12 December 2010

Grief & Faith

Friday night. It was one of those nights. I felt the sadness pulling at me. It had wrapped itself around my ankles, settled in my muscles, and penetrated my heart. My head was cloudy with it, and my arms felt heavy.

I walked into his room and didn't flip the switch. I wanted no light. I closed the blinds to turn away the glow of the lampposts outside. I sat down in the rocking chair in the dark and folded my hands across my belly. I let the tears come. They started slow at first and then came harder, sliding hot down my cheeks, dripping off my cheeks and my chin, soaking my shirt and my pants. Mucous poured out my nose, coating my upper lip, slippery and thick. I opened my mouth wide as if to scream; my throat felt raw. No sound came out. Even if it did, it could never be loud enough.

Though I was sitting up, my chest felt heavy, like it would collapse. Like the walls of my heart were being sucked in, like it was shrinking. I started to gasp, to try to get enough air through the tears and the stuffy nose and the heart that felt like it was failing. The sadness felt like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining size and picking up speed.

I couldn't explain this to myself, however much I wanted to.

I felt like I could go all night and into the next day, like gravity just might carry me to the bottom of whatever this was. I felt like I was just getting started. I felt alone. For all the friends I have who feel with me, who listen to me when I'm like this, not one can feel this for me. No one can relieve me of this, no one can sit in my stead and do my grieving for me.

I thought of some of the things I had heard or read since the diagnosis when I was 20 weeks pregnant, things meant to give me comfort, I think. I heard repeatedly about God not giving us more than we can handle (ha!), or citations from the "Footprints" poem about how when things in life are at their most difficult, that is when God will carry you. Carry me? I don't even know what that means. My life is not ungraced, but I still have to get up every day, put one foot in front of the other, pay the bills, and breathe in and out in a world that feels abominably cruel. I assure you, my flesh is still earthbound and feeling the weight of it. I have trusted Him, I have cried out for help and for mercy again and again. And I am still raw and heavy, still clawing at my eyes and pounding the floor with my fists, still dragging my feet through the mud. Still feeling alone. I know such words are meant to be helpful, but they only pose as answers without offering any substance. They mock the reality that is the life where grief and faith coexist.

I know God is here, and I know that He walks with me. That's something, isn't it? Knowing He is here. I know, rather than feel, His presence. If my assessment of reality was based on what I felt, then I would have been despairing of God's presence a long, long time ago. But I know He's here because He promised it, because I can look behind me and see how He's led me through other valleys filled with tears. 

As sad as I am, I know this is not despair. I have loved and do love Ewan deeply. His life was and is sacred to me. One day I will learn to carry this more gracefully than I do now. One day I will find that it's become a part of me, and that those moments in which I felt the weakest have actually made me strong.

I see evidence of that every day. And every day, I find reason to hope. Every day, the veil lifts a little more, and then a little more. The hope doesn't keep the tears from coming, and it doesn't cause the grief to ebb. But it's there all the same. My hope as I understand it is more a deep-seated conviction than a feeling. It is the understanding -- not that life will be easy and lined with primroses from here on out -- but something else entirely. I know there will be more difficulties, and more after that. But I expect that I will be able to look over my shoulder in those times and remember this place I am right now, where grief sometimes feels infinite and thick and black and impossible to survive, capable of swallowing me whole. And I will remember how alone I felt, how sad and tired I was, and how black and deep the darkness was, but how God walked me through that place, too.

Deep grief and real faith are not mutually exclusive. Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, even though He believed in the resurrection and in fact, was about to raise His friend from the dead. I can hurt and weep, and I can worship and believe. I can be angry and aching, and I can trust and know. Please do not mistake my tears for worldly sorrow or despair. I ache for the separation, for the wrongness of death. But I wait with hope, because I know He is with me yet.