Brief Thoughts on Grief – Longing

In the days that followed my dad’s death, I found it curious as to when tears came and when they did not. In the mix of family and friends, community supported me, and I was buoyed by their strength and love. Tears usually came when I was alone, and especially when I was tired. They were a release. 

Strangely I found the tears peaceful. Right and good and pure. I liked that quiet place where I could enter those feelings of sadness and loss, but also joy and fullness. They came at funny times – washing the dishes, riding in the car, and other places where my mind could wander. Some moments I could indulge the feelings that swooped upon me and invited me in, as if into a room with a glowing hearth, full of light and warmth, emanating security and peace.  In them, I could taste and hear and feel memories, so vividly that they caused me to tarry, perhaps too much. How easily they could provide a retreat or refuge in what could be a storm. What comfort they provided when even those closest to me could not. They were sacred places. 

Other times, I discouraged the invitation to enter these “rooms” of my grief. I walked right past the doorway, glancing in, knowing I had not the time to linger, exploring the passages of the heart – no time to sit and have tea with something so tender. So I kept to task and walked by. Decisions like this came in a crowd, when I said “no” to tears. In the middle of teaching a class, when I said “no” to distraction. In the middle of conversations , when I said “no” to thinking only of my own need. I seemed to have a choice to enter. I’m glad I did. I think sometimes people do not. In any event, it did not detract from entering at another time. The memories awaited my return, like an old Labrador, holding court by the fireside next to an empty chair.

My general thought about all of this is that it is good to enter. But it is also good to exit. A coming and a going. A flow. A conduit. A passageway always open between what was and what is.

A scripture keeps coming to mind. It is often read at funerals. And yet, it comes to me now in a totally new way. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go there and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3). 

I wonder if what we experience in our “room” of grief and memories, has an element of something more eternal. Something that God has prepared for us, out of space and time. Maybe he invites us into a place where we can enter his presence a little more deeply than normal. A place full of light and warmth and peace and security. A place where our hearts can be tended. But it is not a place we can stay, not right now anyway. We belong in the “here and now”. One day we will know more. One day it will be ours to explore for eternity.

Something I read in C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory helps me understand this a little more clearly. He affirms that we do indeed experience those moments that stand out of time, when we experience something eternal and true, and yet because we do not know what to call it, we sometimes call it Nostalgia. When it is not associated with the past, we might call it Beauty. They are often stirred by a memory, a melody, or something in nature completely incapable of being held for longer than a moment in our mind. Lewis says:

“These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of the worshippers themselves. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”

These little rooms of grief are places of longing. Longing for the past, longing for what might have been. Longing for the purest element of what was. But what they might really be is the longing inside of us for the real thing – the realities of Heaven, for the glory God has in store for us, where love knows no boundary, death is defeated, and we live in the fullness of the presence of our loved ones, ourselves and the Lord. They are little glimpses, little snapshots, of the rooms prepared for us in our Father’s house – a place we will one day get to explore for eternity. 

So let us continue on…longing, yearning, tiptoeing in and out of moments of beauty and memories, awaiting in faith for the time when God shows us what our hearts have wanted all along. 

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who had made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Blessings to you this Epiphany season!