Good Grief: Post Mortem

Good Grief: Post Mortem February 2, 2012

Pictured here are our three kids in 2000 — Christy, David, and our Russian daughter Yuliya.

The response to this series has been wonderful and heartfelt, and so I thought I would share a few thoughts about where I am now, three plus weeks out. Grief counselors talk a lot about reaching a stage of acceptance.  But that word can mean many things.  Acceptance of what?    Acceptance that your daughter is dead?  Well, Ann and I accepted the fact that that was true almost from the beginning, once the shock and hysteria began to subside.  If ‘acceptance’ means accepting that she is gone and never coming back, honestly I don’t believe that.  She has gone to be with the Lord, but she is coming back when Jesus comes to raise the dead.  And what a day of rejoicing that will be.

Does acceptance involve accepting that she is dead in some sense?  I do accept that in the sense that I laid her in the crypt in the box and said “ashes to ashes, dust to dust in sure and certain hope of the resurrection.”  I accept that fact, and I accept what I have done with the fact.  But here is part of the paradox.   Although her mortal coil had been sloughed off and is no longer animated by life breath — Christy the person IS NOT DEAD.  She is absent from the corpse or dead body, but in her spirit she is present and alive with the Lord.  She may even have communicated with Ann post mortem, as I mentioned in an earlier post.  If we ask when are the dead not dead, the answer is, when they have died in the Lord.  I take great comfort from Jesus’ rebuke to the Sadducees whom he upbraids for thinking Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all dead, as if they were some sort of shades in Sheol.  No, say Jesus, God is not the God of the dead, he is the God of the living.  Exactly so.  Christy’s physical heart may have stopped.  Her life did not.

If on the other hand you ask me what I have accepted about my own situation, I have accepted that there is always going to be a Christy-shaped hole in my heart.  Yes, there will be healing, but no, that hole is not going to be filled or even sewn up before I go to be with the Lord or he comes back and raises the dead, whichever comes first.

I have accepted then that there will always be a residual sadness for me.  There will be a grief that never parts from me.  There will continue to be tears when I see her belongings or look at her pictures, or visit the places she loved.  This weekend, I deliberately booked a reservation at the very hotel where she stayed last September on her last trip to Cherry Grove Beach.  How she loved it!  Me too.  I wish she would be there with me in June to go body surfing and have some more crab soup at the Sea Captain’s but I accept that she will only be there in spirit with Ann and I.  It will not be the same, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good.

And besides sadness, there is also deflation, a feeling that someone let the air out of my joy balloon.  As I write this I am looking at the balloons my family, including Christy, gave me for my birthday on Dec. 30th.  The last Carolina-blue one has now wilted and has no more lift in it.  It looks like I feel—deflated and blue.  I understand and accept that my life in this world will never be the same again.

Yet I am not filled with regrets.  I am not filled with ‘would have, could have, should have’ thoughts.  We have been blessed with a rich 32 years, and I do not regret how we have spent it, nor do I feel entitled to any more than I was already given.  Sometimes when a person has neglected another or mistreated a loved one, or failed to seek forgiveness from a loved one, there are indeed regrets post mortem, indeed even guilt.  I am thankful I am experiencing none of that.

With the sadness, and the deflation, there is a certain sense of emptiness as well, and I realize I will be living a ‘new normal’ for the rest of my days, and it may in some ways be better or some ways worse, but either way, it won’t involve Christy directly.  I accept that.  It’s just that I am not happy about it, and I shouldn’t be.

I also realize I have an opportunity, perhaps even a duty, to honor Christy by living the best Christian life I can muster until I die.  I have an opportunity to let this tragedy make me better rather than bitter.   I have an opportunity to rededicate myself to the tasks the Lord has given me and do them with renewed zeal and vigor.  And that’s what I intend to do.  Part one of that has been that I finished the draft of my Invitation to the New Testament for Oxford U. Press early and dedicated it to Christy.  It is with the press, as they say, and I trust Christy is proud of me.  She loved her time at Oxford doing Shakespeare with my old English Prof. Christopher Armitage.

No time for a pity party when there is work to be done for the Lord, and Aslan is on the move in the land.    Christy has not gone to a place where it’s always winter and never Christmas.  She’s in a place where it’s Christmas every day, and as she would say, ‘I am doing my happy dance’.  The challenge for me will be to do some practice dancing before I get there, so she won’t totally be embarrassed by my lack of ability to dance.   For now, it’s a work in progress.   I leave you with the words of my favorite English poet, John Donne:

“SINCE I am coming to that Holy room,
Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made Thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.”

I’m thinking, and praying, and tuning up.  How about you?


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