Sara writes a lot more on our blog here about grief than I do. A lot of that has to do with how we are hard wired so differently. I usually have a more difficult time sharing the more personal aspects of life unless there’s a solid biblical lesson or exhortation I can pull out of it. Like most men, I don’t typically wear my emotions very close to the surface, though Sara often reminds me how much of it is actually written on my face like it’s God’s billboard. A lot of times, I can’t really even describe what I’m feeling in the moment and it may take some time before I can adequately put it into coherent thoughts. I’m currently reading Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson (more on that in another post), and one thing he points out as a differentiatior between boys and girls that persists into adulthood is this inability we men and boys have to think and emote at the same time. It just comes so naturally to women that we can often be caught off guard by intense emotional reactions. Us guys though…sometimes it takes a bit to connect the two halves of the brain together.
Over the last month or so, I’ve been struggling to make such a connection because it’s an emotion I keep way down deep and don’t often let come up to the surface for air. You see, today I’m going to see my son for the first time since he went home with Jesus. I’ve had a business trip planned for the last three months that took me close enough to our hometown where he is buried that I could finagle some extra time to finally make it to the cemetery. For the first two months since the visit was planned, I was so busy with work and ministry and home life that I just didn’t really take much time to reflect on it. Over this last month, though, I have been unusually emotional (and sometimes a little crabby), especially when thinking about this brief visit home. I’ve been excited about seeing my dad and spending some quality time with my brother, but the trip has been looming over me like a distant thunderstorm rumbling in. Still, I chose to put the emotion aside and deal with the here and now of life. Look, emotions are scary for guys, ok? We’re conditioned to have it all together and handle the situation. Yet, most dad’s will tell you that while that outer shell is hard, it’s incredibly thin when it comes to our kids. Don’t assume that just because a man is cool, calm, and collected on the surface that there isn’t a torrent of emotion going on underneath.
As I sit here on the plane drawing ever closer to where my son is laid to rest, I am simply overcome with fear of what will bubble to the surface once I get there. While I wouldn’t say I have repressed all of my grief over the last year, I have to be honest and admit that I think of Luke every single day and there are times when I actively redirect my mind to think of something else because I don’t have time or am not in a place to let myself feel. It happens a lot more often than it should and sometimes devolves into habit. It’s not the healthiest way to go about life, I know, but…it’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Anyway…it’s led me to where I am today. When Sara and the kids came to visit Luke’s grave, I was working nights on an exercise and couldn’t go and it’s eaten me up that I haven’t been able to before now. The last time I was in my son’s presence was at the funeral home viewing. As I sat in a pew in a small chapel room staring through tears at his casket, I’d never felt so empty. My entire body was numb and I just couldn’t move or feel anything except the hole in my chest. I don’t remember hearing any sounds or smelling any smells. The color of the room felt like an old noir film. If Sara hadn’t prompted me that we needed to go take care of something else, I could have sat there forever. Time just seemed to stand still. That feeling…that emptiness…that hurt is what I keep running from, and now I’m walking straight into it.
As it turns out, it was every bit as hard as I was expecting. However, it was exactly what I needed. The moment I saw the grave marker, I broke down and it took me a while to recover to form a coherent thought. That same paralyzing emptiness hit me and the world around me just disappeared. The thing about grief; particularly losing a child; is that time does not take the edge away if you haven’t dealt with it. It doesn’t just go away. If you don’t deal with your grief (whatever it may be) it will not just go away. Time doesn’t soften the blow. As much as you may want to avoid feeling the pain, you will have to confront it eventually.
After a while, I recovered enough strength to think clearly. I didn’t know what else to do, so I began to pray. I asked God to tell Luke how much I loved him and that I miss him. I asked Him to turn this ugly event into something beautiful that brings glory to His name and give it meaning. I could have asked God to take the pain away, and that would have been a natural request for anyone struggling with grief. However, I don’t believe that it would actually make us happy if He did that. You see, that pain and emptiness is what connects us to those we lost. When we cease to hurt and long for them, they no longer hold a place in our hearts. I cannot replace my son and I would never want anyone to try because the minute he loses his special place in our hearts, we lose the ability to use him to bring glory to God with his short life.
After I had some prayer, I decided to sing. I went through all of the songs that my other kids request at bedtime: Jesus Loves Me, Amazing Grace, Old Rugged Cross, As the Deer, and Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. Now, I know that my son was not there listening to me sing. I was singing to Jesus who is holding my boy. I let the words of those songs soothe my soul. We’re always asking God to give us comfort in hard times. So often, that comfort comes in reminders of who God is and His love for us. When you’re staring headlong into a pain that will never end as long as your draw breath, the only thing that can provide comfort is knowing that God has made it temporary. One day I’ll step into eternity and be greeted by my Savior who will wipe away all tears. And then, finally, I will embrace my son.