I have finally become, like so many others, a man with no living grandparents. It happened just last week – my last remaining grandparent passed. She was an absolutely amazing woman, and I will miss her. Grief is a hardship that we must all face in this life. Yet, grief also serves us. Grief is a reminder of the tremendous gift we have in loving others.
My own grief caught up with me on Saturday, as I drove the 6.5 hours from central Pennsylvania back to Detroit. I was admittedly exhausted, but I was heartbroken too. The tears just kept trying to break through, no matter how much I fought them back (crying and driving don’t mix well). Grief, for me, always tends to maximize its presence. It comes reminding me not simply of the freshest sorrow, but of all the past aches that have gone before. So, in thinking about my grandmother, I moved down through the line of heartaches: my other grandmother, my grandfather, my dad, my uncle. It moves out from there, thinking not simply of death and loss, but of specific memories of horrible failures in parenting – moments when I was too harsh with my kids. It moves to the more metaphysical losses: childhood, innocence, simplicity. Grief, it seems, is an endless expansion of sorrows, touching every corner of our lives.
Yet, I can’t help but notice how closely every grief is connected to deep relationships. I am missing not simply the person, but I am missing the memories of my moments of joy, laughter, and affection with them. Grief is a reminder that we love others with a deep sense of intimacy. We don’t simply relate to others, but are in relationships with them. Grief is evidence of just how intense our love for others can be. We grieve with intensity because our hearts are full of love for those we lose. We grieve because we love.
Loving others is a gift from God. I am not thinking here about the love others give to us, the love we experience from them. That too is a tremendous gift, but I have in mind here our active loving of others. That we get to experience love for others, is a gift from God. Love is a powerful emotion, not simply to receive but to share. To share our love for someone, to express it, to enjoy it, to care so deeply about someone is a truly beautiful thing. My grief reminds me of that, even while driving the interstate.
My grief tells me, this person is special. It tells me to think back, to remember just how special. My grief tells me that I loved this woman. I loved her joy and her smile – She didn’t look the same in the casket, her mouth wasn’t drawn up into that familiar grin. Grief tells me to remember her laughter, the countless games she played with us, the tears I shed when, as a little kid, I had to leave her house. Grief tells me just how blessed I was to have her as my grandmother, and to have her for as long as I did (well into my thirties). Grief tells me what a gift this experience of love is.
Grief itself is a gift in that it reminds me of the significance of relationships. We don’t often pause to think about the importance of these relationships. We are ever like the proverbial fish in water, not knowing what it means to be wet. We live in constant relationship but it’s not until someone passes that we give pause to consider just how much we love others. I think about this on the way home. I am grateful for my grandparents, for my dad, for my uncle. All of whom I loved but who are gone from this life now. I think about my kids, whom I love dearly and I think about how I want to cherish every moment I have with them. I know I won’t, not every moment – I am human. But grief causes me to slow down today, to try harder to appreciate the love I have for them. Grief is the gift that keeps on giving.
It’s strange to think of grief as beautiful. It is a painful and sorrowful reality that one day God will do away with (Rev. 21:4). I long for that day, and yet I recognize that in the midst of this reality there is still some beauty…even in grief. As I cry on that drive home there are moments where I laugh too, and smile. Grief reminds me of just how much I loved this woman, of how much I loved all those who have passed. I am reminded that it is a tremendous gift to be able to love someone that deeply. I am thankful that God gives such gifts…even when they come with griefs.