The Awfulness of Grief
August 15, 2018 by Sheree Phillips 0 comments
Death is unpredictable. Sometimes it provides wearisome warnings that create deep longings for relief for the loved one who is wasting away before our eyes. Other times it comes like a sudden thunder storm that finds us running for cover from the shocking loss.
On Saturday, August 4, 2018 my younger brother, Jon Mark, left suddenly and I am reeling. I keep reading our last text messages and can’t believe I’ll never see “Love you, Sis” there again.
To know Jon was to feel loved. Family circumstances in our childhood meant that he and I spent a lot of time together. “Sis,” he told me in later years, “sometimes I wanted to hug your neck, and other times I wanted to wring it!” Being six years older than Jon meant I had to assume the Mom role quite a bit, especially during the years our Mom sacrificially devoted herself to the care of our older quadriplegic brother who broke his neck in a horrific diving accident.
Like the time I had to be “Mom” when a store manager called to inform me that 10-year-old Jon had stolen a package of marbles to use in a gambling ring with some neighborhood boys. Too bad the hole in Jon’s pocket and a flimsy marble container resulted in marbles bouncing noisily on the store floor just as the manager walked by. As one of my sons said, “I guess Uncle Jon wasn’t very good at gambling if he had to steal to participate.”
Fun memories ease the pain of death, but only for a moment. The deep stab comes rushing back. Vicious. Nauseating. Disorienting. For me, grief doesn’t descend like a dark cloud, as with some. No. It feels like a staggering, heavy surge in my chest. My mind starts racing and it hits me again…he’s gone. My little brother is gone. Yesterday it happened when I heard a motorcycle and irrationally thought, “I wonder if Jon will ever make that trip down to Florida on his Harley?” Then death came….again. Jon will never make that trip.
Since our move from Virginia to Florida 18 years ago Jon and I haven’t seen or talked nearly as much as those years when I often packed his school lunch and sent him back to his room to change unmatched clothes and asked him what girl he liked today. For much of my childhood we shared a room and I hated it. What older sister wants to share a room with her pesky little brother? But then I would have missed the night Jon woke up with an awful nightmare and climbed into bed with me for comfort. His little body soon stopped shaking and I thought, “Remember this, Sheree.”
As I write the tears are welling. I despise grief. I would rather be mad than sad. And sometimes I choose anger as a way of escape from sadness. Like when I snapped at Benny last week for not consulting me about some plans for the day. I was exhausted from grieving and anger was a temporary escape. When I’m angry I feel strong and in control; the sadness takes a temporary backseat to the feisty desire to control something. Anything. Sadness makes me feel weak and vulnerable and lost and afraid. I’m learning to see through the anger of others because behind mad often sadness or fear or shame stalks a weary heart.
But God is calling me to grieve. To sit in my sadness. To embrace the call to be like “the Man of Sorrows who was fully acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). I don’t want to be fully acquainted with grief! I want to push aside my sorrow and focus on caring for others who are grieving. Find something to be mad about. Retreat to a Hallmark movie (or two or six) because no one ever dies and the endings are always happy. Eat food I shouldn’t. Allow my thoughts to find refuge in busyness or clean something that’s really dirty because it will feel so good to make something that’s wrong and messy right and pretty.
Yet here I sit in a condo at the beach alone with my little dog, Lucy. I didn’t have to come alone. My life is full of people I love who I could have asked to come with me. But it’s time for me to embrace this pain and sadness. To sit in my suffering and loss. To resist the torrent of temptations to flee this awful yet beautiful aspect of being made in the image of Christ – the Man of Sorrows.
I don’t like this call to Christlikeness. But embrace it, I must. Until the day when He will wipe away every tear. How can this pain make me like Him? I’ve tasted the fruit in the past when death came suddenly, taking Daddy, Granny, Mom and my older brother, Randy. But I know something now I didn’t know then: grief is a gift from the One who didn’t seek refuge from anything or anyone other than God. I want to find my refuge there in the pain and sadness - refuge in Christ Himself. Help me, Lord.