Quietly standing at the edge of the crowd that came to pay tribute, she stands alone longing to be all alone with her sibling just one more time. Solemnly, in reverence for the life he lived, she moves within a few feet from the coffin, hoping to steal away just a few moments to collect her thoughts and convey her love to his shell. Seconds turn into a minute before she is interrupted by a hand on her shoulder meant to comfort and unify. She is sadly disappointed to not have more time to just be in the presence of the man who passed too quickly from this earth.
Funerals are the earmarks of suffering. Funerals are difficult, whether the funeral culminates in: a life well lived; an illness, albeit a quick death or prolonged illness after a diagnosis; a tragic loss through murder, still birth, suicide. Depending on your family traditions, funerals or wakes can be a time of celebrating the lives of those no longer with us; this celebration of life can assist in all stages of our grief.
I remember going to the funeral of a childhood friend, Laura, under the age of 8. As it goes, Laura was excited to ride her bike in the neighborhood. Back then a helmet was simply not used. Just before leaving, her mom reminded Laura to stop at the stop signs and look both ways. A neighbor driving down the street had hit my friend as she pedaled through the stop sign, not heeding her mom’s caution. She hung on for several days in the hospital; seeing her laying still on the hospital bed has never left me. Laura’s family and the driver have never been the same. These scars have thick layers of regret mingled with soul-wrenching sorrow; you cannot see these scars with our eyes, they are there nonetheless. I have attended funerals for family and friends who have lost a parent, child, or sibling. I have attended funerals for my relatives and friends. In my view, the most tragic are those who were young, with more life to live, those who never got to experience life, or those who chose to take their own life.
About twenty years after my friend Laura’s funeral, I attended Anastasia’s funeral, supporting our dear friends grieving the loss of their first child. My husband and I, along with a handful of others, attended her funeral; Anastasia was still born at 23 1/2 weeks. I can still picture her perfect face that clearly reflected her beautiful mother. Throughout these 25 years since, as I look at my eldest, the memories of my friend’s difficult pregnancy and birth have found my mind’s eye; what would Anastasia have liked or disliked; how tall would she be; would she still be a ‘mini-me’ of my friend? The conversations shared following her daughter’s passing are tucked into my heart; her pain, grief and desires are still heard from time to time. The four of us felt such relief when our son (and not a daughter) was born 7 weeks later; they were the first visitors to welcome him.
Various situations can cause scarring: death; broken relationships; divorce; violations to our physical, mental, or emotional state. Each represent the loss of something once held precious. In medical terms according to WebMD.com, scars are formed after an injury when collagen fibers form to assist in healing. So, scars are to assist in healing. Realistically, they can cause more future difficulty physically, emotionally and spiritually. Physical scars can actually cause so much pain that surgery if performed to remove the them. It is the emotional and spiritual scars that can be challenging because they are not easily detectable.
Do you have any scars from various accidents growing up? I definitely do. There are a two scars that cannot be missed, one less than and one greater than 6 inches. The larger scar has taught me how to cope with nagging aches throughout the years. Ironically enough, the smaller scars have caused the deepest invisible pain. There is no way to conveniently forget the scars when the healing initially began; now, the scars themselves and their cause do not get a second’s thought. You may have scars that run as deep and in many instances, deeper than mine. Maybe you still experience the sharp devastating blow of unforeseen loss or you may have moved to a more dull ache.
How could ‘lovely scar’ be descriptors of suffering? Stay with me for one more illustration. The first time I got to hear Tami’s story was 7 years ago. In 2008 she had 5 children, the eldest 20 years old. He had been murdered in his new apartment, moments after saying good-bye to his mom. Why? It really does not matter, does it? He was brutally taken from his mother, from his 4 younger siblings, from his 2 step-siblings, from his step-father, from his father!
That is a tragically deep scar.
She did not blame God or ask the proverbial, “Why me?”
Was she angry? Yes.
At God? No.
What did she do to manage the loss, pain and anger? She literally cried out to God Almighty and told Him how her thoughts and feelings: could she have some way stopped the murder; grateful to God for the time she had with her son; desired justice for the young man that took her son’s life; anger over his death; anger over the fact her son was no longer here with her; anger over her son not being alive for his siblings and family. There was more, I am sure.
I want to punctuate something here. Tami had a choice then and has a choice now. As she shared with me, 7 years ago and in the years since, she thanks God for the time she had with her son; she refuses to look at what she does not have, but what she had been given. Such a testimony to me and I hope to you.
I am not saying my friend is perfect. I am saying that she chose to look at her horrific tragedy (words fail me here!) with a grateful heart. NO easy task. When I look at my friend, I see loveliness in her scars. The beauty of relying on a God that is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, who relents to bring calamity upon us, as it is written in Joel 2:13. It was not easy when she lost her son nor was it easy when she experienced her husband’s death two years ago. She does not understand the reasoning, however Tami understands the character of God as written in Joel.
Suffering is difficult. Many times our suffering should be shared with someone we trust. Why? You do not want to just cope, as I learned to do with my larger scar. You are still here on earth, meant to live, whether or not you want to or agree. In the proper sharing of our pain we can find some relief. When receiving care from another, an opportunity for our ache to lessen is provided. More importantly, when experiencing such monumental loss and grief, we must allow ourselves to feel. Tami did. She was careful with whom she shared. She ran into the comfort of her Father, even when she did not understand the whys. She shared with those who would point her back to the knowledge that Jesus himself knew grief at the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus was compassionate to his friend’s sisters along with those he met that experienced illness and loss. I pray you find that same comfort. As always, I will be praying for you, that you will find rest, peace and joy in your journey through grief.