I am currently living in an experiment, of sorts. A case study on grief and suffering. I've learned so much about the human experience, about God's desire to be known even in our suffering, about how inadequate the Church seems to be when it comes to compassionately coming alongside a grieving a suffering person, and about how we (perhaps as a result of all of the above) tend to neglect ourselves the opportunity to fully experiencing a more honest and even more Godly type of grief and suffering. We bottle up, sweep under the rug, "claim healing", and basically ignore the real weight of the cross we bear. Or, we simply don't know how to "deal" with it, and we let it consume our lives.
The most powerful "teaching moments" which God is using to speak into my own life are those where I'm relating personally with others in situations similar to my own-- those who are experiencing grief, suffering, and so-on-- be it the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, or what-have-you. A very interesting and complex example of this type of relationship is the one I have with Leslie's family... MY family, I guess... We all loved the same Leslie, witnessed the same tragedy together, yet each of our own "journeys" have been so different, these past 5 months. What follows is an email conversation that took place between my mother-in-law, ("Gram", as TJ calls her; "Mom", as I call her), and myself this past week, shortly after I posted my previous entry.
From: Vicki Bucher firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Tyson Aschliman email@example.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 4:47:42 PM
Hi Ty... your posts have become part of the healing process for me. I can't read them without crying, which is ok, because they really make me think and help me work through my pain and broken heart. I am very thankful and happy that Indy was so good for you. I know if must have been very healing for your friends there also. So THANKS for being you and for being my son-in-law! My prayers keep changing, depending on my needs I guess, but for the past week I have asked for a spirit of gratitude, for His mercy and grace and for healing for my broken heart. Now I've added help me to "surrender" to His will. I ask for forgiveness for my doubts and fears and anger. I'm trying to focus on the living, and all of the good things in my life. So, anyway, little by little, I think I am going to make it. Did WI get the snow they were predicting? Take care and get back safely. I love you.
From: Tyson Aschliman firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 9:29 AM
Being able to pray for healing of your own broken heart is an important step, I've learned, Mom. Not sure if I told you the story or not... As you know, those first two months were some sloppy, snotty, messy, teary months for me. I was a wreck. That's basically how I envisioned "grieving" being. Certainly, there were positives, and I learned a lot, and God was right there with me, as He was with Job and Solomon and David and Jesus as they wept and mourned and "suffered". But interpersonally, I wasn't really much good to anyone. I was basically paralyzed, emotionally and spiritually. And I know that's okay. Some people are still "there", years after losing a loved one... and God can be honored in that, too. But one morning, a week or two after the last memorial service, I just cried out and said "UNCLE"! Here's a summary of a prayer I prayed that morning, on me knees, weeping in the shower, trying to get up the energy to get myself ready for work:
"God, I miss her. I thank You for her. I will stay here forever and weep and mourn and grieve her loss-- I loved her THIS MUCH. But God, You took her from me. She is no longer here. No longer my wife. She is now Your beautiful bride. And I am left here to live without her. God, I don't desire to live without her. But I desire to desire to live again. God, either hold me here to suffer forever until You take me home as well, or pick me up and heal me and teach me to live again. But Lord, do not wait. Waste no time. If You are going to move, then get on with it and heal me. Because I'm no good to anyone like this. I'm certainly not any good to Leslie like this. Be glorified in my grief or be glorified in healing me. But if you're going to move, get on with it. My life is yours."
You see, Mom, I was somehow deeply attached to my grief. Like it somehow made me feel closer to Leslie. It was a proverbial shaking of my fist at the cruelty of the world, to suffer like that. "I'll show YOU how bad this life SUCKS!!! Look at me now! Feel this PAIN!" That is certainly all part of the "healing process"-- a necessary and yes, even God-glorifying one. But again, I reached the point where I said that prayer (above) that morning in the shower. I didn't necessarily want to be "freed" of that grief... but I wanted to WANT to live again. (Because frankly, in that deep and dark place of grief, I can't say I truly desired to live again.)
Anyway... Like I said... it wasn't immediate. But I believe that moment was the beginning of what I can only describe as the miraculous healing that I've come to acknowledge today... this "filling back up" of my heart by God, according to His unpredictable will and wonderful grace. Two weeks later, I was getting ready for work again, and it dawned on me, as I sat on my bed, buttoning up my shirt, looking at all our photos on the dresser... I wasn't crying. In fact... I hadn't cried in days. (Previously, I had been crying dozens of times a day.) Actually, I was smiling... smiling at how pretty she was... at how happy we were. But it was this crazy awakening to the fact that the sadness was indeed being replaced with nostalgia. "Missing her" was being replaced with beautiful memories. It used to be, at night, when I missed her most, that I would close my eyes tightly, squeezing out tears, and try to imagine her beside me... holding my big body pillow, pretending it was her, almost willing her back to life... back to my side. But I began to realize, as I caught myself smiling at her pictures that morning, rather than crying, that something was changing in my heart... and it wasn't from me. I began to realize that in fact, God heard that prayer... and even more amazing... he was answering it... with a "yes", even! (I'd forgotten that He does that, from time to time... gives us the desires of our hearts...)
I called Anna (Leslie's and my friend, who I spoke of in the "Indy" post) that morning to share the revelation with her, told her about the prayer on that morning 2 weeks prior, and it brought tears to her eyes. That previous week, she had had a dream where Leslie visited her from Heaven, and the two friends hung out and watched Will and TJ play together, just like they'd always dreamed. Leslie was beautiful, Anna tells me-- more beautiful than ever. Glowing-- almost like Jesus, post-transfiguration. And she was happy. She just kept saying, "Anna, I can't believe how happy I am now. I'm SO HAPPY!" (This, of course, is significant because of how Anna walked with Leslie through her regular bouts with depression.) They talked for awhile about Sarah (Anna's sister who had gone to Heaven years prior) and Heaven and Anna was so encouraged, and then Leslie said, "Anna, I want you to tell Tyson how happy I am... And part of that is seeing that they're doing well. I just want them to be happy, and I see that they will be... and I see that it's starting now. And I just want them to know that that makes me so happy." At that point in the dream, I showed up... knocked on the door. Anna said, "Tyson, guess who's here!" And we both turned around and Leslie was gone. She didn't want to be seen by me, according to Anna's interpretation, because she was afraid it would affect the "healing process" or whatever, that God was doing. Crazy, huh? Anyway, this was just confirmation that there was something eternal and powerful at work, here.
Anyway, I share that with you, because it's right in line with what you're talking about... beginning to pray for God to heal your broken heart. Mom, we'll never get over Leslie. She'll always be my wife-- my better half. She'll always be your daughter-- your flesh and blood. But part of life-long grieving is learning to live your life again... letting your loss teach you to love better. And we can be confident that Leslie is, indeed, "in better hands now". I keep saying it, because it rings truer every time I confess it... Leslie wouldn't give up a single breath now, in exchange for another whole 7 years back here with me, even as great as those 7 years were. She's just in a better place now.
I've seen so many examples of what can happen when we get caught in this "twilight zone" of mourning/ suffering-- when a family can't learn to live without a loved one. Where surviving family members are still in a place with their grief and loss where it is basically preventing them from loving the others that remain in their lives. People can cling to their grief to the point that depression and other issues can slip into their lives, "paralyzing" them, preventing them from acting on their love the way they should. Or perhaps people bottle it up, hiding it from the world, lest they be viewed as weak-- lest others be compelled to come "rescue" them, which would make matters only worse. Certainly, it is not a waste of effort to grieve a loved one. It is not a waste of tears to cry and weep. But there is a point where we need to let it make us into better people. God will do that, if we abide in Him. He will make you a better mom (as if that's something any of us could actually fathom). :) He'll make me into a better man-- a better husband, even, someday. He'll make us a stronger family. If we can trust Him with Leslie... if we can abide in Him here, in her absence. That's not to be equated with saying we're "getting over it". On the contrary... we are learning to live without her... or rather, we are learning to live with her absence. We are allowing her life and death and the completion of her life again, here and now, to change us... To transform us-- not entirely different from how she has been transformed-- into better versions of ourselves, because we can taste the sweetness of Heaven through her. We can have the blessing of a fuller understanding of the Gospel... of hope and grace and peace and eternal love... BECAUSE of our suffering-- not "in spite" of it. But before we "get there", we need to be willing to let God heal our hearts... We need to be willing to at least want to live again. Even "without" Leslie. And that, I know first-hand, is the hardest thing to do.
Mom, one other thing I'll encourage you to do, as I've learned to do via my study of Job and David and Solomon and Paul and the others... (I'm truly sorry to be "giving advice", but you, I sense, could stand to hear this-- and it's not from me... it's simply what God is teaching me...) Don't just ask for forgiveness for your doubts and fears and anger, as you said in your previous note... POUR THEM OUT to God. Don't hide them from Him. His grace is big enough to cover them. His holiness will not be affected negatively because you dare to tell Him just how pissed off you are at Him. Or how much you doubt that He is actually listening to you... Or the dissonance in your own mind between knowing that He is a loving and compassionate God, but just not feeling it at any given moment. In fact... in that place of honest confession and "wrestling" with Him (you DO know where Israel got his name, right?)... it is in THAT place that His grace abounds all the more. Where the Gospel comes alive. Where God is glorified as He stands up and eventually says... PEACE. BE STILL. MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT. I AM YOUR GOD, AND YOU ARE MY CHILD.
Mom, I'm still wrestling. I always will. But I'm letting Him teach me to live and love better through it. That's all this is. I've given Leslie over to Him, and accepted my "cross", so to speak. I'm not ignoring my cross... I'm bearing it.
Anyway... That's what I have to say about that this morning. I could go on, but it would become redundant, if it hasn't already... Know that I love you, and I want you to know that I will forever love and cherish and honor your daughter, in the eternal/ spiritual sense, (as I can no longer do that in the physical sense-- she is no longer here), even as I bear this cross and "move on"-- and even do so in joy... even "happiness" at times. Seriously... Would Leslie want it any other way for us? I miss her, too Mom. And I smile at the memories every day, giving thanks to God for the life she lived, and the life she gave me.
Talk to you soon.
From: Vicki Bucher email@example.com
To: Tyson Aschliman firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Friday, December 12, 2008 10:28:42 AM
I seriously don't know why it took me so long to specifically ask for healing for my broken heart ( I guess my heart hurt too much!) I totally hear you about that deep and dark place of grief and not truly desiring to live again. That was me for sure. Since I've been praying for the spirit of gratitude and for His mercy and grace and HEALING of my broken heart...I can honestly say I am doing much better. Your prayer in the shower asking Him to teach you to live again..I am going to continue to ask that. I just think I've been too weary to even know what to ask Him and that is certainly what I want (at least now)-- I want to live again.
Your post on the pouring out was very helpful to me also. I really don't believe I was pouring out and after reading that I was making more of an effort to do that, not only to Him but being willing to do that to friends ... really sharing how I'm doing etc. I was holding back before that I think. Even to the point of avoiding people (I'm very good at dodging/avoiding people that I thought would bring it up & just reopening the wound). I began to just let the tears come when they wanted to with people, not running away from my emotions.
Anna's dream is just so real..I am so jealous. I have not had any dreams about Leslie. I can't figure that out. Dad, Dana, and Chris have dreams about her whether bad or good, but I can't remember having any dreams about her. I sleep like a rock, which is good I guess. Maybe God thinks I'm not ready for a dream, I don't know. But her dream WOW. The depression thing with Anna and Leslie...I am so very thankful that Leslie is free of that. You were an intregal part of her dealing with that, Ty. THANK YOU. She was doing so well considering everything that was going on. Thanks for loving her so much. You know, I almost always tell people "she's in a better place now or I say she's in better hands now" when they ask how I'm doing. And I hear you, each time I say that I'm REALLY beginning to believe it! Your description of how some families do or don't deal with a loved one's death is certainly something that we don't want our family to become. You are so right-on with your understanding of how we could get to that point. I am using Gerald Sittser's book on grief as a "reference" for lack of a better word. It has been so helpful to me. I can't remember if Gayle gave you a copy of it or not. His approach to his own loss of his wife, mom, and daughter in an accident basicly is what you are saying. We will never get over our loss, but we will "absorb" it and it will become a part of us. We will not be delivered from suffering, but with God's help we can be transformed by it.
As far as my asking for forgiveness for fear, doubt, anger, etc...this pouring out thing is new to me. Imagine that! I guess I didn't see it as I am hiding them from Him as He is all seeing, all knowing, so He knows how I am feeling. So, ok, I will POUR them out to Him. It's beginning to make sense. Nobody is ever too old to learn, right? But I am recognizing that the pouring out concept is making the burden somewhat lighter. Thanks Ty for taking the time to write to me. It was not redundant...I know I will read and reread it. I want to move on also and joy and happiness is gradually returning. I have so many wonderful things to live for including YOU AND TJ. Thank God for His many blessings in my life. I have to say everytime I look at the sky I see Leslie's smiling face/ the picture of her on the large posterboard with the sky backdrop and the 3 Trees verse. I miss her and I'm mad! How's that for pouring out?
Have a great weekend in OH. love you so much