Holding On in Times of Grief

The events of the last four weeks have greatly impacted my thinking. With the death of our son-in-law while on temporary assignment to Guam with the US Air Force, our world has been dramatically rocked. It has felt like we are free-falling, like the fragile bridge over a great chasm gave way while we were all happily crossing it. In that kind of free fall, we find ourselves grasping and holding onto whatever we can find.

We are holding onto our daughter and grandchildren (the one who is here and the one who is yet to be born). As Layne has dealt with the overwhelming shockwave of grief and the complete dissipation of the map that led her into the future, we have wanted just to hold her and comfort her and somehow protect her from all of this.

The painful reality of parenthood is that protecting our children is a task that is ultimately futile. We live with the illusion that we can always keep our kids from harm, but then we realize that the very nature of our humanity and creatureliness prevents us from the protection we so desperately want to provide. Yet we hold on nonetheless.

We are holding onto memories. Our son-in-law was a thrill seeker and an adventurer. It makes sense, being a fighter pilot. He had this adventurous way of taking any excursion to the next level, and he created memories. Lots of memories. Leah and I first knew this young man when he and Layne were kids in the 5th and 6th grades, and we have specific memories and stories about those days.

He was known as one who would study about wherever it was that they were going to serve next, and it was said at his memorial service that he knew more unique things about the area than many of the locals knew, whether it was Colorado, the Hawaiian Islands, the panhandle of Florida or the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

He was one who also was known for his humor and his antics, and his fellow pilots spent an entire evening telling many of those stories. He was known for how well he loved his wife and children. Some of my greatest memories are of him introducing KB to the wonders of the world. Many more stories are yet to be told, but one of the things we want for their children is to know these great stories about their dad. In every way possible, we will be holding onto these memories.

Finally, we are holding onto hope! This is where an important layer has been peeled back for me. I have always known that grief often includes being angry at God when the unimaginable happens, but I have never felt it. As a pastor, I have experienced those times when people were angry at God and sometimes at me because I represent God. My pastor’s heart has always helped me understand that this is a very important step in grief, and that God’s love isn’t contingent upon our happiness or anger. I just have never experienced that feeling myself … until now.

We keep asking “why?” and there is simply no answer given. It feels like injustice. It feels like punishment. It is a helpless, terrible thing to experience a tragedy and have no discernible understanding as to why this has happened. Because we believe in a God who created heaven and earth, it is easy to turn our anger in that direction. I have now experienced the anger and helpless frustration of banging bloody fists on heaven’s gates demanding to know why this has happened and what I could do just to change it back.

And then at some point amidst the anger and the tears of grief, there is a silence. And there is a sigh that truly is too deep for words. Words only muddy the water. There is no answer, and at some point perhaps there is no need for one.

But there is hope.

Paul says that hope is that gift that moves us beyond our questions and our answers and our words. It is a sigh we breathe when there is nothing else to say and nowhere else to turn. It is in that sigh that we rediscover the reality that is greater than we are. The words in 1 Corinthians 15:19 kept coming to mind in the first days after Jeff’s death:

If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

Our hope is in a Christ that is more. Our hope is in a Christ that is eternal. Our hope is in a Christ who speaks often in soft, silent tones. Our hope is in a promise that there is something more.

It rains somewhere in Hawaii every single day, and the rains came to our part of the island in earnest a day or two ago. Last night we had the greatest amount of rain, and it was still raining and storming this morning as we awoke. Layne’s house looks out over Pearl Harbor, and I pulled open the curtains just in time to see it. It was my Facebook post:

Sometimes hearing the promise is as difficult as finding the end of the rainbow, but the promise still persists. Even in the midst of the storm when we can’t hear it clearly, the promise is still spoken.

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My journey is all about letting go and letting God be God. Today, however, I think I will just hold on. I’m holding onto family. I’m holding onto hope.