Light and Dark Together

Step through the doorway?

Both at the same time.

One thing I can’t help but notice as I walk through this time of being grief’s handmaiden is the joy that walks alongside the grief at one and the same time. 

I first encountered this idea in a significant way through my friend Kirsten, who wrote her way through the carrying of her son, Ewan, with his unknown future and his too-few days with an honesty, depth, grace, truth, and dignity that left those of us bearing witness to the journey with our mouths hanging open in awe and respect, shaking our heads in amazement at the fullness of all she held and chose to share with us.

She wrote about the tension of her experience — of loving Ewan so fierce and firm and yet holding that joy and love and hope for his future alongside heartbreak: his difficult, difficult road ahead. After Ewan died, she shared more about the both/and journey of grief, how it includes laughter alongside sadness. And then she wrote about her continued journey through this tension as she experiences the joy of being Austen’s mama and the ongoing loss of Ewan she holds every single day. 

Like I said: awe and respect. 

I’m experiencing this holding of light and dark together in a different way, namely through an awareness that as those I love walk through dark hallways right now, light and life also crop up elsewhere and invite acknowledgment, too, alongside celebration.

Within a few minutes of learning a beloved pastor and pastor’s son in our town died, a close friend of ours shared the rejoicing news that her son had come through a surgical procedure with flying colors. Light and dark together. 

As Kirk and I walk through the loss of his mother this Christmas season, we’re also celebrating some great strides. We’ve marked some financial milestones that have been a long time coming and are moving in lockstep motion toward some more. It’s a time of great celebration for us, even as he’s holding his fresh grief. Light and dark together.

My heart is holding the losses of those I love every single day, and it’s a heart that’s tender and often tired. And yet I’m also watching in amazement and with deep joy and satisfaction as my work with Still Forming seems to bubble over with activity all at once — the long-worked-for launch of the Look at Jesus course this month, the enthusiastic signups for the beta version of a new discernment offering I’ll be sharing in the new year, the invitations to offer my giftings and/or speak in several different venues in the first half of 2014. Things are moving, and I am thrilled, even as I’m sad and confused and weary from all the loss in this season. Light and dark together.

As I scroll through my Facebook feed every day, I see it all: the heartbreak and the joy. And I want to honor and hold every single piece of it. To dignify each person’s real experience, whether it’s high or low. This, too, is what it means to be a handmaiden of grief.

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.”

—Romans 12:15, MSG

A Handmaiden of Grief

Rugged piles.

The roughness of these days.

Three years ago, my good friend Kirsten lost her baby boy, Ewan, after 16 days of life. It was such a disorienting time. To be living in Florida while my friend’s heart and soul were breaking open in Washington, I felt so helpless. 

My mother, generous and heartfelt woman that she is, gave me the gift of a plane trip to Washington a month after Ewan died.

What I remember most are the silences. 

Sitting next to Kirsten on a red couch in a local coffee shop, saying nothing as I held her hand, her head resting on my shoulder and tears dripping down her face as we watched two young mothers with their young kids have a play date across the room.

Sitting next to each other on the couch in her apartment at night, holding her hand in the silence there too.

How few words were between us. How few words were needed. There were no words to say. What could possibly be said?

Nearly two months ago now, Kirk’s mother passed away after a very quick 7-week journey through stage 4 lung cancer. It happened so fast, it feels like we’re both still wrapping our heads and hearts around the fact that it did, indeed, happen. 

This time I’m learning how to walk through deep loss with my husband. 

How grief pockets can hit at unexpected moments. How to navigate the holidays. How each day is different. How numbness plays a part at the beginning. How, for the person who lost a parent, it can feel like a hole on the inside that will never get filled again.

I’m learning to walk beside him as we go.

My friend Jan lost her husband, Gary, last week. 

It wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s not what any believed would come. It was to be a quick procedure — a coiling method, they called it, to remove a discovered aneurysm. Instead, an invasive surgery, a stroke, an induced coma, 18 days of waiting, then loss.

We had prayed for him. Laid hands on him. Anointed him with oil. Exchanged smiles and hopes and hugs. Lingered to talk about his music, how maybe he would bring one of his Song Chapel concerts to our church in the new year.

It didn’t go as planned. 

In all that time of waiting and praying, this loss isn’t what I thought would be at all.

I was privileged to sit with Jan twice in her hospital vigil. Talking together while Gary slept. Letting our friendship plant some roots. Learning some of each other’s stories.

Both times, and in all the time in between and after, this was not the outcome I foresaw. A different future, yes. A bracing future for them, maybe. But this? No. 

My friend has lost her beloved. My heart cries hard for her.

And in my community, more loss. 

A friend who lost her boss, then her grandfather.

A pastor in our town gone to suicide, the pain and shock rippling outward, a literal geography of loss, a time of questions, and anger, and sadness, and pain.

In the mix, far removed and yet personal to me, Nelson Mandela died, too. 

So much loss. So much darkness.

And what I notice is being beside. Walking beside, waiting beside, watching beside.

A handmaiden of grief.