I will use just one example. After losing our son Jonathan, my desire to be at the cemetery became a way to gauge how I was doing in the grieving process. Some days I would wake up with this incredible urge to be at his gravesite. Yes, I understood that Jonathan was really in Heaven with the Lord and that he was not there in the cemetery. Yet, I had this strong sense that somehow I was closer to him there. It was the last place where I saw what would remain of him other than my memories. I would go there and spend hours sometimes walking on the sidewalks, sitting beside the beautiful water fountain that was located in the middle of the section where he was buried. We would take our daughter Emma’s wheelchair or wagon and push her around. Sometimes we would take chairs and just sit on the sidewalk and watch for deer or red birds. The most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen landed on Jonathan’s tombstone on a day when I was having a particularly hard time. Before he died, I never would have thought that I would enjoy just hanging out in a cemetery. I am sure I would have thought that was just a tad bit strange. But for me, it became therapeutic. I would spend time tending to other people’s gravesites as well. Even now, when we change the flowers on his grave, we take the old ones and place them on a grave that has no flowers or one that appears to not get visited very often. It has become our son Spencer’s mission of compassion. He now picks out the “recipient” of baby Jonathan’s discarded flowers.
There were some days in those first few months following Jonathan’s death where I would go to the cemetery numerous times a day. Sometimes I would get this suffocating feeling that I could not shake until I was there. And then one day, it dawned on me that I had not gone the day before. And then slowly (and I do mean slowly), I got to the point where I could go a few days without being there. Tonight while I am writing this musing, we are one week away from the 6th anniversary of his passing. Still to this day, I cannot leave town without going to the cemetery and as soon as we return, the Town of Hillsborough cemetery is among the first places I go. But there have been entire weeks now that have come and gone without my being there. And so for me, my need to physically be at the cemetery coincided with how my heart was handling the grief process. The more intense the pain, the more I was there. It was a safe place for me to fall apart. It was a quiet place where I could just cry out to God without fear of other people thinking I was losing my mind. It was a place where I felt closer to God and to Jonathan.
Now, I do not necessarily recommend that you go to the cemetery constantly like I did. I know many people who find it too painful and have not returned to the gravesite of a loved one since the burial. I know other people who only go on anniversaries or major holidays. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is a very personal journey and what worked for me might not work for any other person. The important thing is to recognize that grief is a journey and will not last forever. You will come through. You will survive and you will be able to reflect and appreciate the process for what it is…a very winding path that is part of the journey that God designed and mapped out for you.
We are in the mist of writing a book for parents who have lost children to death. This book has been bathed in prayer. I have prayed for God to touch the heart and life of every person who will ever pick up this book. This musing is one small chapter in what will become our book to minister to those whose hearts have been broken by a pain that can never fully be put into words. Please know that though I may not know you personally, I have prayed for you. Not a prayer for God to take away the pain of grief but a prayer that you will appreciate the journey for what it is and that, above all, you will trust God with your path and not question His wisdom in the journey He designed for your life.
From My Heartbeat,
Renee Parris, August 2008