Carry On with Life Amid Grief. Don’t Move On.

Carry On with Life Amid Grief. Don’t Move On. July 16, 2022

Carrying my son Christopher through New York City many years ago. He was quite heavy! Not sure if I walked with a limp that day, but I do now. Carry on.

One of my favorite songs is “Carry On” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (you can listen to it here). In fact, I often play it on the ride over to my son Christopher’s care facility. The song highlights the need to “carry on” in the face of severe loss. It is so very difficult to endure the daily pain and suffering of the dramatic loss in life Christopher has experienced, that we all have experienced, since his traumatic brain injury in January 2021.

Some of my friends who are familiar with tragedy share stories of how others were troubled that they were still grieving weeks, months, and years after their loss. Sometimes my friends have been told to “move on.” Move on? Hardly! You can’t just move on if you are being honest. Otherwise, the loss was not all that significant in the first place. Those of us who have endured life-altering loss and trauma cannot move on, but we can carry on.

I have been thinking even more about this subject in view of the recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Highland Park, Illinois, where I once lived, as well as the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe in Japan, my wife’s country. One article that I read in view of these shootings recounted how Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan told a group of mourners after a similar tragedy in Florida several years ago: “We don’t move on, we move forward” amidst loss.

I can’t speak for you, only me. So, how do I move forward or carry on? By being honesty, employing humor, and cultivating an honorable life that brings honor to those we have lost or who have endured great loss in life. The following points are not exhaustive, but illustrative of how I seek to carry on.

Honesty

Let’s start with honesty. I try to surround myself with people who are honest about suffering and who try to find meaning and purpose through their ordeal. Take for example my friend, Dr. David E. Stevens’ new book, Life With a Limp: Discovering God’s Purpose in Your Pain. David and his wife, Mary Alice, lost their son Jonathan many years ago.

I had the privilege of writing the foreword for the volume. Pastor David is very honest about his grief and loss, while wrestling with God and Scripture in pursuit of meaning and purpose. He now walks throughout life with a limp, as do I. David’s honesty speaks volumes to me. He is the best kind of pastoral leader—honest with God, others, and himself. David walks, but with a limp. He doesn’t move on. He carries on. David’s honesty includes a keen sense of realistic hope that God will make all things new, that the sun will break through the clouds, and raise his son from the grave.

I am reminded here of the Apostle Paul’s words: “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57; NIV) This is honest, realistic hope that does not deny death or resurrected life.

Humor

Now let’s turn to humor. I also try to surround myself with people who can laugh amid sorrow, but not in some silly, foolish, escapist manner. In a post titled “On Grief and Moving Forward,” Rabbi Rachel Barenblat wrote: “We may need to grieve, but we must resist despair. Despair is corrosive, and it denies our agency and our ability to create change.”

One of my son’s care givers at his care facility is Jewish. I have written about him previously at my Patheos column. His mother escaped capture by the Nazis with the help of Corrie Ten Boom and her family. This caregiver has experienced much pain and loss over the years, as did his mother, but he also has a wonderful sense of humor. Like the rabbi, he understands that despair is corrosive and avoids it like the plague. Humor provides him and me with relief and a sense that not all is lost. This man has a limp, but he keeps walking. He never denies his personal agency or the ability to create change. If it weren’t for his honest and open outlook on life involving humor, he would never be able to care for my son the way he does. If it weren’t for him, and others like him at the facility, my son Christopher might not have made it this far.

Honor

Now let’s consider honor. I surround myself with people who wish to live honorable lives. This pursuit of honor includes honoring those they have lost or who have endured great loss. Have you ever noticed that a great many people who enter fields of healthcare, law, and social work do so because of tragedy and want to make the world a better place? Their courage and compassion are beautiful and profound. They may also have a passion to honor the memory and legacy of loved ones.

That’s how I feel about Christopher. I do all things now for Christ and for Christopher. If I give in to my grief and despair, how does that help my son? But if I try to find meaning and purpose and approach our ordeal as a journey with Jesus, the man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering who also conquers death and despair, I can advocate better for Christopher and hopefully encourage and bless others in the process.

Someone I know who has experienced the tragic loss of two family members, but who has not given into despair and lives an honorable life, closes her emails with the following tagline: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” She practices what she preaches and lives an honorable life that I believe blesses the memory of her loved ones. She inspires me to live an honorable life that blesses my son as we wait with realistic hope for him to heal. She carries on, like Pastor David and my son’s Jewish caregiver.

Carry on!

How about the rest of us? Do we give in, move on, or carry on? I encourage you to carry on with a lot of help from honest, humorous, and honorable lives, and with a little help from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Carry on!

To read the various updates and posts related to Christopher’s traumatic brain injury going back to January 2021, please go here. Thank you for your prayers and concern!

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University and Seminary and Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins. He is the author and editor of numerous works, including Evangelical Zen: A Christian's Spiritual Travels with a Buddhist Friend and Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse. You can read more about the author here.

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