I’ve been thinking a lot about grief these past weeks as we move into the holiday season. This year will be a hard year for our family as we celebrate the first Thanksgiving, birthday, and Christmas without our son. I have cried a little almost every day since the week before Thanksgiving. I haven’t sobbed or broken down, but tears roll down my face during car rides, certain songs on the radio, or just at random moments. For me, this is the 3rd major loss I have experienced. Each being different, they began with the loss of my father 20 years ago. 20 years ago. It seems like I should be long over a grief that old.
“Cumulative grief” tends to focus solely on several losses in a short time. That isn’t me. Yet, I doubt that my grief experience is unique.
For me, the loss of my father was deeply devastating. I was a wreck for months. I gradually worked through the loss. I certainly don’t think I would consider my grief “unresolved”, but I definitely miss my Dad, wish he didn’t have to miss so many life events, and at times genuinely ache to have just another moment with him.
When my mom became sick a few years back, I grieved the loss of my father again. Certainly not anything like the original grief, but I thought of him more often, teared-up over little things more often, and longed for him more. As my mom deteriorated and eventually passed, I grieved for my mom, but oddly enough I grieved for my dad almost as much.
Just over a year after my mother passed, we would lose our adult son. It was sudden, like the loss of my dad, but he had not been healthy, so it was always in the back of our minds. We had long expected the day would eventually come. I cried, was sad, and missed him, but not the level of grief that one would expect for such a great loss. But the grief has built up these past days and weeks. It has grown heavier as we enter the holiday.
I grieved now for all three of them. Memories of any one of them might lead me to tears and thoughts of the others. Our son passed late in June. In early September, I remember crying at a family birthday party, because our extended family had gotten so small. There were so few of us now that we could all comfortably sit at our table. That same thought has crossed my mind so many times since that day. My Christmas shopping list is short. The entire family can comfortably be included in a single group chat. I know one day our family will expand. There will be weddings and babies (hopefully not mine). But for now, it is just small and my losses are painfully evident.
Sometimes I am fearful that growing older means that grief will pile upon grief and that each loss will magnify the previous ones. Do we simply accumulate our pain as we walk through this broken world, this world that was never meant to be marred by death?
Grief sure is an interesting beast. It morphs and changes, with an ebb and flow across the seasons and years. Many days it sits quietly, almost stealthily on the sidelines, but in an instant it can come out of nowhere to blindside you. While there are many ways to protect oneself from these attacks of grief, the truth is that grief is a gift. We are people who love and with that love comes a vulnerability to pain. It is only in our loving of others that we face such deep loss. It truly is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
So, no. We are not bound by a grim future of loss. While, Yes, these deep losses will impact us for the rest of our lives, there is more. There is hope and restoration and a supernatural comfort from a God who counts our tears and holds us through our suffering. And it’s enough. It really is.