The circle was made of couches. Twelve couples – all strangers – sat facing one another with their moist eyes locked on the person speaking. Kleenex boxes were abundantly available to catch the tears that trickled down every face or to envelope the weeping as one-by-one each couple shared the gut-wrenching moments that brought them to this very gathering: the death of their child.
I must confess I carried a lot of doubt going into the weekend. Could two days with strangers in the backcountry of Tennessee really bring healing to the grief that presses so heavily on Josh and I?
My doubt was quickly squelched.
In the head nods around the circle as we shared our story, in the freedom to shed tears openly, in the knowing looks of understanding that require no further explanation, and in the confession of our deepest fears and darkest doubts, I found the most precious gift to a griever: safety.
It was a safety found in two tiny words: me, too.
My friends at home in Indiana have been truly incredible. They are comfortable with my tears and my questions. They pray, and they check in on me regularly. They want to “get it”, but they openly admit they don’t completely understand. I don’t expect them to.
None of us understands the pain of a road until we have walked it ourselves. That’s just how it is.
But the twelve couples gathered together this weekend had all been forced to walk this unbearable road of losing a child, and though Josh and I have many friends on the sidelines cheering for us, I knew we were the only ones actually on the road.
I felt the weight of that loneliness…until this weekend.
Until I saw how easily they cried, too. Until I heard the same pain in their voices. Until I told them that I was angry at God and felt desperately empty, and they agreed. Until we all shared photos and videos of our children with these lovely people we’d just met who know what it’s like to look at a picture of the child who is no longer with you, to yearn for them with a hurricane-force love. Until we wrapped our arms around each other in our most broken moments and said, “Me, too.”
We are safe here. No looks. No exclusion. No pity. Only the truth, emotion, and understanding of a group of people whose hearts are shattered but whose Hope is steadfast, even though it bends a bit.
At one point on Saturday afternoon, during some friendly competition around a ping-pong table, while laughing and cheering one another on, my heart felt a brief wave of forgotten joy as I realized: this is a snap shot of Heaven. All these broken people who walk through life with a greatest grief known to man, but here they are smiling, laughing, high-fiving and enjoying one another because we no longer feel alone, and because we all have the same Hope. We cling to God’s promises that He has not left us, that they are safe with Him, and that we will see our children again.
The souls I met this weekend were sparkly. The faces had tears in their eyes, but they were upheld with a Strength only earned in the battle. Their words dripped with memories but their smiles spewed the certainty of a glorious future. Satan had meant to crush them by death, but Jesus upheld them with just His Word and granted them a deep knowledge and compassion that surpasses raw humanity.
They were broken, but they were the most beautiful.
They were the image of the most powerful truth I never grasped until now when Paul declared:
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
Even the death of our child did not destroy us for good. Is it possible that we might shine even brighter in our brokenness than we ever did when we were whole?
So, Josh and I now return lighter than before. We are not “fixed,” that’s for sure. But we were given a sturdy push to keep fighting this good fight before us. We made dear friends who we plan to see again soon. We were reminded in fresh ways how Jesus’ suffering really does prove that He understands our pain (more on that in the next post). We were reminded that we are not alone, that Tage’s days were numbered (like ours are) from the moment he was conceived, and for the first time, we were able to focus on him as a gift that was given to us rather than a gift that was taken away…and we smiled.
This is not my first rodeo with deep grief, so I don’t doubt that we will be pulled back under the waves again. But for now, I told Josh earlier this week that I enjoy feeling a little lighter, however long the feeling lasts, and he grinned and said, “Me too.”
(If you are grieving the loss of a child, info about The Respite Retreat is found at http://www.nancyguthrie.com. Nancy and David will warm your heart and give you Christ-centered encouragement and the gentle push you need to take one more step toward healing.)