Five years ago, I made a decision.
I decided while my mother was battling cancer that I would not grieve.
If this sounds impossible, unrealistic, and unusual for a person whose vocation is pastoral ministry.. you are right. It didn't work.
Why would I think it would? The problem arrives with the fourth word of that sentence: Think. I turned to thinking rather than feeling. I thought whenever I wanted to cry. I thought whenever I needed to feel. It worked like this - In a moment of sorrow, I turned my thoughts toward the peace she has in heaven. In the emptiness of planning the holidays, I thought about her heavenly reunion and the joy she must have. It was full-time job to remain intellectually disengaged from the emotion that raged within me. Ironically, my inner-dialogue did not seem heretical but actually quite scripturally sound. For instance, I told myself she is "in a better place" and not too let my heart be troubled. I told myself that we are not citizens of this world and it will be just a twinkling of the eye when I see her again. All of that would have been okay, if i had also let myself cry, weep, mourn, lay around in her bath robe and eat her favorite icecream. But I didn't, instead I silently criticized myself for wanting her back. I told myself I was selfish; she had suffered and she is now finally at rest. I told myself that laying around in her bath robe was selfish, too. I shouldn't take time for that! My children needed me to be strong and my church that needed me to have faith.
Five years later, I am now "coming clean" and sharing my sadness. Sharing what happened.
The Last Time I Heard her Voice.
I didn't go to Florida when I knew she was dying. I knew my sister and brother would be there to help yet, I will never forget how frustrated I was at the miles between us. I wanted to be by her side. People told me to go and I said no, I had visited her the month before and said my goodbye. We never really fully say goodbye, though.
In her last days of hospice, my sister called me regulary. In that last hour, she put the phone to my mom's ear because I wanted t
o tell her I love her and say goodbye once more. I spoke. To my surprise, when my mom heard my voice, tried to utter out a response. Unable to speak, she responded with recognition that she knew it was me.. In that garbled sound, I could hear her love. I will never forget that sound of joy as she heard me speak.
Five years later, it is the sound of my mom's voice that I miss. She had a great voice. She was a terrific singer. She liked to talk. She loved to laugh. She was a great friend and spoke words of encouragement into my life. Her voice, to this day, is unmatched by others.
As much as I have tried to escape grieving, I have been unable to escape the sorrow of missing her voice. Each day, I miss our phone calls. Even if there was nothing to talk about, I could be comforted beyond words by the love in her voice. My grief has been the silence.. a longing to hear her speak, sing, and laugh because just the sound of her voice speaks truth to my life. My grief has been an anger at the silence: why did I waste years fighting her? Now I need her wisdom and encouragement and I am left alone to walk these years ahead.
Oddly perhaps, this journey of grief has resulted in arriving at a new place I didn't expect. More and more, I hear her love in new places, in new people. More and more I intentionally listen for Love and try to speak it as she once did.For instance, I hear her more deeply in the music she enjoyed.. And I sing her songs with renewed spirit. When I'm belting out her favorite hymns.. I'm aware that my daughters are listening. Indeed, I am aware that as I speak "the words of our mouth" have the potential bless and encourage.
My unusual path of grief led me to a discovery that in feeling that the sweetness of my mothers voice was truly an expression of grace. She spoke words of love toward difficult people in stressful situations. (I know because I was at times the stressful, difficult person) My mother knew the pardoning love of God and she offered it to people around her at no cost. It’s an amazing gift to receive. Reflecting on this has led me away from a place of regret.. to a place of gratitude. It has led me out of from a stagnant pit of sorrow, to a place flowing with hope where I am enlivened to speak, sing, cry and laugh anew. Why? Because this grace must be shared. There are relationships around me I must offer this grace. What I've perceived as a gift from my mom was ultimately what she and I received Christ. The only response is to pay it forward. My sorrow, my sin, my regret will not have the final world.
One of my moms favorite hymns is "Be Still My Soul". A few weeks ago I was singing it when I came to the stanza "bear patiently the cross of grief and pain." That phase suddenly resonated within me. I cried. I realized that these 5 years I have carried my grief impatiently, wanting it to end. I have been discouraged with the hole in my life that she left. Yet this time in hearing the hymn, I realized that I could have been more patient if I had trusted that the Lord has been on my side walking with me. Wow. What impatience with ourselves we carry needlessly. I am reaching a place of stillness. peace because that is where God is leading each of us who follow Jesus.
The hymn helped me realize we each need to be gentler with ourselves in our grief. We can bear the pain and sorrow with patience because the Lord is on our side.
As I listen, I hear her voice, speaking deeply within that I am loved. But it's not limited to a phone call.
Be still. Listen. The voice of the One who loves us eternally has not stopped speaking. We may hear it now. Be still. Listen. God has never left your side.