“Why must holy places be dark places?”*
Two days ago, my friend’s dad died. In twenty first century vernacular – she “lost” her dad. “Lost” is such a silly thing to say – like she needs to just go searching for him and she will find him; like it’s a child’s game of hide ‘n seek.
“Lois – just look for him! I’m sure you’ll find him.”
My dark humor comes through as I think about this. We humans delight in deceiving ourselves about death and loss by using words that are ambiguous and sweetly horrid.
As I heard the news, I immediately revisited my dad’s death and the resulting losses. The first picture taken of Lois and me together was on the banks of the Dead Sea. Each of us is holding hands with our dads. Our dads are so young and so alive. Two adventurers – as at home in Pakistan and Jordan as they were in the United States. They lived between worlds – learning languages with sounds that seemed impossible, deciphering a script that was completely foreign, and traveling to places that topped the U.S State Department watch list. They learned about Middle Eastern hospitality; about what it was to send their children to boarding schools; and about friendship in a Middle Eastern context. Most of all, they learned what it is to follow a faith until the end and to never give up.
Grief sets its own agenda, it cannot be controlled. You don’t know when it will flood over you and what the manifestation will be, but when I found out that Lois’ dad had died, the impact of death flooded over me and I found myself grieving.
I am grieving for Lois and I am grieving for myself. I am grieving because we will never again sit down with our dads, never again speak with them on the phone. I am grieving because when we spontaneously think “Oh, I should talk to Dad about that!” it won’t be possible. I am grieving that two good men are gone and they are not lost – they have died.
All of the physical pieces of grief are present – the nervous stomach, the choking in my throat, the distraction…I realize no one ever talks about the taste of grief and yet there is a taste. It’s gritty and it makes my mouth dry, a bit like sand.
But I find as I grieve that grieving is holy work.
How have I never seen this before?
In C.S. Lewis beautiful but lesser known book ‘Til We Have Faces, the protagonist says “Why must holy places be dark places?” I think about this and the holy work of grieving; the holy ache and the dark places of tragedy and pain that come across the lives of anyone who identifies as human.
When I stop analyzing grief and simply allow myself to grieve – this is when I know it is holy work, for it is in these times of greatest need that I am most aware of how much I need God.
The holy work of grieving is the place where holy tears fall. And as grief and tears come, so does comfort; sometimes through human arms or words, sometimes through God’s seeming silence, but obvious presence, sometimes through the Psalms.
The holy work of grieving is ever present in the Psalms. Written with full knowledge of the human condition, they speak with authority and complete understanding of how fragile we are. The Psalmist, a master poet, writes of grief and rage, of depression and sorrow. Softly, lyrically, with grace and great love these Psalms continue through generations. They were there for our dads; they are here for both Lois and me.
“He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
And I know in my heart, my soul, and my body that these words are true.
*C.S. Lewis in ‘Til We Have Faces