Today, Thursday August 4, 2016, marks 158 days since my mother passed away. Stated another way, it has been four months, two weeks, and one day. It has been even longer since her cancer diagnosis, which was in January of 2013, but I digress. This is a significant day, and I’m sure you are wondering why. It’s not an anniversary, not a holiday, and not even anyone in my immediate family’s birthday. So what is the special significance of this specific day?
Well, there isn’t any … other than my mother is still gone.
Even though there’s no particular reason to mention it today, I still miss her, and many others do, too. That’s the nature of grief. While there are designated times for the general public to mourn, console, and comfort, grief doesn’t adhere to that schedule. Grief, oftentimes, is a life-long journey, or decades-long journey.
Donna writes poignantly on this point when discussing the months after she lost her husband and three children in a car accident. She says in her book,
“But, as the months wore on, I sensed “grief fatigue” in them. They had reached out to me, had worked through their own sorrow, and now needed to move on. I became embarrassed and felt like a burden, because to stay in my world meant to acknowledge throughout every waking moment of every day that horrible, irreversible things happened to good people. I understood how paralyzing that could be. On the other hand, I’m not sure people understood my need to live in the moment. I couldn’t just move on, and I probably offended some in the process of declining invitations to weddings, Confirmations, dinner parties, Bar Mitzvahs, and even family get-togethers. I just wasn’t ready. With Nanci, Michael, John, Madeline, and Donna, I never had to pretend or make excuses. But, with the rest of the world, I began to feign I wasn’t a sorry mess inside.”
It strikes me as being true that after some ill-defined period of time we feel as if we are somehow weak by admitting we are still hurting. It is as if the world has convinced us there is an expiration date on any sort of pain we feel, and we are inadequate if we can’t expunge that pain from our hearts within that arbitrary time frame. While true to my experience, this line of reasoning also strikes me as illogical and as an unfair burden to place upon ourselves.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) Notice there is not a deadline attached. He does not say that they will be comforted in 15 days, 15 weeks, or even 15 years. God’s promise to us is that in His time, He “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” (Revelation 21:4)
Amid this despair, we cannot find comfort in our own innate strength to persevere. It cannot be found in hardening our hearts to numb ourselves from all emotions, blocking out the good with the bad. Rather, we must feel our emotions, because that hole in our hearts was created by the loss of our loved one, and so it serves as a reminder of the enormity of the love we feel for the one we lost. In this way, our pain illustrates to us our own immense capacity to love, and love is precisely how and why God made us. We should nurture that love even if it means grief will join us as a bittersweet companion for the rest of our lives.
So, when it’s the 158th day of your grief journey (or any other arbitrary day), and the pain is still piercing, try to remember you only feel that pain because God blessed you with someone you loved so much. And when it all begins to feel like too much, remember you can take comfort in Christ Jesus and find strength in His promise.