Before I even got the call, I knew in my gut that something was wrong.
Ten years ago, my dad died alone in his apartment of heart failure.
Time is such a strange thing. It’s been a decade and a moment and a lifetime.
My body’s calendar of grief told me this anniversary was coming before I even realized the date. I took my tears and tissue to the garage and pulled out a bunch of old pictures. I could only find one of my dad genuinely smiling alongside me and my two older sisters. But there were dozens of other poor-quality 90’s Kodak prints capturing my band concerts and basketball games, award ceremonies and graduation speeches, photos of ASB election skits, pole vaulting runways, cross country finish lines, and musical fundraiser dinners. I didn’t even remember he was there for all of it.
My dad spent much of his life wounded and wounding others. He chased success and pleasure and ways to numb his pain. Ultimately, the pursuits of this world took a toll on his physical body and mental state. The weight of failure and disappointment crushed his spirit. But it was in this pit that he really met Jesus.
Looking through each stack of grainy memories, I thought of Psalm 73:
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
Psalm 73:21-28 (NIV)
For all the things I wished my dad had been, I know without a doubt that he loved me and was proud of me. I ache for the fact that he never had the chance to know my sons. He would have loved them too. My dad’s flesh and heart failed, but he did not perish. I will see him again.
Friend, if you are enduring the fresh ache of loss, I’m so sorry.
If you are traveling the long and twisted road of grief, I’m so sorry.
I wish I could invite you to sit in my living room. I’d offer you a cozy afghan and a cup of something hot to drink. I’d light a log in the fireplace and have a tissue box ready if you needed it. Then we’d just sit and listen to the crackle of the fire. After the company of silence, if you wanted to share, I’d be there to listen, to bear witness to your stories and tears. I’d want to hear the memories of your loved one that make you laugh. And the moments that still leave you wrestling with confusion, regret, or pain.
I would tell you that your joy and sorrow are welcome here. You can feel both. We need to feel both.
I’m no grief expert, but if you asked me, I’d lean in and offer you this encouragement:
- You need to feel to heal. God didn’t create you with a full spectrum of emotions in order for you to stuff it all away. It’s okay if you can’t fully name or explain your grief. Sometimes the first and best step is just to make space to feel it.
- Identify your barriers to grieving. After ten years of missing my dad, part of me feels like I should be okay by now. I battle thoughts like, “You shouldn’t be sad because you know he’s in a better place.” Or, “What right do you have to cry? You weren’t that close anyway.” Or, “Crying and feeling depressed won’t make you a good mom/wife/employee.” FULL STOP. These thoughts are lies. I had to recognize them and then choose to move past them.
- Invite others into your grief. When a fresh wave of grief hits, I used to hide. Now I choose to be honest with the people who love me. I told my husband I’m missing my dad. I let my children see me cry. Sharing your grief — even if the other person can’t fully understand or relate — opens the door for you to receive the support you need and for others to grow in compassion.
When Lazarus died, Jesus joined His friends Mary and Martha in their mourning. He wept. It didn’t matter that Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He first entered into the grief of His friends.
Time and time again, God has met me in my deepest sorrow too. I know He will do the same for you.
May the Sovereign Lord be our refuge today.
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