Continuing my series blogging through Jerry Sitter’s book “a grace disguised”.
Chapter 5 – Sailing on the sea of nothingness.
I remember this chapter touching me in way that no other had because the author shared the very feelings I had been having during the weeks and months, and sometimes presently, regarding how to deal with the past, present and future after a tragic loss.
“Maybe the most sacred function of memory is just that: to render the distinction between past, present, and future ultimately meaningless; to enable us at some level of our being to inhabit that same eternity which it is said that God himself inhabits.” – Frances Buechner
Sittser opens the chapter describing his feelings about a dream of sailing on the ocean with this remaining family. As he gazed out beyond the boat he could see a lovely sight for which he wanted to visit, yet the boat would not go there. It’s as if it had a mind of it’s own and he had no control. I understood that analogy so well because that is what it was like for me when my daughter died. It’s the feeling like you have no control what has happened nor do you have any control over where you are going.
One of the key statements that Sittser makes in the first few paragraphs of this books is what I found to be both comforting and sorrowful. He said, “Loss creates a barren present….Those who suffer loss live suspended between the past for which they long and a future for which they hope.” I think this was the turning point in why I chose to continue reading this book initially after searching high and low for words that I could grab onto and feel like there was some kind of hope.
The bible gave me a lot of hope and filled my empty heart so many times; however, at some I needed to know, to hear, to believe that I was not alone in my thoughts. Because you begin to feel that you are living in a vacuum and nothing makes any sense. Things look foggy and it appears as if you may never see clearly again. Sittser’s book gave me some clarity.
I found people saying to me “but you have such great memories” during the weeks and months after Brittany died. But you see in the early stages of grief and loss, memories bring sorrow and wailing. A sorrow that has left you feeling amputated. And wailing that deafens the thoughts that continued to run through my mind about what happened. Reliving the moments, the twelve hours leading to her death.
Like Sittser, the memories did begin to bring some joy and even laughter as I could finally find a way to talk about her without it always bringing the last twelve hours of her life to the forefront. Even today I speak of Brittany and our life together because it is a part of me and it will always be a part me. I can’t turn away nearly eighteen years of life with her because it makes someone uncomfortable to talk of the dead. Which has been a problem I have experienced with several people, close people in my life.
My ability to speak about Brittany and to remember the fun times helps to put the not so great times behind me. Not that those thoughts will ever go away, but talking about her and reliving the great times, reduces the painful memories and lessens the blow. A very important factor my friends if you are friends with someone who has lost a child or a loved one. Please don’t shut them down because it pains you to hear about someone talk of a loved one that has passed. It’s a tragedy all by itself.
One of things I’ve learned over the past four years is that the emptiness does begin to fade as you begin to live your life again. But it will never go away. It will always be there to remind you of just how fragile life is and will always be. We are one second away from our lives changing dramatically from loss. As Sittser goes on to say about loss “Can anyone really expect to recover from such tragedy, considering the value of what was lost and the consequences of that loss? Recovering is misleading and empty expectation.”
People can recover from illness, surgeries, etc.; however people who have experience a tragic loss will never recover because there is no going back to the life you knew. There is no going back to see your loved one. Life as you knew it and the future you dreamed of is gone. And the future will always have the loss as part of your life. But the hope, for me, has been that even though I thought I’d never make it past the first year, I have and I have seen joy and I have laughed.
As the years pass, I continue to see that the future for me is bright. But know that the past does create a shadow sometimes over my life as it can over anyone you know who has lost a child. On those days it’s critical to be there, be present and listen. Listen to the pain, listen to the memories and validate the life that has been lost no matter the time that has past. It is my job and those who have lost to receive that gift of grace that comes with validation and the presence of those who take the time to listen.
until next time,