I woke up after a surprisingly good night of sleep with what felt like a weight on my chest. As my eyes fluttered open and my mind returned from that mysterious world of knowing and unknowing, I remembered. Tears sprang to my eyes as I attempted to grasp a new reality where my uncle no longer lived on this side of heaven.
His death wasn’t a surprise. Actually, we had been given five and a half months' notice that this was coming. And yet… and yet… the idea that his vibrant personality, his quick wit, and his knack for truth-telling were no longer accessible to me boggled my mind. Part of me wondered if there was a way we could get him back like Lazarus called out from the grave. The rational side of me knew that would not happen, but there was another part that wondered at the possibility.
Grief is not rational.
This is not the first loss I have experienced. The path of grief is becoming well-trodden for me, as it eventually becomes for all earthly sojourners. And yet, grief always stuns me. I can prepare as much as I want for it, but there are always unexpected storms and strange dark valleys that I stumble upon.
And yet, there is also the familiar comfort in grief. Something not of this world. Some long-ago promise, delivered at just the right moment.
There is a touch on my back, something that almost feels like a whisper, a feeling that I am not alone. No one is there, but Someone is there. As I contemplate the mystery of this, I am reminded of a verse that my supervisor at work shared with me: “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), and I press into that verse. I sit up in my bed, open my Bible, and read that verse over and over again until the words coat my broken heart like a balm. I offer my shattered self to God and can almost physically feel my crushed spirit being revived.
However, as I meditate on the psalm, another difficult truth also falls upon me: I will eventually lose everyone I care about here on earth.
With this thought, the immediacy of finding my strength, my identity, and my comfort in the only One I will never lose washes over me anew. My contentment cannot be found in earthly relationships; I can be grateful for these relationships, I can praise God for these relationships, I can love others well, but I cannot find my contentment in them.
This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn.
I desperately want to put my comfort and hope in earthly things—I want to feel the physical touch of a warm hand on my back; I want to smell the freshly cut grass, so indicative of new life emerging from a once frozen world; I want to see the sun rays through the trees, which allow us to contemplate new wonders; I want to hear the birds returning from their journey south, their chirps alive with some story to tell; and I want to taste it all—the warm yeasty bread, the boldness of red wine, the sun-warmed sensation of a freshly picked blackberry on my tongue.
But I am aging.
My nerves are dulling, and it feels like there is a strange barrier between the hand on my back and my own skin. My sense of smell is fading. My sight is blurring, and the sound of returning birds with their stories is dimming. Yet, in the midst of all of this, I turn to the true Bread and Wine—broken and poured out for me (Matthew 26:26–28).
As I contemplate the above truths, 2 Corinthians 4:16 comes to me, “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (NIV). Truly, as the world around me falls away, there is a renewing inside of me, and I am pointed toward Christ, who promises that one day all will be made new.
I hold onto this hope as I grieve the loss of my dear uncle, who also loved the Lord. I think of his body, now returned to dust—the fullness of earthly senses lost. But I am also encouraged by his journey of faith, a reality made visible by his well-worn Bible sitting on a table at his funeral, reminding me of the Word made into flesh, the Word that gives everlasting life, the Word that never returns empty (Isaiah 55:11, John 1).
With these truths renewing my grief-stricken heart, I put my Bible on my nightstand, throw the blankets off my warm body, and set my feet on the cold floor. The weight on my chest remains, but I have faith that God will not leave me here alone.
So, if you, like me, are also traveling the road of grief… if you are becoming so aware of the pain, the heartbreak, and the loss of all that you care about, I encourage you not to lose heart. Instead, I invite you to open your Bible. I invite you to pray those sobbing prayers of confusion, desperate for solace—for this truth arises from the DNA of my soul: our God is real. He is our lasting hope. So I pray that in the loss of it all, you will experience a new level of intimacy with the One who will never leave you, the One who died for you, the One who draws near to comfort you.
As your senses fade, may you look to God, who will one day make all things new. And may we all find a spring of hope in, as Saint Augustine of Hippo once described in his book Confessions, a “certain light, a certain odor, a certain food, a certain embrace” that is beyond our scope of imagination or wildest dreams. Fellow believer, you are never alone.
Additional resources on grief: