Saturday, December 6, 2014

On Grief & Gratitude

Coming out of the grocery store a few days before Thanksgiving, I saw an old Buick sedan pull in a few spaces down. The driver, barely visible over the steering wheel, was a little old man with a patchwork flat cap and worn button down. His companion emerged from the car a few seconds before him, quickly working his way around to the drivers side to assist if needed. He was a young man, well dressed but casual, probably in his early twenties.

I watched the two interact for a minute, caught up in the subtle dance between characters. The older, acting strong and willful, the younger, quiet, attentive, respectful. He stole glances at his grandfather every few steps. 

A lump formed in my throat.

Before the two had made it very far, a middle-age couple came through the sliding glass doors, bags in hands. A few feet from the pair I had been watching, the woman stops and exclaims, “Hello Shorty!” to the old man.

He looks confused, eyes straining, weakness wearing through. His grandson looked at him lovingly, willing him to remember her name. After a second had passed, the young man gently prompted, “Grandpa, you remember Jane, right?”…

“Oh yes, of course,” the man responds, immediately followed with the question, “How are your folks, Janie?”

I broke my gaze as the lump in my throat gave way to tears and I drove away.

The familiarity of the scene tugged at my heart, and two thoughts surfaced:

That used to be me.

He is going to be wrecked when his grandfather goes.

How do I know? Because I was wrecked a few short months ago.

My days of chauffeuring to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, and the pharmacy had declined in recent years, but the affection I had for my grandma was every bit as fierce as the love I saw in the young man’s face that day.

Although nearly 5 months has passed since her departure from this world, thoughts of her still linger daily.  This grief thing sits in soul and forms lumps in my throat when I wish it wouldn’t.  My life and the way I view the world around me is through a cracked and broken lens right now whether I want it or not.

Because I miss her, and memories of her show up everywhere.

A wispy head of white hair on a bicycle in my neighborhood.

A frail old man at the grocery store with his grandson.

Her purple knit hat at the Christmas tree farm, now perched on my mom’s head.

The small wire twist -ties she saved from every produce bag, carefully wrapped around old strands of Christmas lights at the bottom of the box.

The old familiar rasp in her voice, the gentle sarcasm, the playful humor in an old family video.

These things slay me in the best possible way. They bring tears to my eyes, and comfort to my heart all at once.  They catch me off guard on good days and bad, and I have to be careful to make room for them… to lean in to the pain, to not will or wish it away, to not talk myself out of grieving.

Because it is only in feeling these unwanted emotions, that I can treasure the gratitude that emerges on the other side.                       

Thanksgiving day reminded me that there is so much sweetness in this bitterness, so much grace in this suffering. I held hands when we prayed with another white-haired woman, a grandmother whose family I had the privilege of marrying into. One of the precious few older ones left in my life. And as she prayed a sweet prayer of thanksgiving over the 26 of us present, I knew this truth: that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, that He is faithful.

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
         Because the LORD has anointed me
         To bring good news to the afflicted;
         He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
         To proclaim liberty to captives
         And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
         And the day of vengeance of our God;
         To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
         Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
         The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
         The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
         So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
         The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Isaiah 61:1-3

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