(our summer series inviting conversation and connection. Share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter)
My mother died on July 14. A week later, I visited my father’s graveside in Ft. Logan National Cemetery for the first time since he passed. A dear friend just returned from a graveside visit to a mentor who passed in a tragic car accident. One of our church-family members just lost her grandmother. Death and grief are a part of life.
The loss of loved ones grows more real and present the older I get, and it exposes a unique loneliness in me.
Each situation is laced with joy and gladness as they sleep in faith with the Lord and await the glorious resurrection. That is the good news. They truly rest in a better place (though those words are no help on heels of a loss) and I can assent to it being a goodness amidst the grief.
Yet, there are obvious aspects of grief that are very uncomfortable and hard, though maybe goodness can be found there too. An obvious emptiness and sadness attends losing people we love. It wouldn’t be sad if they hadn’t made a meaningful impact on our lives. Their departure leaves a hole.
The hole is not only their absence, but how it exposes a deeper loneliness. In the case of parents and grandparents, it is the loss of people that knew us from the beginning. They set us in motion and loved us when we had nothing to give, but a cry, a mess and a smile. They showed us our first glimpse of unconditional, life-giving love.
Their loss tears at our roots – the roots of being known, loved and connected. Certainly we can busy ourselves with more people, and we can build other significant relationships to stay connected and experience love. Building new connections is good, but it can be a mechanism to hide as well. Hiding from the lonely reality that foundational relationships are undeniably absent for now doesn’t feel authentic or redeeming to me.
I believe the loneliness exposes a root desire for deep connection. There is goodness in the grief if we face it. My loneliness exposes a desire to be known and loved at my core. Though, the people that knew and valued me from the beginning are gone. I still want all of me to be deeply known. I want to be loved and accepted for who I am. That is a lonely grief and it is hard, lest we deny it and hide from it.
Henri Nouwen says: “The task is not to escape your loneliness, nor to let it drown you, but to find it’s source. … With your heart you must search for that place without fear.”
In this sense, I see the loneliness as a gift to be opened and explored, though it is hard to sit with. I’m finding the loneliness exposes in me a relational desire that not even the most intimate earthly relationship can fully satisfy, though they are so important. I feel the pain of grief and it’s loneliness driving me to more essential and eternal things. It seems to be leading me to God – to know him more intimately. It’s calling me to trust that in His knowing me, in His love for me, in His presence, in welcoming Him into my loneliness, there is more — more healing, more hope and a more satisfying, joyful relationship that transcends what we can know on a merely human level.
There is no fear in pursuing this, though it comes with some pain and letting go (for now) of those who have loved us well. Exploring “that place” referred to by Nouwen leads us to a deeper relationship with God, a good place, and a joyful connection.
I’d love to connect, share your thoughts.