I’ve observed grief now from numerous perspectives. Grief is like the proverbial onion with seemingly endless layers! Early lessons taught me that I could plan for mourning—protected set-apart daily time was important for my healing and even survival. However, I also learned to be prepared for the ready-or-not-out-of-the-blue grief. I had to learn to be intentional with planned mourning and responsive to unplanned ready-or-not mourning.
Crashing waves are another analogy used with grief. In the beginning the waves are higher and crash harder and come at you more often. Over time, the waves lessen in intensity and their visits are spread out.
This morning, a volcano was reported to have erupted on an island in the ocean, and a tsunami warning was issued. That same afternoon I was packing pictures and photo albums in some boxes.
A tsunami hit at my house today. Without warning.
“The memories, unbidden, spring into their minds, scattered perhaps over the years. There is, maybe, something to be said for say facing them all deliberately and straight away.” Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
I should have been ready, but the waves of grief have been smaller and more sporadic lately. I’ve grown accustomed to a reduction in my level of pain. Healing has visited me.
However, I felt the rumbling as I packed up the first couple of boxes of photo albums. I made the mistake of glancing at the pictures. And I should have recognized the rising emotion. But I’m better. I even sense that I am healed, but every time I say so I add that I know I will always be healing. Healed but healing. It’s a new reality.
Album after album told a story that I knew had ended. Early life with Kim in the Atlanta area. Paul’s birth. Emily’s birth. Subsequent birthdays and times with family. I was so young. Appointment as missionaries to South Africa. Setswana language school. Trevor’s birth. Visits from our parents. Furlough. Our move to Zimbabwe. Church-planting efforts in Epworth and Ruwa near Harare, Zimbabwe. Our move to Richmond, Virginia. Picture after picture told story after story. All past tense.
“We need to grieve the hard story, yes. We must take as long as we need.” Katherine and Jay Wolf, Suffer Strong
The ready-or-not-out-of-the-blue eruption hit me. The baby pictures did the deed. The tsunami just rose out of the calm waters of my soul and hit me. A huge wave came over me. One picture in particular was obviously taken by me. Kim was holding our three young children. And I saw her life’s impact flood over me. And there was pain because I felt disloyal. I’m packing up memories. It’s almost like I’m destroying memories of her. I’m disrespecting my life and the wife of my youth. In his book, Seasons of Sorrow, Tim Challies described cleaning out the room of his son following his death as “…rude and imposing.”
I’m accepting the need to pack and move out. As I write I am preparing to sell my house. Challies also says, “I notice the room is beginning to echo as it gets progressively emptier.” It’s forcing more pain. Healing is a process. The pictures are stories of the past. No more. A chapter ended.
A massive reminder wave in the form of a tsunami is crashing on me today.
“…we need to let the redefined story be part of our grieving process, because it will also be part of our healing. And there will be joy.” Katherine and Jay Wolf, Suffer Strong
The tsunami seems like a setback. I feel old pains revisiting me again. Like a boomerang. Like a bad penny. Like a sin that finds you out. Crashing. Out-of-the-blue. Ready-or-not.
The wave crashes and subsides. Perspective is gained. A new chapter is good. The old chapter, while closed, is also good. The possibility is considered that this step is not disloyalty. It’s not destructive. The packing up of memories and pictures is a step of healing. Respecting the past and embracing the future.
“There is a balm for every pain, a medicine for all sorrow; the eye turned backward to the Cross, and forward to the morrow.” Gerhardt Ter Steegan, Hymns of Ter Steegan and Others
Note: On the day this entry was written, it was wonderful to have a new relationship in my life with a woman who is strong, gentle, and kind enough to allow me to discuss these steps and feelings with her.