It hit me yesterday.
What I miss so much about her. Not just her. But about her.
Because about her is somehow different than missing her.
It hit me yesterday because I dialed the number for the ministry of a dear friend and I heard her voice for the first time since she passed. You know that feeling when you’re going about your day and you have ordinary catch-up tasks and you’re clearing your decks for the next thing? You’re in your skins [sweats and t-shirt] not expecting anything today but this mundane movement from the tasks that separate you from the next mission that actively engages your armor. The one you put on to protect yourself from the unexpected slings and arrows on the battlefield of life? You aren’t braced or protected or defensive in any way because catch-up tasks don’t normally require that kind of posture. You’re pretty much relaxed and free and moving involuntarily through bills and grocery shopping and lists and clearing out voice mail and deleting junk marketing from your inbox, cringing, maybe, at all the little things that pile up. If you spoke the ethos of your transition day into a voice recorder it would sound like — lllllliiiiiiiiiiiiffffffeeeeeeee – said slowly with an intonation that would leave the audio monitor with a line slightly elevated above dead silent but still flat and monotone and pitch-less. It was that kind of day.
So when it hit me, the joyous unmistakeable mountainesque lilt of her voice, I was defenseless. Unprepared to protect myself. To fight what came over me. It came physically before I knew what was happening. Like the time you were a kid and you picked up what you thought was a sweet glass of ginger ale only to discover it was straight scotch. Gulping greedily and mindlessly, expecting a quenching sweetness, you didn’t feel the pain until you were halfway through. It wasn’t the physical burn that got you so much because you realized in some primal place that you weren’t gonna die from this. It was the betrayal to the unarmored, naked security you felt just moments before you were hit with reality. That’s what got you. That little synapse of delay between your physical senses and the havoc being wrecked on your heart is pretty darn harsh. A few words into the recording, I felt my throat tighten, my eyes swell and my body ache with grief. The pitch of the audio waves reached my heart before my brain processed the transaction. Water spilled over the edge of the thinly veiled lock bolting down my tear ducts since April. Salty tears were apparently lurking so close to the surface that a mere sound wave could pierce the shallow layer holding them at bay. Grief. It was upon me before I could put up my armor and run to resist the grip of ache. I was fighting so hard to recover quickly so that I could … hmmmm? So that I could…? What?
A few years ago I had one of those seasons where grief came sideways into the world of those I knew and loved through my son’s school. That season taught me that we are often more prepared for the rear-enders that we see coming in the rearview mirror or the head-on collisions that we brace for moments before they hit more than the side winders that hit us in our blind spots. Three people at my son’s school died in a very short span of time — a beloved long-time employee, a young student and a spunky full-of-life 40-something guidance counselor. No matter how skilled one was at avoiding pain or burying emotion or hiding from the earthquake that shakes when death comes, grief was moving through the school. Administrators, students, employees, parents, friends – no matter where you turned, people were grieving. Grief was upon us. We were, most of us, fighting to get through it quickly so that…? Hmmmm? So that? What? I’m not sure now.
A group of counselors came to the school to speak to parents about helping their children grieve. Here’s what penetrated the fleshy portion of my brain and never left me. It’s what came to me yesterday when I ran to suppress the ache of grief. The counselor with the long brown hair and calming voice looked at the parents and said something that has combined with the things I’ve learned since. I can’t really separate what she said then from what I’ve learned since, but here’s the melded version of the message that remains in my heart… You need to know that grief tends to be cumulative. Things you bury come back when you least expect it. They pile up. So, while your child or your friend or you may appear to be doing great on the surface, underneath, suppressed pain may remain. How do you know? Watch for little things. Over-reactions to seemingly small events are classic. The things that cause buried grief to seep out later generally pale in comparison to the loss you first experienced. A pet dies. You can’t find your homework or your wallet. A friend moves away. Your car gets broken into. Any feeling of loss can cause the mountain of buried stuff to arrive at the doorstep of your heart and demand to be tended to. It doesn’t make any sense at the time, because it seems so out of proportion to the event, but it’s evidence that we’ve buried something that needs air. The best thing you can do with grief is to deal with it when it comes. Don’t avoid it. Or bury it. Deal with it as it comes. And remember, it won’t come all at once. Mercifully, it will come in waves. Some big, some small. Ride it to the shore. And don’t worry about when the next one will come. Just deal with the one that has arrived. As I said, I don’t know how much of that is post-lesson experience impressing on memory, but I can tell you is this. Whatever initial seed that lady planted that day was spot on – grief is cummulative. Not just psychologically, but biblically.
This morning as I fought to process my ardent resistance to grieving Tricia’s death, I read the blog of one of my professors, also a pastor. His wife died Tuesday. It’s Thursday today. They were married for 30 plus years. Grief has come upon him. He isn’t avoiding it. Rather than suppress it or go into isolation, he has done something I’ve never seen before. He has come out to share his grief very publically. Posting on facebook daily the ache in his heart as she was dying, his prayers to the Lord, his needs, his sorting through truth, his fears, his questions, his anguish, and his faith. I’ve marveled at how safe he feels crying out to the Lord publically and inviting others to carry him through his pain. Asking for prayer and comfort and help. Inviting Christ’s body to hold him. Reading his page is like reading the Psalms, the most authentic prayers imaginable touching the things we often think but do not share out in the public square. Yet we identify with the Psalmist because he is like us. Experiencing real pain, real hardship, real questions, real doubt, real life.
This morning he wrote about the consistency between hope and grief. That a man may have the blessed assurance that his wife is with the Lord in Christ but still experience deep grief. He didn’t say it exactly this way, but the hidden message that opened up in my heart as I read it was this – grief does not betray hope in a believer. Authentic hope is no more diminished by grief than faith is diminished by honest questions or love is defeated by testing or opposition. Jesus wept. Those who observed his grief over the death of his friend Lazarus said wow! What love he had for his friend. Literally they said, “See how he loved him!” His grief was not a reflection of a lack of hope but a reflection of a depth of love. Love seeks presence. Death bring separation. And separation, even temporary separation, leads to grief. I love how this professor describes the consistency. “It is a grief that we would have if our loved one was to go on a trip they would never return from, and while they were gone no communication with us is possible. On the one hand we might know they are safe and even happy where they are going. But on the other the loss of that relationship would create deep sorrow. The more the other person was in our inner circle of emotional intimacy the greater the pain at their now not being there to interact with. Their ‘chair’ or place of trust in our heart is now empty. That emptiness hurts.”
It occurred to me as I read this and let down my armor to reflect on my visceral reaction to Tricia’s voice – grief is not the thief of joy. When we rush to armor up and prevent ourselves from grieving, we may be depriving ourselves of something holy. Does not Jesus declare a blessing on those who mourn in the Sermon on the Mount? Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4. Doesn’t Paul declare in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that God is the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God? No, grief is not the thief of joy, the wrong kind of armor is. Armor designed to keep bad stuff out is good. Armor that locks stuff in that needs to come out is bad. Falling apart in our self-constructed armor is not of the Lord. It is of the thief. Don’t let the thief steal your grief. He’s a liar! God blesses those who mourn with comfort. He calls those who have been comforted by Him in trials to comfort others. The wrong kind of armor is antithetical to receiving that kind of comfort.
So, here’s what I wrote as I let myself ride the wave of grief that came this morning.
It shocked me that I could still hear her voice. That I missed her voice that deeply. That her voice was so unique and distinguishable and recognizable. So intricately carved in the brilliant formation of vocal cords by a brilliant God. I can hear it in my mind if I close my eyes… “This is Tricia.” The pace and rhythm of that sentence repeated by her a thousand times imprinted itself like an audio signature on our hearts. We could pick out that voice in a line up a million others. Crazy, isn’t it? Beautiful, isn’t it? I’m shocked and awed by that. By how we don’t know the true depth of having until we stop having. Not because we are selfish, but because God is so much… so beyond… so I don’t know how to give it words. We can’t begin to list, itemize, add, mount-up, imagine, the infinitesimal units of blessing that come from one creature made by God. It brings me to my knees.
I miss her… reliable presence. Beautiful countenance. Genuine smile. Radiant glow. Delight in Jesus and determination to share His magnificent mercy and grace with… everybody. Her utter generosity with her life. Her willingness to be messy and vulnerable and not have all the answers. To give the ones she had and to let that be enough – for now. Her ability to lightly hold and release the things of this world as gifts to be given not treasures to be hoarded. Bold unrelenting devotion to the call on her life to bring hope to the hopeless. Git-Er-Done, put side-blinders on, no nonsense way, of moving from where she was to where God was leading. Her simple but never simplistic messages. Her authentic and honest self-deprecating speech. Raw confessions. Unvarnished witness. Willingness to repent. Encouraging cheerleaderesque word romps. The laugh she shared when she was ticked about something. The one that made you curious about what ticked her so. The one that made you long for more of what she had. The empathy she felt when another was hurting and the action that went along with it to reveal the sincerity of her heart. The way she looked you squarely in the eye, often looking up at you because she was so short, leading you often to want to look up yourself. Her passion to equip others for purposeful living. The residue of grace that remained when she left a room. The arrow that defined her life as a tilt upward toward her Creator away from self-glory, recognition, and titles. The otherworldliness of her joy. Her restlessness at inaction and holy discontent over the things that grieve God. And her hope. Her irrepressible hope.
OK… I think that’s the end of this wave. I think I rode this one all the way to the shore. Thanks for riding with me. I need you to know that the wave didn’t drown me as I feared and I have a gentle comfort as I write this. Don’t worry about the next wave friends. It will come when it comes. Just deal with it when it comes. Ride it to the shore with the Lord. He is the God of all comfort. The Father of compassion. He has comforted others so that they can comfort you in your time of trial.
Copyright July 2015, Kat Silverglate