Stop Fighting Grief When Death Is the Enemy.
How grief brings us deeper into truth.
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“Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:11, CSB)
I stared at our unvacuumed carpet, the phone slipping from my hand as I released an unhinged scream. She was going to die, and I wasn’t there. Instead of standing by her bed, I was chained to mine, with only beige walls to keep me company. I’d had a spinal tap two days before and fluid had leaked, which caused a headache so explosive that I longed for the migraine I’d suffered with for the past three months. I couldn’t walk to the driveway much less drive to the hospital. The last time I’d seen her would be our goodbye.
Text messages later in the night told me the end was near, and then came those words that I knew should comfort me but only left me desolate: “She is with Jesus.” I fell asleep long after midnight and woke up a few hours later to a half-second of blissful forgetfulness before seeing my phone on the pillow next to me. I felt the scream rising up in my body again. I didn’t release it that time.
That was almost a year ago. Sometimes, I can still feel the scream inside me. There are days when the memory needles at me relentlessly, and there are days when it simply seems to be waving from across the way, offering a neighborly nod before calling out, “Just saying hi. Wanted you to know I’m here.” I have no control over which days will be which. They have no pattern. They do not call ahead.
I often channel Psalm 42, where David puts the raging unpredictability of grief on display. He has a conversation with himself—speaking in metaphor and interrogation, in memories and pleas. He pants for God as a deer pants for water. He questions his own soul as a lawyer questions a witness. He recalls the days when he led others in worshipping God. He begs himself to remember the tenderness of God.
David—and I—long for certainty that God is good enough to triumph over the oppression of grief. In these verses, David frantically grasps for assurance. And occasionally, comfort washes over him. Other times, though, comfort evaporates as unpredictably as the events that hurled him into mourning.
I used to think of grief as linear, as if having my heart ripped from my body could be managed neatly and methodically. But now, I understand grief to be cyclic, stacked even. One phase right on top of the other, and everything all at once. On the days when the scream echoes inside of me, calling me into anger and depression, I find relief in this new understanding. And on the days when my grasping fingers brush against acceptance, I am devastated. I want acceptance to be the sure, permanent thing. If I have to endure grief, the worst of all consolation prizes, can it at least be predictable?
But acceptance always wriggles out of my clenched fists. No sooner have I remembered the songs of God than I am pleading with my soul to tell me why it is so disturbed.
The realization that grief cycles this way—with no discernable patterns or plans—has nudged me toward a different understanding of acceptance. I no longer believe that I must arrive at a finish life, no longer questioning or resisting that which breaks the heart of God. Instead, I seek to accept the cycle, accept the scream, and accept the love of God all at once.
I’m finding that to put my hope in God, as David implored his soul to do, is to trust that God’s nearness to me has not changed—even on days when I wake up and feel that the Spirit’s presence has fallen away like a quilt kicked off in the night. So I pour out my soul. I remember. And I praise the God who does not require me to understand, but who keeps his love set upon me, even amidst my screams.