There’s a teaching that says because Christ Himself bore our griefs and sorrows, Christians never really have to suffer those things. It’s true that God’s mercy and grace mitigate so much sin-based pain and sorrow we’d have to bear otherwise. But if you live for very long at all, loss and therefore grief are unavoidable on this journey across Planet Earth. (I almost wrote Thulcandra ... see C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet.) The point of Christ taking our griefs and sorrows was not to completely remove them in the here and now—there’s still the business of refining us, while we walk this earth—but so He, as God Incarnate, could taste the fullness of human experiences and then someday let us trade them for glory. But in the meantime ... they are still our experiences.
I have dear friends suffering from many kinds of loss. One, a beloved husband after a long, painful battle with cancer, and then, as if that isn’t enough, fractured relationships with family because of the resulting stress and strain. Another, the bitterness of watching a child make terrible choices, and others with medical diagnoses in their family which may or may not result physical death, but certainly mean a loss of “normal” life and expectations. Others struggle with the death of career dreams.
For myself, it has been watching my beautiful, talented, independent mother lose her mobility, her sight, and her ability to care for herself. Each visit, usually coinciding with some medical crisis, broke my heart afresh to watch her struggle, to hear her process through the questions and doubts over God’s fairness and grace. (In case anybody wondered, you can’t have both. But that’s another discussion entirely.)
Mostly, it broke my heart to see how much she’d lost.
There were things she gained, of course. A new gentleness, a tenderness for her husband that somehow had been lacking before. Lessons in the high price of choosing bitterness and resentment over gratitude. And an amazing ministry of prayer, not just our immediate family but beyond, since she had little to do but sit most of the day.
We talked often of heaven, and a few months ago I reminded her, when she bemoaned never again getting to see her granddaughters’ wedding dresses, or the faces of her children and grandchildren, that the first face she’ll get to see, when she opens her eyes in Heaven, would be Jesus. And as I hoped, she seemed to find comfort in that.
2015 was a particularly hard year for her, with at least two serious brushes with death. Each time we wondered, is this it? And, how much more can she endure? Each time she pulled through, held on just a little longer. Weeks and weeks of hospitalizations, in and out of intensive care, more weeks of nursing home stays ... in between all that, a summer with us, here, in North Dakota. She loved sitting out on the porch, with the sun and the wind.
Tuesday before Christmas, she was finally able to come home to my stepdad. We’ve speculated that this was the final thing she was waiting for, because on the afternoon of January 2, she went to sleep one last time ...
... and opened her eyes to Heaven.
As happy as we are to know beyond a doubt that’s where she is—and relieved that her suffering is finished, that she’s whole and healthy and beautiful again—we’re left with this hole in our lives. Her passing shouldn’t have taken us by surprise, but it did.
And so ... we grieve. “Not as others, who have no hope ...” but we miss her—her wit, her humor, her love. Because whatever faults she had, we knew she loved us. And as that line from the film Gladiator says, someday we’ll be with her, but ... not yet. Not yet.