Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Some honest thoughts about the death of ones you love

Shari took this picture of my daughter at my father's grave today. It brings home the perpetual, recurring insult of death. Death is a rude and awful visitor. Yes, God has removed the ultimate sting of death because of Christ's resurrection, but this side of heavenly glory every good memory of a departed person is accompanied by the aching fact of their earthly absence.  When people say that grief gets better over time, they are unwittingly referring to the way you start forgetting daily interactions and detailed memories that make you miss the person. That's the sad truth about the human separation that death brings. It only gets better because you forget so much. We try to comfort each other by saying the departed person is in "a better place". That is true, but I am not in a better place. After all, grief is about me, not the person who died. Be honest about that. We Christians are often enough guilty of telling each other, and ourselves, trite little spiritual cliches because we don't think it's right to feel so grieved and conflicted about our loved one's dying for so long. Hardcore grieving has a scripturally allotted timeframe, but the constant, dull, pain of missing a loved one carries no such limited timespan.

We forget things we should not, we remember things we should forget, and we often skew past events to fit the way we want to remember. The human mind and thinking process is flawed and feeble.  It is a kind gift from God that He allows remembrance of some things so vividly, but it is also gracious how he dulls our memory about certain other happenings.

It distresses me regularly that eighteen months after his death, I cannot remember all I want about our life together. I drive by my father's grave every day as it is literally 150 yards from my office door. The daily sighting of his grave attempts to trigger the sad memory of his death (here I mean both his actual death, which I witnessed, and his state of being separated from me).  Some times I fight off the trigger and re-holster the gun of mourning, so to speak.  I choose not to let my mind probe the depressing feeling.  Other times I panic a bit and try to voluntarily flood my memory with good thoughts and recollections of my Dad.  Most often I think of him in our house, sitting in one of the recliners with one or more of our kids on his lap.  Regularly enough the mental image I choose to conjure is stopping over at his house and catching him taking a rest on the back deck before puttering in the garden some more.  He'd give me a few thoughts about the country's woes and maybe a comment about something funny one of the kids said or did. When I am doing things with my sons that I used to do with Dad, like going to a sporting event, or even just driving back and forth to this place or that, I think back on such times with Dad.  When sadness comes, I do my best to fill my mind with pleasant thoughts of Dad.

Here's what I've come to learn over these eighteen months since Dad's passing.  I'm forgetting things and I hate it.  I have a reasonable memory.  I read enough and study at a rate that should allow me quicker recall on things, right?  Still, my aforementioned exercise, that helps me fight off melancholy feelings, keeps going back to the same repeated memories. The cost of going to the same recollections over and over is the loss of so many other events. Just a year and a half later and I'm losing some of the details about the many times I had with Dad.

Here's what I've come to discover in dealing with my father's death. You don't get over it.  I believe the pain will turn to joy some day, but right now, there's no joy in being separated.  Our life is very different with him gone. Obviously, life for my mother, his life partner, is radically different and adjusting to the new "normal" is painstakingly slow. With my father being fifteen years older than my mother, we vaguely contemplated life after Dad was gone, but now that time has been here a while and bluntly, it still sucks. There have been many, many great blessings and joys to celebrate in these past eighteen months, but there again, it is impossible to stop my heart from wishing Dad was here to be part of these things.

With each day that passes, it's harder to remember.  For my young boys, how much will they remember?  How about the little girl above, my father's only granddaughter? Can we remember enough so that she can know Pepa?  Yes, I do know she'll meet him some day.  That relieves some pain.

Shouldn't my faith in Christ be transforming my grieving experience?  Shouldn't I be more positive and strive to center my thoughts on the profound biblical realities about sure eternal life in Christ and my definite reunion with my father in heaven? Well, on the first question- I am quite sure my faith in Christ allows me to be totally honest about my dismal feelings regarding Dad's death. Death is an aberration to God's created order.  It's not supposed to feel natural or right. Sorry, but no personal life event from now until I die will be better without Dad being here. On the second question, it is the profound biblical reality of an eternal glory that outweighs these temporary trials that safeguards me from utter hopelessness and despair.  Dad will not be my only loved one to pass before I die. How will I endure such times? What would I do if I was not sure about the ultimate consummation of things in Christ?  How utterly awful it must be not knowing the living Christ.

These are my true thoughts, as I look at my daughter sitting in a cemetery- that she doesn't know is a cemetery- on a finely carved memorial stone-that she can't read- sitting six feet above the earthly shell of the man she didn't get to know nearly well enough and who I am fighting not to forget.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  -2 Corinthians 4:16-18


christianlady said...

Yes, wow. When I had a baby die in me at 16 weeks, I remember thinking that grief itself was a gift to me. The pain a reality that I did so love the baby I had lost, that I never met. It was a reminder, as you say, that being forced apart by death is NOT the way we were created. We were created with eternity written in our hearts, our connections with those we love are meant to be eternal. Being apart is horrible. And in what you say about forgetting, it is a pitiful thing that even though we do love someone dearly, we can forget. My grandfather died in 1992, and so much is gone. I am so glad I still remember his face, his hair, the shape of his head, the way his house smelled, his lips when he said words (and didn't the old guys pronounce words a bit differently?). I remember, and yet, so much is gone. I know my grandfather would be so proud of my kids. I am so glad to have the hope of seeing him again, but it doesn't mean I do not miss him. Even now, though the pain is mostly gone, I still can feel it and tear up. Life was better with him.

Terry E Wright said...

Yes, "Wow" indeed. You have expressed my inmost thought of the last few months with the loss of our "Claudettes'" especially in the realm of what guilt and loneliness I feel in not remembering more of my wife's presence, personality, and those special times I shared with her that I ought to remember.

She (in this life as you so vividly portrayed) moves farther and farther from me, and I can do nothing to stem such an outgoing tide.

Indeed, in this life, there is nothing intrinsically good about death, but it is the great Stalker and Enemy of all!

Thank you for nailing it for me!

Daren Busenitz said...

Great thoughts, Tony

Real Religion said...

Good stuff Tony. I can hardly believe it's been 3 1/2 years since my dad died. While reading your post, I realized I had been doing some of the same things.


Amy Jane's Closet said...

What a timely post Tony. Last week I lost a good friend. And I feel so crazy to be so sad when everyone keep being so gleeful that he is in a better place and I have been crying my eyes out. I feel so faithless. Like you said, I am stuck here. And I miss my buddy. It is also timely in that my mom will have been one 14 years in 9 days. And though I do not wish for her suffer, I do hate that we are separated. The intensity of grief does grow less but the longing remains. Thanks so much for being brave and honest enough to say these words.

Sean Winston said...

Tony sorry about your loss. I lost my dad 5 years now, and its true, you dont get over it. In Christ, Sean Winston

Tom Kessler said...

Thank You Tony!

Jeff O'Neil alias Cymro said...

Thanks for the disclosure of your sorrow Tony,which conveyed some thoughts I had not contemplated. It must be hard passing your Dad's grave daily,but in your expressive and poignant account, you twice mentioned "a cemetery".Perhaps the original meaning of the word,"a sleeping place,"would comfort. Did not our blessed Lord teach,(1 Thess4:14-15)" them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."
Let that consolation uphold you every time you view the sleeping place,ie,"my Dad sleeps in Jesus."What safer,sweeter, warmer and lovelier resting place than in the bosom of Christ!
Maybe you should write down now all your experiences,anecdotes and memories of your Dad before they fade. And when your daughter is older,let her read of the love and esteem you have for her Grandad.
There is a word in our Welsh language,"hiraeth", which really is not translatable into English. It basically means,a profound inexpressible longing or yearning.As one at a distance longs for home, so also in grief,there is a continuing longing for the loved one that cannot be eradicated.Yet the word of God alleviates and tempers as with (Heb 11:13-16 AV)
The Lord bless this sorrowful providence to you so that you will grow in grace,and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ,and be used in helping those who likewise will pass through the valley of the shadow of death.

Woody Woodward said...

Wow! Your probing thoughts will bring great comfort to many. Cheri and I are so thankful that we went to the hospital to see him on the last Sunday he was with us. "Laugh and enjoy the Lord Sir Tony Sr!"

JOEL said...

When my Dad died it hit me especially hard. Like you I had the ultimate comfort of knowing that in some far-off time all would be restored or even exceeded.

But I was devastated. But at the right time someone told me these words...they aren't magic, not revelation, but a profound truth; "you never get over it, but it will get better" and that was a turning point for me. That it was a change that simply *is* and we acclimate to that change.

Some changes force us to make choices or stagnate, become bitter and lost. But the changes still come. Faith exercised in these times when you least feel it can lead to understanding and acceptance and embrace of hard changes.

Blessings !