August twelfth marks another year since my husband, Gerry, and our three young children, Dawn, Stephen and Michael were killed in a tragic car accident. Throughout these years people have often said to me, “I don’t know how you do it.”
How do I do it? For me, the path to survival and healing was, and continues to be faith.
Faith in God does not take away our immediate and natural reaction to the death of a loved one -grief. “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Fully human, Jesus wept in sympathy with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother and Jesus’ friend, Lazarus. Jesus’ sorrow, however, was not just for Lazarus, but for all of us who must experience the separation of death.
We cannot avoid death, but we can choose how we grieve it. The pain of grief comes in waves. It rises to a crescendo and then drops off, only to rise up and drop off, over and over again. If we let those waves wash over us and allow the tears that need to flow, those crashing waves will eventually subside. As we move from grief into acceptance of our loss, our tomorrows will begin to dawn on the horizon.
If we resist our grief, it can go unresolved and keep us from healing. We all know of individuals who ‘never came back’ from the loss of a loved one, and I pray this blog may be the beginning of a new tomorrow for those readers suffering that pain.
Grief is not about an obligation to prove that we are tragic heroes or love better than the next person. When we love deeply, the person we love becomes part of us, an extension of ourselves. In loss, we are left with a gaping hole in our heart and grief is the natural response. The process of grief, or our grief journey, fills that emptiness by cataloging our memories and making them more precious to us than ever. Those memories are woven into the fabric of our life going forward. Grief also creates in us a sensitivity and depth of understanding that helps us to eventually reorder our life. When we allow it, grief heals us by moving us out of its cocoon and releasing us into the freedom of acceptance.
For those of us who believe in God, it is easier to move from grief to acceptance because we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Paul the apostle tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
So, how do I do it? How do we do it? C S Lewis says, “‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?” No, it means we surrender to our grief and allow it to heal us. “I cried until I had no more tears.”1 We accept the reality of our loss. “You are gone from this earth my love, but never from my heart.”2 We trust that our loved ones are experiencing the fullness of God’s love. We love God above all and we move forward in faith that the Lord has a plan for us that will unfold with each step we take. “Lord, I know if I trust in You, you will guide my path. I lay down my heart before You and trust You with all my tomorrows.” 3
This journey is not for the faint of heart. It requires love of self, love of others, an expectation of healing and a hope for the future. It is filled with twists and turns. It can be agonizing at times, and there will be more than a few moments that feel like ‘ground zero.’ But our anger, doubts and anguish can all be part of our healing when we remember that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, and He will shower us with mercy and grace to help us through our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
How do I do it? By the grace of God: that undeserved “love that cares and stoops and rescues us,”4 through faith, and with the help of the wonderful people whom God put in my life to love me, lift me up in prayer and encourage me.
Remembering Gerry, Dawn, Stephen and Michael Michaud.
Gone from our touch, but always in our hearts.
1-3quotes from Through It All manuscript by D. Berger, W. Searcy
4 John Stott quote