The Intensity of Grief

It happened again. That uncontrollable, intense feeling of grief. The kind that steals your breath. Fills your eyes with tears. Hurts your heart.

It could have been the time of year. It was right before Thanksgiving. Not a major holiday like Christmas but a holiday all the same. Holidays do that. The gathering around the table of family. A time to notice, once again, that there is an empty chair. Someone missing. It usually happens a few days before. The anticipation of the event can be worse than the event itself.

I was in the Word. Doing a Bible study on the Psalms. It was Psalm 125. I had no thought that a flashback would happen but all of a sudden it was there. Right in verse 2, “the Lord surrounds His people both now and forever.”(NIV) God surrounds His people. Protects them. The image of a hedge of thorns. I am one of His people. Arlynne was too. But she is gone. Was He protecting her? Thus the flashback.

At first the grief was just grief. The realization that someone I loved was no longer part of this world. Then the flashbacks started. Later. The picture memories. The images I saw that I will never forget. Then the images my mind created. A country road with 10 emergency vehicles lining it, lights flashing. The road where my daughter died. I never saw it. Not then. Not since, either. But my mind has formed a memory that it never saw. An image I had heard about. And I go back there.

There are others too. Seeing her body in her “treasure chest”. The memory of leaving her, walking away, from the graveside. The last time I saw her alive. Too many to count.

They aren’t all pictures either. Sometimes I would remember the feel of her as she would hug me from behind, as I did the dishes in the sink, her weight on my back. I could almost audibly hear her laugh. That carefree joyful laugh. The one I would hear raising from the basement as she hung out with her friends. Even the scent of the perfume she wore. The scent of her. Powerful memories. Difficult ones.

They would happen in the shower. One of the few times of the day when I am alone. Then the tears would start. Mingling with the warm water, streaming down my face. There were so many tears in the shower.

The flashbacks happened other places too. Like in the grocery store. Seeing something that I knew she would love to eat. And she did LOVE to eat. A memory that would suddenly send my heart into a tailspin. Bringing a lump to my throat.

I was at a study in Revelation where I had one of my most intense flashbacks. Beth Moore was teaching, telling the story of a mom getting a phone call at work. She was told, over the phone, that her child had died. Beth described the anguish that poured out of this mom’s mouth. The intense sobs rising above the walls of her office cubicle. I knew that sound. I knew that feeling. I was soon sobbing with the same intensity Beth described.

Sometimes I think the enemy is using these memories to keep me captive. A captive of grief. To keep me in a prison of my mind that doesn’t want to let anything in. Or out. Especially hope. Joy. Trust. When I am there, I am not effective. I am not a light. Or an illustration of God’s grace. His mercy. His love.

Not long after Arlynne died, I was sitting in a dentist’s office. I don’t know how we started talking about Arlynne, this dentist and I, but we did. He told me that he had had a very good friend who had died. Her husband had struggled. He had learned from his friend’s death and her husband’s experience that I would always feel this grief about Arlynne. The intensity of grief wouldn’t change, just the amount of time between the times that intensity reared its head.

Three years in, I believe this is true. I don’t cry at the grocery store. I used to. A lot. I don’t cry myself to sleep anymore. But I still cry around the holidays. Any holiday. It doesn’t happen as many days before anymore. Sometimes it just appears with such randomness that I am caught off guard. It is still intense. Just not as frequent.

The one thing that I pulled from the Revelation study that I will never forget is the assurance that even after our enemy is defeated, when the struggle is over, there is one last foe that Jesus will defeat, once and for all. Our ultimate foe–DEATH. “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14 (NIV).

It might look like death has won. We still bear the pain of the separation of death. But my Jesus died for that. He lives for that. Death didn’t claim him. It won’t win.

Some days the intensity of death is hard on me. But I also know that all I have to do is hold on. Jesus is with me and it WILL be over. Maybe not soon enough for my liking. But it is a promise. I will hold on.

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