Grace and Grief (Some Traveling Mercies for the Road Ahead)

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During the fall of this year, my family suffered one of its biggest tragedies: the death of my 20-year-old cousin after a sudden car accident. Sitting in the hospital room, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins we waited for news.

He was driving to work on a Friday in early November when he got into a head-on accident with another car. Both drivers were essentially dead on impact, but we wouldn’t find this out until Sunday after the results about his CAT scan came back. No brain activity.

Driving to the hospital with my sister, I spent the next 48 hours in a constant stream of prayers that sounded a little like this, “Please please please please let him be okay. Heal him, Lord. Please please please please. I’m so afraid.”

I felt like all the air had been pulled out of my lungs. The small hospital room felt so loud, and I was so angry. I wanted a hug, I wanted to cry into someone’s shoulder. But I also wanted to be alone where no one would look at me, touch me, or try to speak to me. I was hit with waves of low-level panic.

It didn’t feel real. I was convinced for several months that I would wake up and someone would tell me my cousin has just gotten home from an extended vacation, plane tickets and suitcase in hand.

 “I’m pretty sure it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed—which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

For the first time in my life, I was face to face with the monster called Grief. I won’t say I know what grief is like for everyone, but for me, it meant feeling like I was constantly dragging myself through life. I would show up and force a customer service smile until I was allowed to go home again. This stage also involved a constant feeling of tiredness that lasted for a few weeks. I slept all the time.

Then came the next stage. The sleepless stage. I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep or stay asleep and ended up getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I was losing weight and feeling sick nearly every day. How could I move towards ‘healing’ when I could barely survive a day of work?

“Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of the living spirit.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

I slowly, very slowly, came to see that just letting yourself exist in the present moment without forcing yourself to do or be or change the sadness and pain lets you accept, fully and with compassion, your hurt.

“…if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Life is not easier now. I still think that maybe if I travel far enough I might just bump into my cousin on his permanent vacation. But I have healed, physically and emotionally, to a point where I can feel happy and peaceful. Even if I don’t understand the why or how of grief, I do understand a little bit better just how God works in our most broken moments.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18, NIV

As I cried on my bedroom floor at four in the morning, Psalm 34:18 reassured me that God truly saw me and my family during our time of deepest need. Even if things didn’t work out the way we expected, He continually reminded me of His presence next to us in our darkest moments.

This event has taught me one thing more than any other: people are the most important thing in the entire universe. When the worst happens it’s going to be your closest family and friends sitting in that hospital room with you. Stay close to those who are important to you, and don’t ever let them forget how deeply they are loved.

 

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