As I drove to the family gathering on Thanksgiving, the one riding shotgun tugged at my sleeve. Grief. My constant companion. It is always near. Travels to destinations with me sitting in the passenger seat of the car.
There is no locking grief in the car while I attend dinner with the family. Grief sneaks out and finds its way back to my side. Even on the days I think I can set grief aside, it tends to show up again. This is what grief is and does to me.
I have come to terms with this perpetual presence. The constant cloak of grief is draped over my shoulders. There are times when grief is a weighted blanket, threatening to suffocate me… stealing the very breath from my lungs. Other times grief is a crocheted prayer shawl taking away the chill of the winter evening as I read in an overstuffed chair. Then there are the times when grief is a mere handkerchief, tucked in my pocket, always at the ready.
Even though grief is perpetually the one riding shotgun in my life, I have come to terms with it. More than five years after my husband’s death, I have learned to cohabitate with grief.
This intimacy with grief seems to shape me in some way every single day. Sometimes in a positive way, and other times, not so much. For example, grief has caused many sleepless nights. It impacts the way I approach my new relationship in this dating world. Grief casts a shadow over the holiday gatherings, as well.
Grief’s constant presence has also deepened my walk with the Creator as I have learned its place in my day to day life. It undergirds my understanding of the biblical text unlike any other experience I have ever had. How else, I wonder, would I be able to really feel the pain of Naomi when she lost her husband and found herself without the support she needed? (See Ruth 1) Or the woman at the well who knew sorrow and isolation from being widowed and divorced? (See John 4:1- 42) Grief stands with me at the foot of the cross next to Mary as she mourns the loss of her son. (See John 19:25-27)
Grief prays with me. It plays with me. There are times I find that grief slips from my shoulders and allows me to be free of it as I engage with family and friends. There will come a time when grief may be stored in a wooden box on the shelf with some of the other hardships of my life. It will be labeled and always accessible for me to take out and sit with it for a while.
There will be other times when grief will sneak out of the box on its own, and it bears down once again on my shoulders. But that’s okay. I have made peace with grief. I know its presence is forever a part of me, riding shotgun in my life.
I can go days without its reminder, only to look in the mirror and see grief in my own eyes. Tears come at unexpected times. Even things that should not upset me, sometimes disquiet me because of my perennial companion. At those times, I cozy up on the couch and write in my journal, regaling the pages with the events that lead to the grief resurfacing, once again. I wish it were different, but sadly I will always have my grief with me.
This is my sixth Christmas without my husband. It still feels weird heading into the season. The grief is not as strong. Yet I pause a bit, feeling sad, knowing his stocking will not find its place on the mantle. When taking out the nativity sets he gifted me, I pause for a few moments in sorrow. There is still an emptiness, a void which is difficult to fill. Even with new people coming into my life, the weight of the grief occasionally tugs at my ever-mending heart.
I dare not cast grief aside and pretend it doesn’t exist. Grief is as much a part of me as my hazel eyes, size nine feet, and naturally curly hair. The grief in my eyes, and the smile on my face can not conceal it. Yet there is hope. I am finding joy each day. Laughter overshadows the sorrow. There are far more good days than sorrow-filled ones.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
As you gather with friends and family this holiday season, be aware that you have folks in your circle who have grief riding shotgun. For some grief is raw, and for others it is more distant because of the time that has passed since the loss. Be ready. These folks will come to your house. They will join you for holiday celebrations. Will spend a night out on the town with you. And do you know what? They will be joining you with their own grief companion.
Sitting with you at the table, they will have grief riding shotgun. What will you do? How will you engage these friends and family members? They need to know how much you care. They need you to recognize that regardless of how much time has passed, they are still grieving in one way shape or form. They need you to know that things are not always easy because of the grief they carry.
Please, talk to us about our grief. Ask us about the one we lost. Don’t pretend like we have not had a loss. We need your acknowledgement. It hurts when people don’t ask us how we are doing. We cringe when we hear platitudes like “You should be over it by now.” We all grieve at different pace and in our own way. If you truly love us, recognize our grief. It will make all the difference.
Loving Lord, thank You for riding shotgun with me alongside my grief. You have always been present with me in the good times and in the difficult. Heading into this holiday season, give me an extra measure of peace and hope. I know that even though my grief never leaves, that there are many wonderful, joy-filled days ahead. Don’t let me get stuck in my grief. I love You, Lord. I couldn’t do this life without you. Amen.
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