Our pastor came over to visit yesterday and asked a question I failed to answer completely. He asked what we have learned about grief that we thought might be helpful to others. Scott quickly answered well for both of us as he described the waves of grief that repeatedly roll in, and made reference to Horatio Spafford’s painfully accurate line “when sorrows like sea billows roll” in his song “It is Well With My Soul.” But there is another significant lesson I have learned as well, when we lose someone we deeply love we have layers of grief.
My heart as Sarah’s mother is broken, she is my precious child whom I love with an everlasting love. I carried her and nurtured her through infancy and childhood. I prayed over her and discipled her for seventeen years. I richly celebrated and savored every milestone along the path of her life and faith. I grieve painfully, longing to hold my child, rub her back, hear her laugh, listen to her sing, and see what amazing things God would have done through her if she were still here.
In addition to my own grief, I have another layer of grief as Scott’s wife. I love him deeply as well. He is broken hearted, sending me a text yesterday saying he has never identified more with Romans 9:2, “that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” He is burdened with the additional agony of seeing the crash and its aftermath, and bearing the scars of images in his mind. He nurtured and loved Sarah exceedingly well as her father. He sacrificially laid down his life for her daily. They enjoyed regularly quoting funny movie lines to each other, she challenged him each time he left the house to “have fun storming the castle” and he would tease back saying, “I hope you find your dad!” My heart breaks for the agony my husband is enduring in Sarah’s absence.
There are three more excruciating layers of grief, one for each of my other three precious daughters, Sarah’s sisters. They each have unique relationships with Sarah, and I grieve for each of them individually as I watch them endure the agony of missing their sister. Additional layers are heaped on as I grieve for each of the grandparents who are missing Sarah so very deeply. More layers are added for each aunt, uncle and cousin, all longing for her presence. I also grieve for Sarah’s close friends as I see the hurt in their eyes, as well as her Sunday School teachers. I grieve for the little children Sarah loved so well at church, I am so saddened that they already know the sting of death at such an early age.
The day Sarah left and the days immediately following I was acutely aware of each layer as it was added, each one another heavy weight draped across my heart. At times the weight of the layers was so great I questioned my ability to breathe. But somewhere along the path I began to recognize the beauty and blessing of the layers. Each of the layers is a layer of love for Sarah and one another. We hurt deeply together but that shared hurt increases our deep love for one another. As we, in each of the layers, grieve with and for one another we are carrying one another’s burdens both through personal experience and prayer. I’ve come to wonder if perhaps we may even be lightening one another’s individual loads through the shared lifting and carrying of this crushing boulder of grief.
I’ve also come to appreciate that there is an outer layer beyond the inner layers I’ve just described. I neither carry the weight of this layer nor bear any burden for it in regard to grieving Sarah’s absence. However, it is a vital protective outer layer that shields and seeks to hold together the fragile inner layers I am a part of. This outer layer is the love of the body of Christ at our local church and abroad, friends and strangers included. What a blessing this outer layer is, I know they are grieving with us and carrying us before the throne of the Father daily in prayer. Hundreds of cards, texts, and messages testify to their love, grief and prayers for us. While I absolutely feel the impact of their prayers in carrying us through this dark valley, I’m certain I will never grasp the entirety of its magnitude. Words can never express my gratitude for this layer.
If Jesus Christ is your personal savior and Lord but you are not actively involved in a local body of believers, I challenge you to get involved today. Christ has called us to be members of the body, to carry one another’s burdens, to weep, mourn and rejoice together. We do all of those things best when we are intimately acquainted with one another through church membership. If you are in our area we would love for you to visit Mount Zion Baptist Church, but I encourage you to prayerfully find the church home He has for you. He has a position for you to fill, He has uniquely gifted you to serve and minister there. I am so thankful for those who have accepted their positions at Mount Zion Baptist Church (and our previous church homes) and as a result know and love us deeply so they are able to vitally minister to us through this valley, faithfully lifting us up to the Father and weeping with us.
” Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:19-25 [NASB]