“I’ve learned so much about grief in the past few years, and the one thing I know is that it isn’t a linear path. It doesn’t seem to follow any logical pattern and the only thing I know to do is to feel it.” Angie Smith from I Will Carry You
When I was fifteen years old, one of my best friends moved away.
It was one of the earliest goodbyes I can recall laboring through.
My entire family went with me for the final send-off. We all stood, very early in the AM, at the airport gate (WAY before 9/11 and the rules we stride with now) and hugged.
There were tears. Promises of letters and calls. And more hugs.
After the airplane flew, we made our way to pancakes and coffee. Everyone talking, laughing and trying to ignore.
I was ordering and sitting and hearing. But from a very deep well, it seemed.
The voices and clatter of plates seemed to echo down from up above my head somewhere, even though the faces and food were immediately in front of me.
It was the longest breakfast of my young life.
I remember feeling a threatening numbness. I was afraid to talk or even look someone in the eye. I needed the numb to remain until I could risk releasing the torrent churning in me.
Broken Hearted. This friendship I treasured had every opportunity to be lost.
We finally made our way home and I escaped the beckoning ‘regular’ of the day by retreating to my room. Door closed, no eyes watching. I cried.
The ugly cry.
My dear friend had flown and I knew everything had changed.
It was a stark contrast to my comfortable, peaceful, physically abundant, predictable life.
This type of pain was new to me. And I did not like it.
Loss. And change. And goodbyes.
I was done with all three of those things that very day. On the floor of my sage-green bedroom. Done.
I had so much to learn.
It was the same airport eight years later and it was me and my husband boarding the plane. My husband of 6 months was hugging and smiling and watching nervously down the corridor for our freshly visa-ed passports to be delivered to us at the eleventh hour.
I would not go with my family to pancakes and coffee at the end of this round of hugs. Instead they would leave the airport together and I would fly to Africa.
I had never imagined feeling this broken. This jagged. So snotty and blubbery.
In front of people.
It was awful.
There was no sage-green room at the end of this series of goodbyes. No school, friends or even recognizable food.
This was a hard stop on the normality of my life.
Everything would be different.
The plates of my ‘earth’ were shifting. And while there were physical changes such as distance and separation that others could see and feel with me, the seismic shift, the more catastrophic breaks in my deepest places were not physically visible with tremors or tsunami waves.
They were silent. And I could not find the words to shape around them and give them form and acknowledgement.
My tears filled the gap around the jagged edges creating a seemingly impassable moat. A moat that in moments felt protective, but most often simply separated me and my brokenness from those I longed to commune with again.
Honest grief both cushioned and encapsulated my existence.
And would, for a very long time.
The displacement was immense.
Thinking back to that first airport parting, when I was fifteen, and the interminable breakfast that followed, makes me chuckle now. I really had, only just begun. In typical teenage fashion, it was all about right then and my experience. I was overwhelmed by that very normal, non-traumatic change. If only I had known.
Many, many times, in my adult life I would sit over goodbye breakfasts, choking down food that refused digestion. I would spend hours standing at airport check-in counters, tears streaming down my face with a sick, hardened lump in my stomach. Saying goodbye.
Over the last eighteen years, this has been a large part of my story.
“Goodbye” has become common in it’s occurrence but never ‘common’ in it’s effects.
The compelling call that convicts us to be in this venue of service is accompanied in droning voice with grief.
And I continuously resist and writhe underneath it’s tone.
I desire to wrap myself up in all the obvious good I can see and experience. And there are unbelievable moments of miraculous care at His generous Hand.
But, even the experiences that emote positive joy, are continuously accompanied by the companionable grief.
One can never cancel out the other.
This was/is reality.
I can experience a miracle and PRAISE with joy, all the while still feeling the undertone of loss somewhere too.
This dichotomy, is repugnant. I desire to wrestle it into submission.
I want the pain to depart. And the joy to remain.
The‘goodbyes’ of our life choice have not been limited to the excruciating moments at airports, but seem to spew like a geiser from even the most unexpected places.
*Moments and memories—every holiday, birth of a nephew or niece, birthday celebration and school program. We, simply, are not there. We can’t go back and retrieve the years we’ve spent so far from family.
*Esteem—we came to serve in an honorable cause, but have reaped suspicion and accusation more often than my brain can comprehend.
*Death—we live in a world full of HIV Aids and poor health. Most women I walk with here have buried more than one of their children. Parents are dying in droves, leaving parentless children to extended families. We have buried many, many friends and stood beside hundreds more as they buried their dear ones.
*Friends—we have poured our lives into many loved ones in this place. Longing for something better for each of their lives. Longing to be a point of rescue from their brokenness. To point them to Him.
How excruciating it is to watch them walk away. In fact, it has almost become a relief when all they do is walk away. It is much more brutal when they go mocking, disdaining and misrepresenting us.
*Robbery—Living in a land of corruption costs us. We have had so many clothes, tools, shillings, and car parts stolen from our care.
At each of these losses (goodbyes), grief not only ensued, but seemed to ignite each past grief burning a fire stronger than each fire before.
We are not forced to walk this trail.
I do not list these losses to derive pity.
I am humbly aware of all the losses we have been saved from.
I only share, to put this version of the story into the mix.
So that maybe in the sharing, we can find some harmony in the shared experience.
One of grief’s deceptions is the feeling that you are alone.
When the Truth is, no one is immune.
Not even Him. (John 11:33-36;Luke 22:41-44)
I mark this grieving as I move through it. With it.
To acknowledge and acquiesce the fact that I’m not really done yet. That the option ‘not to lose’ does not exist.
To attempt, beyond my failing ability, to thrive in thankfulness in the midst of the losing.
In the midst of the tears.
To feel it.
This is courage.
And this is Faith.
He sees and knows our losses. He gathers our tears in a bottle. (Psalm 56:8 KJV)
He always knows what is ahead of us. And that He will be immediately by our side.
Let me Stand. And proclaim. “You are there! In every season of my soul.”
And, Lord, please. Let that make a difference in this world.