As some of my readers may know, one year ago today my life was forever changed when I received the news that my dad had went home to be with Jesus. When my parents left on their trip to Maui, we never suspected that they wouldn’t come back together, and while we remain grateful for all that God has accomplished in our lives during the past year, it’s been an unbelievably hard one. A few days before his passing, my dad had dropped off my parents’ best friends at the airport. His buddy turned to him and said “see you at home.” It became true for all of us; the next time we see my dad, we will be at Home.
Although I’ve written some about my dad over the past year, I’ve written very little about the grief that we’re going through. To be candid, it’s because I haven’t yet processed it, and one thing that I got from my dad (among others), is that I process before I speak (or write.) To try and write about something so painful, so raw, while at the same time experiencing it, isn’t something I’m prepared to do, mostly because I’m concerned it would come out in ways that don’t make sense.
However, as we acknowledge the anniversary of my dad’s Heavenly Homecoming, I think it’s worthwhile to share a few things I’ve learned:
1) The power of simple words – In grieving, it’s a blessing to have people who surround you who care about you and want to say things that will assuage your hurt. However, very few people know what to say, because frankly, there really are no words. What I’ve learned is that for me the most powerful words were the ones that acknowledged there was nothing to say. They simply told me they were sorry, that they were praying, and that they would be there if I needed them. More than any others, these words were the ones that I cherished.
2) Grief is not a shared experience – When people try to find words to comfort, they often want to compare experiences of grief. The hard thing about that is that no one else can really know what I’m going through. Even in the unlikely situation that their dad passed away in the exact same way, in the exact same circumstances, they didn’t have the relationship I had with my dad; their relationship, their history was theirs. This isn’t to make a claim of superiority; it’s just that by its nature, every relationship is one-of-a-kind. We compare because we want to empathize but unfortunately, oftentimes when we do we seemingly minimize the pain that the person is feeling, especially if we make a less-than-equitable comparison. As much as we may want to, grief is not an experience that can be shared; each must experience it on their own.
3) There’s no prescribed roadmap – People talk about the stages of grief, but I’ve yet to see that pan out in reality. There’s no set way that you grieve. Because everyone’s experience is unique, so is the process that they go through. Grief comes in waves and cyclones. Sometimes it slowly builds and washes over you. Sometimes it strikes suddenly with intense precision. Give yourself permission to grieve as you experience it.
4) Time (temporally) does not heal all wounds – Along with making seemingly inequitable comparisons of grief experiences, probably one of the most damaging things people have said as I’ve grieved is something that implies that “time heals all wounds.” The truth is, for the Christian, ultimately time does heal all wounds, because there will be a time where we’ll be in heaven with Jesus. But on this Earth, there are losses that you never “get over.” That doesn’t mean that these losses define you, but they do shape you, and you carry the pain of them with you. Thankfully, for believers Christ shares that sorrow, however it doesn’t ever go away; pretending like it does only makes it more painful.
5) There’s good grief. – I know “good grief” is something normally associated with Charlie Brown & the Peanuts gang, but I’ve learned that there really is such a thing. The reason that pain of losing my dad is so acute is because our family is so close. I wouldn’t trade the tightness of our bonds if it meant reducing the hurt. However, we were blessed in that our grief is not coupled by words that were left unspoken, fences that were left unmended or relationships in need of repair. As I’ve written previously, my dad was intentional with his living, and that meant being intentional in his relationships. None of us have doubts about how much my dad loved us, and we know he was fully aware of how much we love him. We grieve, yes, but we grieve with the comfort of relationships that were whole. This has become perhaps the biggest lesson of my grief. To live in such a way that when God calls me home, there is nothing left “undone”, and there are no relationships “unfinished” that remain.
Since my dad has gone to be with his Maker, my heart’s cry has been that we would grieve well; that our family would be true and honest with our pain, but that in doing so we would point people to our Savior. Hopefully, we have and will continue to do that. As we do so, we eagerly look forward to seeing my dad at Home.