When you’re grieving, hope is the thing that carries you.

I keep having this vision in my head. 

I’m outside, walking. 

The sky is gray and wild. It’s raining, and the wind is battering my face as I ascend upward,  my feet digging into the side of a hill. I’m alone, surrounded by walls of gray above me and green before me. As I reach the top, I look to the closed, storming sky that is spilling out for miles above the rising slopes, unfolding in gray upon gray, cloud upon cloud.

And I shout. 

I scream. 

At first, it’s just blistering shouts of anger barely puncturing the air as it feels like I am heaving every drop of malice that I have ever stored up inside of me out into this great precipice of nothing. I scream because it feels like there is nothing good in me anymore, so why not unleash the torrent of bitterness that’s locked inside of me.

At first, I feel relief. 

Before long, though, the relief fades and the shouts turn to haggard wails as hot tears begin to pour out of me like the rain from the clouds on high. 

When I have released every drop of venom that I possibly can, the howls start, and I can’t stop. I crumple to the ground as the rain is still pouring, the wind now lapping angrily at the sides of my face. Now, I feel naked against the indifferent gray sprawl in front of me as the sorrows pour out openly from me the way the rivers dump into the ocean.

The way it feels like it is always going to be. 

Then I snap out of it. 

This is a confrontation, the one I want to have with God. In my mind, I feel huge as I march myself up that hill. I know what I’m going to say. I have been keeping score, and I know the ways that I have been wronged, and I assuredly climb to the top to receive my just recompense.

I will make someone answer for each offense that I have kept note of.

But when I finally stand at the top, and I let my full-throated anger and indignation loose, I realize that my screams are barely even audible over the wind and rain. I realize that my aching is but a dot against the horizon. A drop of rain into the ocean.

I finally feel like I am nothing. 

We went to the beach a few weeks ago, and my three children each had different perceptions of the ocean. One felt free when he was rushing headlong  into the waves. Another inched further and further out from shore the more comfortable and confident she got. And then there was the littlest, who did not trust me at first. 

As she stood looking out and registering the size of the ocean and her place among everything, she realized truly how small she is. She shrank back as the waves foamed at her ankles. But I was there, behind her, assuring her that I would keep her safe. 

She swallowed salt water a few times, and was sent spilling over backwards a few more. But she learned to navigate the inward and then outward flow of the water, and found my hands to hold on to when she knew that she needed to.

She still fell. She still cried. But in she went.

Now, God has His back pressed to me as I sit in the church pew indifferent and miles away and angry. And He says that he is looking out after me. No, He says that He moves before me, in ways that split seas open to guard my steps.

I will never be carried away, even though right now I want to be. I want to escape to where I don’t feel watched, so that I can unfurl these clenched fists in secret, and let hostility spill out of me.

For all of my inward thrashing, there is still nothing I can do. 

In other moments, I have a different vision of me. 

I’m climbing the same face of the same hill. My steps are still heavy, my grief still real. The face of the sky still upon me, and, yes, still angry. The sadness and enmity are still turning over and over inside of me. 

When I reach the top this time, carrying with me all of the losses and wrongs that I have tallied, at that moment, as I see the gray spilling out infinitely in front of me, those numbers are suddenly lost to the great expanse of everything, to the miles upon miles that we tread if we are fortunate enough.

Instead of hurling venom, this time I just say thank you into the wind. And while that quiet thank you is just a whisper, my shaky eucharisteo is carried beyond the wall of gray.

And suddenly, the pain that’s wrapped itself around my hurting heart is paled in comparison to hope. 

The anger that poured out of me before fell sharply to the ground like stones, but my thanks has wings, it’s the thing that carries me for miles beyond the storm. Disentangling wildly over hills of calamity, uncertainty and chaos. 

Hope is the thing that carries you.

Hope is the thing that carried our cross up a different hill, transcending veils between creator and man, past and future, life and death.

A cross borne into the back of the One, stinging him with each step, each strike, each nail. And with each step tread, marking the Earth in His suffering, He says that as we so suffer, He has suffered along with us before us. And surely He suffered the cost of hope more greatly than we.

Hope is sometimes the thing that hurts.

But hope is also the thing that saves. 

 

The Middle

I’m a middle child.

And there were times where I straight up hated being in the middle when I was growing up. 

I wasn’t old enough to be the one proudly trumpeting, “mom put me in charge!” over the  unfolding chaos or even the television remote. Then at age seven, I became a reluctant big sister, and was promptly cast aside to make way for the “runt” of the litter (sorry, little sister.)

I had to vacate my mom’s lap, and share her affections with the tiny thing that pooped and shrieked seemingly nonstop. I had no authority, or so I was reminded of by my older “mom said so!” sister, and I didn’t get the luxury of being babied because, “mommy can’t right now.”

It was not the tops. 

The middle is dangerous ground. 

Lukewarm bathwater. The middle seat on an airplane. You get the idea.

Nobody likes the middle. Save for the middle of a tootsie pop or Oreos. When it comes to food, the center can hold delicious surprises if we just keep at it. But in the context of adulting and life? No one really likes the middle. Being in the middle means being in transition. 

And people like the idea of transition possibly even less than they do the middle.

I’m in the middle right now.

I’m the woman in labor, fighting the terror in her body, willing herself not to push because it isn’t time yet. Breathe it out. Just wait for the release. Let what’s going to happen happen. I can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel through the pain and disenchantment. It’s real. The fear. All of it. 

Guys, I am so scared. 

I am learning a new way to be. A new way to see things. Even though I know that things really aren’t all that different than they were before. What was true yesterday is going to be truth tomorrow even if my insides have been eviscerated. My dad is gone. I miss him so, so much. But his love is as true today as it was when he was here, in the body, still with me. What’s different now is that he’s gone.

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What’s different after all that is me.

It’s like the aftermath of a comet striking the Earth. A volcanic eruption. A raging wildfire. The Earth is not even settled yet from the harsh, shattering, indiscriminate destruction. Because it’s not time. It’s not time to be okay. 

There isn’t release. Not yet. 

While I’m still sorting through the rubble North is still North, but it’s just not time to move on yet.  

When we bought our old house, we had the backyard tilled and grated. There was so much junk back there that we filled an entire rolloff dumpster and still had some left over.

That was more than eight years ago. 

Occasionally, on warm days when we are enjoying barefoot afternoons, we notice new remnants and relics poking through the dirt. Glass. Bolts and screws. Small bottles. Rusted pieces of copper even. 

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The Earth is purging itself slowly as feet disturb the dirt, as the rains wash away more soil. It’s cleansing itself.

My children see hidden treasures when they find something new to explore with a magnifying glass and I have to strain to see it through their eyes. I see something that was once useful, but not anymore. Something we don’t need to keep and that should committed to the trash can for fear of tetanus. 

Sometimes, though, we find something worth saving. 

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We separate the useless from the useful, the things worth saving from the things we don’t need anymore. It’s this slow process, this waiting for something to emerge. You clean what you can the best you can, and still, next year when the spring rains return, more that’s hidden will be revealed. And we will sort. 

Now is the time for sorting. And remembering. And for hurting. 

It’s the middle. 

It’s terrifying. It’s real. 

I’m worried that nothing good will ever come out of me again. When will I remember who, and what I am? 

We are here now. In the aftermath. And we know that brokenness will bring new life. 

It’s just not time for that. 

Not yet. 

 

Letting It Be

I once said that Jesus is The Giving Tree….

Today, I told him that if that was really so, I was going to need some apples. Some branches. Something more from Him. It’s the same with all of the phone calls and messages. People who want to know what I need, but I don’t even know what I need. I have a hole blown through me that can’t be repaired, and I’m bleeding out slowly.

I have recalled the days leading up to last Sunday.

I can trace the line of those days, a bread crumb trail, pointing me to the truth that time was slipping away, a silver thread quietly unraveling before our eyes. 

It’s hard to think of a time where you aren’t here. A time where you won’t be every classic song on the radio, every sepia toned vinyl album cover lining the shelf. Where you aren’t the breeze on a golden autumn day; every cicada trill coming from the trees. I keep upturning all of these new memories of you inadvertently, like finding worms in the wet soil beneath rocks. I’m surprised when one thing begets another, the way the flesh of the earth triggers me.

I gather the things that I know to be true, and commit them to my secret heart. I woke up the other morning, and in those first few moments that I blinked myself into existence my body started rattling, and I realized that Sunday really did happen

It was the day after, the first day where we actually had to live out the truth that you aren’t here anymore.

I slid the glass door closed in the ICU where I left you, and realized that it was time to let it be, but that we were going to have to figure out what that looked like for each of us.

When the course of a life stops, even if you know it’s happening you don’t realize what’s coming. You still aren’t ready for feeling like you have been swallowed by grief; you aren’t ready for the crushing feeling while it pounds and digests you, melts you down into nothing for its own use.

I see every moment like it was a photograph. The hands holding on to yours. The heads bent over you, leaning against you. I put my nose to your ash-colored hair to smell you one last time, the way I want remember you. I forced myself to remember that your hair used to be golden. I reminded myself that once your skin was tan, and warm with the sun. I remembered that your hands used to be calloused and hard and strong.

I looked at the weight of you, now less than me. The body, used and abused. Bruised. Skin paper thin, gray. The narrow shoulders I once sat smiling on when things were a lot simpler, times a lot happier. But then I recalled the hurt and the anger. I recalled how we all disappointed each other.

When the floor drops away, stuff like that isn’t what’s going to keep someone afloat. It’s those silent things that drag you down. 

We watched all the lines on the screen turn linear together, and Dad, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. 

I see those last minutes like photographs, but I also see these last few weeks. When I didn’t pick up the phone to talk to you about the weather, or just about how the kids were doing. I see where I didn’t hug you one last time before you shuffled yourself to the car. I see how I sometimes saw you as a burden. 

But nobody tells you that burdens don’t last forever. Whether it’s tiny handprints smudging your hallway walls and mirrors, or spending a few minutes on the phone with your lonesome dad who just wants to talk about…nothing. Burdens that mark you aren’t always here, and then you’re naked without them. 

Now I’m near the pit, and I’m trying to hang on because all that I see down there is darkness. Sometimes, I decide that maybe I’ll just let go and fall down into the dark. Maybe that’s easier than trying to resist. Trying to resist is tiring. Choosing hope is what breaks you into a thousand pieces while everything else inside of you bids you to just let go as it tries to rip you to pieces on your way down. 

The heart of hope is lined with pain, and with every thump it hurts so bad. 

I’m not sure where I am going anymore. I’m not sure which direction is through. And I just want to get through. Mangled, twisted branches are covering the way, fog is blotting out the sun in a gray haze, rotting wet leaves beneath my feet slow my step.

What is the way through this forrest of grief to the giving tree, through all of this decay? 

We have to choose life over decay. We have to let the body rest when it’s time, and choose the hidden life that remains in everything. But the pain feels more comforting because it’s a blanket that you can wrap yourself in and hide. Choosing life means choosing to put one foot in front of the other to find your way through to something new. It means having to decide that maybe there is something good still left. 

But that’s what you did so often. You never let go until your body gave out on its own volition. How I wish I had the tiniest bit of what you had. I hope that I do, planted somewhere that I can’t see just yet. 

Maybe it just needs time. I just need to let it be.