Death days

July 9.

It seems appropriate that my last post was about piles of stones, because I woke up today realizing I do have them.  I do have ebeneezers floating around to remind me of the ways I’ve been delivered.  My piles of stones are dates on the calendar.  Dates that remind me of faithfulness. Dates that remind me that when the bottom falls out and you fear the free fall, another ledge will catch you somewhere in the dark.

Like dates, I wonder if piles of stones remind you of something new each time you pass.  At least that has been true for me of anniversaries.  Each time one rolls around I think I know what to expect but they’re always different.  Some are emotional, some filled with fear and trauma, some filled with the empty nothingness of a normal day.   Honestly, maybe those are the worst.  Those are the death days that make you start to think that maybe you just made people up. You have learned to live without them so well that you aren’t even sure they were ever real to begin with.

Today’s death day has me thinking about the strange beast of grief.  How different it is then just feeling pain.  Pain and sorrow are reactions to loss, but grief is a proactive engagement of pain and sorrow – a harnessing – a stewardship of your pain and loss –  to make sure that your brain doesn’t shortcut the process and is able to fully integrate the loss and learn from it in a way that leaves your heart more full, and not less.

All the emotions of loss are your brain trying to make sense of what happened: who is to blame? How do you make sure you never feel like this again?  How did it catch you off guard? And grief – grief is the shepherding of those feelings – giving them time and space to resolve, not letting them land on lies, but also refusing to shut them down too early with truth.

Letting them land on lies will turn experiences into narratives: you will learn that ‘people leave me’ rather than learning that ‘a person left’.  Shutting them down with the truth will result in a withdrawal from God in the deepest most vulnerable places in your heart.  You cannot integrate truth without experiencing it, and all that will happen if you try to control your heart with your head is that these two huge parts of you will learn not to trust one another.

Grief is the way you bring them into alignment; pastoring your heart through what it’s feeling and leading your mind with compassion and patience.

Today I’ve been wondering if maybe walking past the stones isn’t just about remembering, but sometimes about learning something new.  Sometimes, as the years go by, you are able to see more and more the ways that a loss has shaped you for better and for worse, and the ‘for worse’ doesn’t get to have the last word.  The ‘for worse’ is just another place where more grieving must be done to make sure that suffering has its end and produces character, not hardness of heart; hope and not cynicism or fear.

My dad is gone, but he is still teaching me. I am still learning him, still learning to lose him, and in that I am strangely finding myself.

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