Last week I exchanged several e-mails with a friend who had just returned from a trip to care for a loved one in distress. In addition to travel fatigue, she was feeling especially sad because of the approaching anniversary of the death of someone who played a major role in her life. Her last e-mail was short and to the point.
It’s been a pretty tough week. Jet lag and grief apparently enhance one another.
I’ve seen a lot of grief around me lately. Perhaps it’s because I’m in the autumn of my life, and that’s when losses begin to occur more frequently, or perhaps, as popular eschatology speculates, it’s the times in which we live. Regardless of the cause, I see many people who are suffering loss: loss of loved ones through death – a spouse, a parent, a child, a relative, a friend; loss of relationships through other causes – distance, conflict, apathy; loss of career, security, home; loss of health and independence; loss of innocence and trust; loss of hopes and dreams.
After the 4th of July I wrote a post about my first trip after Mom’s death and how different it was from trips of the last decade or so. There was the freedom of having no one to worry about or be responsible for but me, but on the other hand, I experienced a writer’s block of sorts. Without the angst, my usual need to take out my frustrations on the keyboard was missing. After reading my post, the same friend I quoted earlier left the following comment:
Loss and gain never travel separately, do they?
That has certainly been the case in the loss of Mom and Dad. David and I took another trip recently. Some friends have a condo in Branson and invited us to share it with them for a few days. As I prepared for the trip, I once again exulted in the freedom of not having to be sure all caregiving bases were covered in case of an emergency, but when we passed through Conway, Arkansas, it hurt to know Mom and Dad weren’t there. When we got to the condo, I thought about how hard it would have been for them to get up the stairs to the unit where we were staying. Once inside, I laughed to myself, thinking how miserable they would have been in the 70 degree air conditioning and how miserable they would make everyone else as a result. There was a sense of freedom in knowing I didn’t have to deal with those things, but there was a sense of loss as well. I felt similar moments of gain and loss throughout the trip. We went to places I had been with Mom and Dad when I was a child and they were young and healthy, and we went to difficult-to-negotiate places that reminded me of how limited their mobility was toward the end.
Experiencing loss brings up the difficult questions: why do bad things happen to good people, why didn’t God stop it, why me, where’s the gain? I don’t have any answers, but the Apostle Paul addressed the subject.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. Romans 8:28
To me this means, not that God causes bad things to happen, but when they do, He can use them for a good purpose if we let Him. Paul gives us a clue as to what one of those purposes might be.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
This resonates with me because of my experiences in telling my stories. When people are helped or comforted by something I’ve written, it gives some meaning to the last few years of Mom and Dad’s lives. But as much as I like what Paul has to say, the words of Jesus mean the most. Isaiah’s prophecies describe Jesus as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief,” so He knows what we’re going through. From this place of understanding, He made us a promise.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4