It only takes seconds after a loss for this lesson to solidify in the heart of the bereaved. Especially as parents, we tend to think we have so much control. We're so busy running our lives, and the lives of our children, that we are deceived by the facade of control. But then tragedy hits and you realize that any control you thought you had was just a mirage. For those who don't believe in God and His sovereignty, I would imagine there is very little comfort after the loss of a loved one. For believers, however, the knowledge that there is an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God brings a comfort beyond understanding. Comfort because it means there is a reason for our suffering. Loss is not without purpose. Loss, in God's economy, is not wasted. Jesus carefully and tenderly gathers up the shattered pieces of our devastation and redesigns our life. Comfort doesn't diminish the pain, but allows one to bear it.
This is only our third Christmas without Matt, yet, for me, it feels like it's only the second; the second because I don't even count the first one. The first one isn't even a blur as I simply have no memory of it! The entire first year is gone, like my memory was erased. Losing a child is traumatic, to say the least. I understood so much more going into the second year why "everyone" (those who've experienced child loss) said the second year was actually harder. It's because you have no memory of the first, you're in shock. You come out of the cushion of shock the second year and the reality hits full force that your child one is never coming back. Never. (Not this side of heaven, anyway, and not until you join them on the other side.)
When grief teaches you this lesson, that you're not in control, it opens your eyes to a lot of things. Since Matt died, I think I definitely say yes more. It made me realize that when you have nothing left but memories, then you desire to create memories. It taught me to let go more. It showed me that the things, the battles with my kids, that I thought were so important were really just quite stupid. They were not the big issues I had perceived them to be. It drove home the reality that life really is short. The Bible isn't joking when it says that our lives are like a vapor and are but a handbreadth. (James 4:14, Psalm 39:5)
While there've been positive results to learning grief lesson #1, there have also been negative ones, fear being the biggest. The fear of losing another child is persistent. I mean, never in a million years would I have thought I would lose a child, but I did, and the unthinkable happened. And because it happened, fear now stalks. I've lived the reality. I have proof that it happens. It is a daily choice to trust God with the lives of my children and husband. It's choosing to resist, as well, the temptation to control as a result, because control is birthed from fear.
This lesson has also taught me to recognize what I can control and what I can't. What I can't control is when grief hits, but I can control how I choose to respond to it when it does. I can't control the punches it throws, but I can control how I fall. I've learned that leaning into grief, not avoiding it, is really the best way to deal with the sucker punch it throws.
I knew Christmas was going to be tough, but I wasn't expecting the blow from out of nowhere on Monday. I had dropped off "Army Guy," Matt's younger brother, at church for ping pong. (They have a group that plays several times a week. Matt really enjoyed being a part of this group, too.) As I watched Army Guy go into the church, grief walloped me right good, square in the face. Army Guy sauntered into the church, and that's when I got hit. His saunter was what threw me. It was just like Matt's. And then my heart split wide open with a fierce ache. I tried to hold it together, but by the time I got home, I realized I wasn't getting out of this one. I knew I needed to cry. It just sucked that I had be thrown to the ground with Christmas Eve looming. I guess some part of me had hoped I'd duck the blow and get through Christmas unscathed.
A friend on Facebook, another bereaved mom, posted this timely link, however:
I read her post and decided then that I wouldn't feel guilty for however I was feeling. I wasn't sure if I was up to attending our church's Christmas Eve service, and after being hit unexpectedly by grief on Monday, I decided it was okay to wait and see how I felt. I ended up staying home and spent the day in bed. We spent Christmas Day alone as a family and, for once, I was glad we hadn't invited anyone over. I found myself still trying to throw off the cloak of grief from Monday. I knew I needed to get focused again. I started with listing 25 things I'm thankful for. Thankfulness doesn't come easily when the heart hurts badly, but I suppose that's why Hebrews 13:15 calls it a "sacrifice."
I spent some time giving thanks and then put on some music. Once again, music had the power to touch my hurting heart. Even better than music, however, is the Giver of music. While I don't understand God or His ways at times, especially when my heart aches so badly, I know that He intends ultimate good for His children. I may not be in control, but I know the One who is.