Grief and Gratitude

It is a strange thing to see your mother in a wooden box, lying there so gently, as if you could simply lean over and whisper into her ear to wake. For her funeral, my mom wore the dress she had originally purchased for Miska’s and my wedding. My mom released her son into the world. And now we have released my mom into God’s care.

It is such a strange thing to lay a hand on your mother’s casket, to speak a blessing over her life. Emotions and memories rush forward at such a moment, but the sturdiest thing I felt was gratitude. Gratitude for her tears and her tenacity, for her commitment to my dad, for the ways she sought out those who had been left out or wounded or silenced. One morning before her funeral, I ran my old jogging route, and I stopped in front of the house that was my childhood home. For several minutes, I walked back and forth in front of the old house, fearing the neighbors would think me a loon. I remembered all the years, all the tenderness. I remembered a few arguments, tense moments. I remembered laughter and meals around the table. I remembered love. Through tears, the words that spilled out over and again were only this: ‘thank you.’

A friend recently passed Kahil Gibran’s words to me: When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. And this is true. Sometimes you also weep because of regrets or things that will never be. But somehow it is true that if you trace those things back far enough they do somehow work their way to delight, to hopes, to joys you knew or joys that lingered as you searched for more. In the strange twist, grief and gratitude seem to walk together.

As I say goodbye, for now, the only words I have are this: Mom, I love you, and I thank you. 

Advent Week Three {tears for newtown}

Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord, your God, is with you,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you… {Zephaniah 3:16-18}

What a word to be reading on Sunday, when Friday brought us to our knees. We hear a promise of disaster expunged, but for now, we’re buried by calamity. A quieting love — one day perhaps. But for so many, grief’s cacophony splits the soul.

Last night, while looking through some old files on a hard drive, I found a ten minute montage I’d saved, a string of old voicemail messages from Wyatt and Seth when they were three and four. The boys would call me while I was at work or away on a trip. “Daddy, I love you,” a tinny young voice crackled. “When you get home, can we go for a bike ride?” Tears came as I remembered these beautiful days, and more tears came as I remembered that for too many Sandy Hook families, these mementos are all they have left.

I could only think of my two boys, of the sorrow these fathers and mothers know. And I could only think of another child, a mere babe, who was born into a world where a madman murdered innocent children by the thousands. I could only think of a poor, blessed mother who would see her son’s life snuffed out before her very eyes. This son, this mother, know grief. They know the savagery of injustice. They weep.

They, better than most I must believe, know the promise that disaster will be relieved. They also know how much pain and suffering we will endure between here and there.

This suffering God. This is the God who is with us.