Thoughts on Grief and Joy

It has been twelve years since I last found myself in the throes of deep grief. Twelve years of grief, depression, and, finally, redemption. As its recurrence begins to circle once more, I keep pushing it off to the edges of my mind – hoping that in doing so, enough time might pass where either it will be found that the truth of what is now reality is not actually true (and that everything is as it should be) or that it might not hurt as much when I finally do turn toward its face.

I am quickly discovering that I do not know how to move on from here. It’s not as though I’ve been through an exact replica of this process before. Before, I was lost in and of myself long before grief overcame me. Before, I felt that there was no one left, that no one truly cared at all for what I was experiencing.

But now, my life is so drastically different. At age 12, I was just beginning to discover what corners life so deftly hides away until one comes of age. Here, now 24, I am firstly redeemed, secondly married, and third, no stranger to mourning.

The hardest part is perhaps that there are now twelve more years of memories with this beautiful woman. Twelve more years of being welcomed, loved, fed, and entertained by her hospitality and antics. Twelve years where she lived even though what she had so dearly loved – her husband – had been snatched out of her beautiful, slender hands. Twelve more years of Scrabble and sweet tea and game shows and pictures of all the grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) on the fridge.

The second hardest part is I didn’t think the last time I saw her would be my good-bye. I saw her fighting her aging body, recovering her speech and movement and sharpness of both mind and wit. I saw her in all her stubbornness, desiring to return home and return to living.

And now, she’s gone. Nothing remains but memories and the haunting scenes of my last pieces of time with her, ending with her telling me she loved me.

That was her greatest gift to me – that she loved me.

My grandmother, Eula Frances, was a strong woman. She didn’t have to maintain power or have people think of her as more than a homemaker. She was just strong. She knew who she was and who she loved, and that was more than enough.

She married one man, my grandfather, and remained his wife until the day he died. She raised four children, who from her inherited wit, wisdom, and a love of words. Her home was always open, the candy dish full, and her hands always ready to slip into someone else’s. Following my grandfather’s death, she knew the blessing of another companion. Many women can’t seem to find one good man, but my grandmother was wife to two. They lived, and continued to love and welcome all into their home.

I can still remember reading books in my grandparents’ living room, in that small yellow house in Camby, Indiana, and listening to the family gathered around the eat-in kitchen that didn’t have the space to be an eat-in. They would talk, play Scrabble, and argue about whether or not words were valid. As a child, it might have been the happiest place I knew. It had all the sounds of happy. I’d pause, smile to myself and keep reading.

I have to keep telling myself that I will once more experience that ‘happy’ – that, one day, sitting in a room of people and hearing their murmurs and exclamations will bring joy and not overwhelming sadness. I know that one day, I’ll hold children of my own and I will tell them stories of their great-grandmother, who was a beautiful woman, and it will be healing to share her with them, instead of pain-filled.

I know that joy will return. Happy will return. The problem is surely how to get there. The battle for joy is not won by laying in bed all day, weeping and praying that what is now true is not. And it is certainly not won by going into hiding, as I am so apt to do when life brings its ‘little’ changes. It is won by being obedient to what God has called me to, even when I don’t feel like doing so. It’s not a horrible thing to cry, and I know that I probably will in spurts for years to come because this wonderful, strong woman will not be known by further generations in this world, but I am not to waste my life in a fog of depression.

Joy will return in the steady understanding that she is in the presence of her King, Jesus Christ. The only way I can come to know that joy again is to once more understand what it is to live and breathe for an audience of One – the One who was there before this grief, the One who is there now in its midst, and the One who will usher me into His presence at the end of my life here.

You make known to me the path of life;

in Your presence there is fullness of joy;

at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

[[Psalm 16:11]]

I so often allow my gaze to drop. I so often forget for what I am striving. If I have fifty more years on this earth, I don’t want them to look like the last ten, as amazing as they were. I want to be strong. I want to seek joy. I want to stop looking to this planet for what makes my life worthwhile. I want to keep moving forward.

Heaven is home. May I fix my gaze there, and find joy here in the time between.

That’s what Grandma would have wanted.