Essays on Faith: When grief keeps repeating

Essential reporting in volatile times.

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Rain came down in torrents. As the thirsty earth drank it in, it released a distinctive aroma that is evident only in springtime. The freeway, black and wet, reflected the headlights of oncoming cars, making it next to impossible to see.

It was only by God’s Grace that I was able to get home safely that morning between 4 and 5 a.m. Although I normally avoid driving in darkness due to night blindness, I somehow made my way home, not only in darkness, but also, in the worst possible weather conditions — not to mention my unstable physical and emotional state.

I had just spent 19 straight hours at the hospital. It had been the worst day and night of my life. And I had been forced to leave behind someone very special.

I felt sick. Empty.

It had seemed almost farcical when two men from the funeral home showed up wearing suits and ties at 4 a.m. along with face masks in accordance with the governor’s wishes to help keep the coronavirus under control.

From my perspective, the whole scene appeared inappropriate — wrong.

Years ago, when my mother passed away, there was no limit to the number of people who could be with her. Several family members were there. When she breathed her last breath, I turned to my husband, thankful for the strong arms that held me as I cried.

When my father passed, the whole family, including grandchildren, was there to witness the pleasant smile on his face and hear his nurse declare, “He’s dancing with the angels now.”

But this time, there will be no such bittersweet memories.

Only two people at a time were allowed in the room due to the hideous virus that has changed our lives drastically over the past few months. The rules have changed everywhere — for everyone — even for those leaving this world. There was no one to console my daughter and me. We were on our own.

A very kind nurse made an attempt. “As a mother,” she said, “it must be very special to feel that first heartbeat and then be holding his hand as it beats its last.”

Pulling into my driveway, it occurred to me that I had missed a terrible storm while locked away in my own private anguish, not seeing or hearing anything except what was happening to me and my family.

Trash cans rolled around aimlessly in my yard, tree limbs were scattered about, a trellis, laden with beautiful clematis blooms, was broken and leaning to one side. The rain was still coming down.

At any other time, I would have been upset by the damage left behind by this storm, but this morning, nothing mattered.

I felt numb.

That was three weeks ago. Seems like yesterday. That night lingers in my mind like a bad dream.

On a good day, I imagine I’m getting better. Grateful for God’s help, I practice reciting these lines from The Prayer of Protection: “The presence of God watches over me. Wherever I am, God is.” They remind me that I am always in the presence of God — a presence that brings peace.

I willingly and gratefully accept the peace of the indwelling Christ and carry it with me throughout the day.

But then, quite unexpectedly, I experience “grief bursts” — moments or days when my grief is especially painful, and I realize I have a long way to go.

C. S. Lewis said it best: “For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats.”

I’ve been told it might take months or even years to complete my grieving process, but I know that people grieve in different ways.

There is no formula for grieving.

When Jesus heard the news of John the Baptist’s death, he sought solitude. Some of us, like Jesus, may need to deal with our grief alone. However, He didn’t dwell on His grief, but returned to the ministry He came to do. Matt. 14:13, 14.

On the other hand, when Jacob died at the age of 147, his son, Joseph, wept and mourned for months. Gen. 50: 1-11.

When someone close to us dies, we may need a long time to work through our grief. We must allow ourselves time enough to complete the grieving process without following a schedule.

I’m discovering that many friends and family members don’t know how to be helpful to those who’ve lost a loved one. It seems that other grieving people are the only ones who understand.

A lady who’s also lost a child said to me, “We’re members of a group that no one wants to join.”

She understands. I understand.

Perhaps we can help others understand.

Peggy Toney Horton lives in Nitro.

Essays on Faith may be submitted to gazette@wvgazettemail.com.

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