Some of us spend far too much of our lives at the end of its journey.
We have far more experience with loss and pain than we ever thought humanly possible.
We have encountered far too many tragedies and abandonment than we ever expected.
And it is almost unbearable sometimes.
The other day, my husband and I were discussing this sadness. One of many times over the years.
He talked about how death scars you, how loss can harden you. Until sometimes it’s hard to feel. And he’s right.
Many of us have walked to the end of life’s road with elderly family members. We have picked up fallen grandparents and carried weak bodies to safety, have cried countless hidden tears over the lifetimes of memories now ended, have sat by nursing home beds and watched the clock tick ever too quickly. We have watched aged bodies struggle to fight death’s knock until all the fight was gone, and quiet stillness entered in. And yet we know that the road to the end was a long, and hopefully full and vibrant, one.
Many of us have had too many younger loved ones ripped away from our worlds, unfairly early and mercilessly unkindly. We have rocked in excruciating pain and sobbed heartbroken tears when we felt helpless and alone, unable to change the story’s ending, to extend life’s journey further. We have knelt by hospital beds and crumpled on too hard floors upon news we never wanted to hear and would never wish upon anyone else, pleading with Heaven for time and love now lost too soon.
We have searched desperately for answers, unable to reach any conclusions that are helpful or offer the “closure” we hear about.
What really is closure anyway?
How do you close off whole parts of your being and your brain when it all begs more time, more memories, more answers? How do you close off the wishing and the praying for another path than the one that just ended?
It’s like chasing a lie to say that you can ever really find closure.
Perhaps gradual acceptance would be more appropriate. But never adequate to fully explain.
Perhaps the tearing and shredding of heart flesh, the raking open rawness of soul, and the achingly slow mending process that leaves jagged edged scars upon already bruised and sore places… maybe that would be a better way to describe what really happens.
Because grief is not an end or a closing off of one’s heart and soul and mind.
It is a part of the whole.
A part of our story that now has added more mountains and valleys to our own life roads. A part of our story that can leave us hardened to wanting to love and be loved again, fearful to trudge forward again, hurting to just return to life beforehand.
A part of a really hard process that really doesn’t stop, just morphs over time.
A part of a process that no one ever wants to have to endure.
And yet we do.
We have to suffer through the destruction of anger and the depths of pain and the plunging of sorrow. Some of us have to wade through the denial, especially in the most tragic of events, and some of us will offer ourselves to save another’s wrenching journey. And eventually, we may come to the point of accepting our new scar tissue where once beautiful thoughts lived. Maybe.
See, the thing about scar tissue is that it builds up over time. It piles upon itself.
Every time a wound is reopened, it looks different, feels different, has a different effect. It never heals the same. And it takes longer each time.
Sometimes, there is so much hardened scar tissue, we need help to handle it. And there is no shame in that. None.
While your story is uniquely and challengingly yours, there is usually someone else who has trod similar steps too. When we shutter ourselves and our pain into darkness, we lose the opportunity to help others, and along the way ourselves as well. Opening the window, even a tiny bit, allows light and Light into those places where we most desperately need and secretly seek hope.
Because it is in the sharing of our struggles and our hurt that we find peace and comfort in knowing that we are not alone in it all.
Because hope cannot be lost entirely in the depths of sorrow and grief and suffering, even when it is most difficult to unearth it.
Because beautiful things can emerge again from even the most painful of journeys and the most scarred of hearts.
Like a butterfly that breaks free from its brutal metamorphosis. Where its caterpillar skin literally is split and shed multiple times to grow new layer upon layer of skin until eventually its chrysalis protects its utter destruction and total transformation into a completely new creation is formed. Wings are wet and frail and easily damaged when first emerged. Until time and God-breath harden the wing structure, enabling the delicate and strong butterfly to start life anew, lifting fresh wings where none had been before, flying in place of crawling.
Not invincible, as nothing really is, but a new and different version of a former existence now awaits. One with hope-full changes and joy-full experiences, not because of the loss of yesterday’s struggle but through it.
Grief is not unlike the caterpillar that becomes a butterfly.
A horribly agonizing process, splitting and scarring and growing and changing. Learning new ways of living life. Finding strength we cannot provide for ourselves. Lighting flames of hope where darkness has consumed.
For death is also the start of new life for Christians.
It is in the difficulty of the journey that we each uncover the mercy and hope that awaits us, when we let ourselves receive it. It is in the brutality of death that the victory of eternal life is revealed.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side,but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, 16-18 NIV).
It is not that we will be without sadness in thinking of what could have been, if only a loved one were present.
It is not that we will be without heartache in longing for an embrace or a phone call when we most need one.
It is not that we will be without pain in losing those we hold most precious and dear.
It is that we will carry the scars of the struggles and grief daily, and they will create in us a new life, a new hope.
It is that we are not alone in our hurt or in our hope.
For these steps have been walked before. Not just by our neighbors and friends and families. By God. By Jesus.
When the God of the Universe suffered the agony of watching His only Son die slowly with the literal weight of the world on His shoulders, He knows what you’re going through.
When He, who could have stopped it all, who could have ended the suffering for Himself and for His Son, who could have redeemed our existences very differently, chose instead to take on our anguish and torment, He wanted us to know that He understands in every way possible.
When Jesus could have granted us new life and new hope in any less awful way than to take his journey to Golgotha, on a splintered cross and with ragged, raw wounds, He chose instead to walk to the end of the road with us.
But the thing is, that isn’t where the story ended.
It is instead where hope began.
Where scars were healed. Where burdens were carried. Where light was made out of darkness.
And new life emerged. Unlike anything anyone could have fully imagined or comprehended, even those prophets who had been told about its coming.
For this story of unconditional love doesn’t end in suffering, death, or grief.
For love like His doesn’t end. It is just the beginning.
The journey isn’t over. He is walking it with you. Every step.