There are times when grief feels selfish. Today for instance, on the seventh anniversary of my mother’s passing. It feels like an act of selfishness to even admit that I associate the holidays with her death, and that such an association leaves me feeling conflicted. Or off-kilter.
Sleep escapes me, as does heavy-hearted sorrow. After seven years, there is more of a numbness, or worse, an emptiness in that space that she occupied. I keep her last voicemails on my phone and listen to them from time to time. It makes me smile when she says, “This is your mom” as if somehow I wouldn’t know that already.
Last week I taught my own grandson one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “If wishes were horses frogs wouldn’t bump their bums on the ground all the time.” (Mama actually said “asses” but I cleaned it up before passing it along). Sawyer thought that was a pretty funny thing to say. He kept repeating it throughout the day, although, I am pretty sure he is too young to even understand what it all means.
My husband’s father died a few months ago. We keep a favorite photo of him by the front door, along with one of Tim, one of my Dad and several of former president Barack Obama. These photos serve as reminders of what it means to be a dignified people who act out of kindness and compassion and service to others.
People wear grief differently. Some flaunt it. Others use it to wrap themselves in it. Some are discreet about it, wearing it like a common lapel pin. My husband doesn’t mention missing his dad, although I know he does. This is one of the parts of Christianity that I find most baffling, the part where everyone is supposed to be happy that their loved one is out of pain and with Jesus. Healed. Whole. I never have been able to grasp that concept. I like having those I love here with me, healed and whole.
Dying seems like a pretty awful way to become healed.
My nephew’s boy woke up Christmas morning in terrible pain. He’s six, so you can imagine how terrifying it was to see this unusually active and happy boy in such pain. He was transported by ambulance to a regional Children’s hospital, where it was discovered he had a twisted intestine. This is not how anyone wants to spend their Christmas, and certainly not any child.
We got a text asking us to pray that the procedures to fix him would work – they inflate the bowel, hoping that it will untangle itself – otherwise he would need surgery. His own father has been dealing with a bout of pneumonia, so it’s not like this sweet family hasn’t had their share of health issues as of late. Thankfully, after two attempts the procedure worked. They were able to check out of the hospital before midnight.
My friend Joe isn’t so fortunate. His young grandson was diagnosed with a virulent brain cancer this weekend. He’s had surgery and doctors are hopeful they got all of the tumor but not all is healed yet.
My friend Don lost his mother two days ago. My friend Allison lost her dad a week ago, and her husband is facing health challenges. One friend lost her son a couple of months ago. My friend Bob passed away. His wife is lost without him. Another friend is tending daily to her dying husband. Another beautiful friend died of flu complications. On and on it has gone in 2019. The loss. The pain. The grief.
Meanwhile the US has separated and imprisoned more migrant children in 2019 than ever before.
It’s difficult to grieve my own mother when babies and toddlers have been taken from nursing mothers and shipped off far far away. It is difficult to allow myself to miss my mother when I never, not one day in my life, was forcibly removed from her. Not until her death, a forcible separation I could not prevent.
There’s a guilt that shadows my grief this season. A guilt that tells me I should just be happy about all the years we had together, rather than grieve those that we don’t. There’s also a guilt because I am selfish enough that I would rather have my mother and my father-in-law here and healed than way over Jordan walking with Jesus.
Judge me if you like. That’s your call.
My friend Connie died of breast cancer in 2009. I think of her most everyday, usually while remembering some wise thing she said. Lately the thing that sticks with me most is when she said she couldn’t stand to see anyone she loved in pain, then abruptly correcting herself, Connie remarked that she couldn’t stand to see even those she didn’t know in pain.
I laughed when she told that to me. It was so her. Such an honest statement of empathy – this ability to carry the cross of another, to shoulder their pain as if it were our own. Connie lived her life shouldering the hurts of others, putting aside her own pains in the process. Her husband sent photos of the grandkids in his Christmas card. I feel guilt that this friend I grieve so much never got to be with her grandbabies. I don’t care how much a person loves Jesus – and Connie did – missing out on being with your grandchildren is a sorrow I imagine even the dead know.
When my in-laws left for the mission field in Ecuador all those years ago, their own children were very young. It had upset my husband’s grandfather so much that his son was taking his grandchildren to a foreign land that the old farmer seriously considered hiring a lawyer to stop his son and daughter-in-law from taking his grandchildren so far away.
I think of Grandpa Z whenever I hear stories of the Border children. I can only imagine how much the grandparents of migrant children grieve. When their sons and daughters return to Guatemala or Ecuador empty-handed, their children in the custody of the US Federal Government, I wonder how these grandparents sleep. If they sleep at all.
And I think about the guilt these grieving parents must shoulder. How they must blame themselves for trying to seek a better life in America.
Guilt and grief can get all twisted up like an intestine, causing us to fall to our knees and holler out in deep pain.
The question that remains is what is the fix for this?
How do we heal the hurting?
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author and thinker who will Vote Blue in 2020, no matter who.