Grief is a funny thing, except that it’s not funny at all. Within the last three days our little family has taken on two losses, both having a unique impact. And even if death is not altogether surprising, it doesn’t mean that we were altogether prepared.
On Thursday afternoon, my sons lost their granddad in this life. The stepfather of their mother, he had come back to life more times than most people embrace it. Titles and descriptions are funny things too, especially as other people want to know who he was. A divorce doesn’t necessarily change who is in your life, even if it does change how they are.
To my sons, he was “Paw-Paw,” sometimes he was, “Papa Earl,” and not all that long ago he was, “Big-Belly Paw-Paw.” To my sons’ mother, he was, “Earl,” but he became, “Dad.” He married into their family when she was 11, and he changed in many ways over the next two-and-a-half decades. All of the changes were for the better, all of them except for his health.
Earl had poor liver health, partially due to life choices and partially due to genetics. He was on oxygen almost always over the past few years, and two years ago he began to scare us all by having to be resuscitated on several ocassions. He fought off death not out of fear, but for the love of life and family.
He loved his wife, his kids, and his grandkids. We heard on Thursday that he had pictures of my sons close to him. He told those attending, “Those are my guys.” There are moments in our lives that stick. We will always remember where we were for certain events, and Thursday night became one of those.
By request I held on to the news so that my sons could hear about it from their mom, and to have her present. Before they even heard the news, people were praying. It reminded me a little bit of the childhood game of “Red Rover.” We aren’t meant to endure the blows of life alone.
And yet, at the same time, it’s a uniquely personal journey. It might mean that you go to the park and lie in the sun for hours. It might mean sleeping in and not going to school. It might mean going with friends to the beach, or having friends over to sit on piles of unfolded laundry while they play Nintendo. The loss of a loved one has a certain finality to it, and yet, here we are, looking for a way forward.
The second loss in our family is my Aunt Anne. Death has been oddly orderly within my extended family. We have been blessed to prepare for it time and time again, and Anne was the same. Her health had weakened steadily, and she was receiving around-the-clock care in a nearby hospital.
I was able to see her on Friday morning, and I visited with her son, her daughter, and her son-in-law. It seemed quite evident that her time still here was short. She was resting, made as comfortable as possible, and waiting. She passed away later that afternoon.
Following the laughter and tears on Thursday night, we assured our sons that we were available to them in any way they needed. We also told them that there were no expectations on how they should move forward. No one went to school right away on Friday. Caleb was awake but wanted to be distracted and go to ArtPrize later on. Jonathan wanted to sleep in. Joshua was the tricky one. I felt compelled to tell him that by no means would anyone be disappointed if he missed school and couldn’t suit up for football that night. There will be more games. He waited a few hours before going to school, and I believe that was good for him. A team is very often another support system.
Because they stayed home, I did as well. After bringing Josh to school I had the opportunity to visit with Anne and her family. Anne was present, able to hear us, and that was enough. But grief is funny, except that it’s not funny at all.
I found myself grumpy and irritated that I still had to answer work questions. Calling relative strangers to tell them that their service will be rescheduled due to a death in the family is just one more reminder that we try to fit grieving into the rest of our schedule. We are not designed to be that way.
Tomorrow will be another day of sorting out what is best for each and for all, and then Monday and back to life. But the wave of grief will hit again. There will be visitation and funerals. I truly believe that we will hear words of hope and comfort this week, but it’s still heavy. Holidays are around the corner and there will be faces that aren’t at the table.
As followers of Christ and believers in the Good News, we have the ultimate hope. And yet, at the same time, as one good friend texted me, “That sucks, man. I’m sorry.” Yep. It still sucks. And that’s why we cherish our roots and cling to the Rock. On Friday, Anne’s daughter commented, “You sure have seen some messy stories. Doesn’t it make you grateful for how you were raised?”
It’s not because of death alone that we should share the Good News. It’s the hope we share in Christ that should compel us to share words of truth in love.” There are moments in life that remind us how important that is to do. For me, this is one of them. I am incredibly grateful that I heard the Word in the womb, was grafted into family trees with deep roots, and can bear fruit while finding solace on a Rock. It’s the only way to withstand the storms.
Normally I like to go back through and check for errors, but it’s nearly 1:30am and I trust that any rough edges won’t take away from the idea that I hoped to express. Sometimes we do odd things like write late at night before falling asleep on a couch after a 93 degree day in Autumn. After all, grief is a funny thing, except that it’s not.