At the beginning of the week I spend time with a sweet 2-year-old boy who said goodbye to his baby sister a month ago. The baby he prayed for and loved on, the baby that would get to grow old with him, lived for only 40 minutes on this Earth. The other day he pointed up to Heaven and sang to me about his “baby thitthy.” Tell me, how do you grasp grief as a 2-year-old? How do you understand death?
I remember being tucked into bed by family and dear friends the night that my mom died. I prayed that I wouldn’t dream that night, because I just wanted to rest. I was scared of what my dreams may hold. How do you grasp grief as a 9-year-old? How do you understand death?
I can still recall the one-sided conversation I overheard of the phone call to my family explaining that my grandad had died. It was Easter Sunday. I remember immediately meeting other family members at my grandparents’ house to hug my Mimi and all be together. How do you grasp grief as a 72-year-old? How do you understand death?
I know next to nothing, and also too much, about grief and loss. And I don’t think any of it gets easier with age.
I know that in my own life, grief has been a little bit like a volcano: dormant at times, and then everything suddenly rises to the surface all at once in a really messy way for reasons deep, deep down.
I know that grief is a process, a life-long process I would say. But I don’t think there is only one way to grieve. Grief to me, and to people that I’m close to, has varied; and often looks more like a roller coaster than a processional path.
The other day I was having dinner with a good friend, cool as a cucumber, when suddenly and out of nowhere… I just got angry. So angry.
In a public restaurant, while everyone else was just minding their own business.
I didn’t project my anger outwardly, which may have been easier, instead I just felt every bit of it slide down my body as I tensed up.
Now, you may be thinking I was actually hangry (hungry/angry) since I mentioned dinner, but alas, I was just purely angry.
Tears started welling up in my eyes and I had to furiously blink them away and do some quiet breathing exercises to get my blood pressure to go down. I tried to tune in to what my friend was saying, but the harder I tried the harder it all became.
She wasn’t saying anything that was making me angry.
I wasn’t angry with her at all.
It wasn’t anything happening around me that was causing this anger.
My friend proceeded to talk some more, completely unaware of what was happening inside my heart (which was not her fault since I’m an expert at concealing my feelings… which hardly ever ends up benefiting me). She began to talk about college things, which is mainly what I talk about these days, but right then, in that moment, it just made sick to my stomach. Because college? That’s 5 months away. College means that life is going on, college means the world did not stop spinning.
And, it’s true. Life is very much continuing on…
Life did not stop for my dear friend when her baby girl took her last breath after 40 minutes on this Earth.
Life didn’t stop for her.
Life did not stop for their precious son whom I love with my whole heart that won’t get to grow up with his baby sister.
Life didn’t stop for him either.
And life did not stop for me.
I am angry about death. I am angry at the unfairness in all of it. Angry at the brokenness of it all.
I’m angry that my mom had to die when I was 9 years old.
Angry that it feels like the grave has power.
Angry that death’s sting is so very present and real right now.
I just want a time-out.
I want life to stop flying before my eyes for just one moment.
I remember being home alone once, as a child, when a tornado warning was in effect. I was alternating between The Weather Channel and Disney Channel, wondering how Hannah Montana could be singing about having the best of both worlds when I was so scared. How could the TV characters be acting so happy and normal when I was cowering and afraid? How was it that their lives were continuing on while mine felt like it was sitting at a stand-still?
That’s how I feel sometimes, especially recently. I feel like I’m watching people be happy and joyful, and I’m participating in that joy for the most part, but with a taste of bitter behind every sweet moment.
But still, I can see the beauty in this too. Sometimes the beautiful is more clear, not in spite of, but because of, the messy.
I still remember every last detail of the day that my mom died, 8 years ago. I understood what was happening but I couldn’t fully grasp how drastically my life was about to change. It was about to get very messy, and also very beautiful.
Not a mere minute went by after my mom’s death that I was not surrounded by love from family, friends, and strangers.
That love has been the absolute most beautiful part of my life.
Definitely messy, because we are all human, but more beautiful and precious than all the diamonds in the world.
The provision that I’ve been handed in the form of dear women becoming mamas to me is something that I will never fully understand. It’s a gift that I keep getting to unwrap every day of my life.
I know with my entire being that I have the greatest second moms on this Earth. I can (and do) talk to them about anything. The little things and the big things. All of it. It’s extremely messy. And oh-so-beautiful.
Isn’t it just like God to point to your greatest place of hurt and say “That, THAT is where I am going to bring heaps and heaps of restoration and provision in your life.”
I do have moments of anger and sadness like I mentioned earlier, and each one matters, but I also have unsurpassable moments of absolute joy and peace. Moments when the goodness of God is so tangible I can hardly breathe. My life is one of thin spaces, where Heaven is touching Earth time and time again. I believe I have my dear friends, family, and second moms to thank for this. Parts of these relationships just feel too good to really exist here. Heaven kisses Earth in those moments.
And it’s not just in the good times. Sometimes Heaven is nearest in the hardest times. It’s normal to grieve. It’s good to feel your feelings. I believe that God is angry for the unfairness alongside me. I know His heart. I know that watching us experience grief and pain must break it. His tears were the first that fell for me.
Yes, life is both messy and beautiful, but sometimes the mess is more clear than the beauty. And I believe that in those moments, it’s okay to just sit in the mess for awhile.
Without a doubt, I would absolutely love to have my mom here with me. And, I know she’s with Jesus, I know the verses of encouragement and all the “right” things people are supposed to say. I know she’s still a huge part of my life…. But, it’s not the same. It’s not fine. It’s not ever easy. It’s not always okay.
But, somehow, with the hands of dearest people interlocked with my own, I can stand today and tell you that, even so, It Is Well. Even so… It Is Well With My Soul.
I can’t change my story. I can only embrace it. And that doesn’t mean fake smiles or forced happiness. That means hard, messy, beautiful work.
The master Potter from Isaiah 64:8 has crafted beauty out of a mess of clay.
When so much life comes from such death…
That is my Messy Beautiful.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project over at our friend Glennon’s blog— To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!