Today represents the last of the big firsts. Just under a year ago my Grandpa, hero, mentor, and friend, Dean Rhoades, passed from this world to the next. It has been a year of firsts without him full of heartache and pain I wish I never knew, and lessons learned that no text book could communicate. Through it all I learned the unique power of choosing gratitude in the middle of grief. Here’s a few of the lessons it taught me.
When you lose a loved one it is supposed to hurt. CS Lewis says that “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” I have found that observation to be so accurate that I have shared it with hundreds of people at funerals or through counseling, and when I do they just nod their heads because it makes sense. When you lose someone you are cut off, and though that connection may heal, it will never be the same. There will be ghost pains that come as memories arise, and when they do you have two choices. You can either choose to avoid those memories through isolation, self medication and choosing to sink into the depths of depression, or you can choose gratitude.
I can remember the almost crippling grief I felt when those memories surfaced for me. I wasn’t ready for it, even though I have a degree in counseling and even worked in a funeral home for a year. None of that seemed to matter as I dealt with these emotions on my own.
For a time I wallowed in those memories and the pain they produced as if the pain somehow connected me to him. It didn’t. It only served to get me stuck in a angry, depressed, and stagnant place. Fortunately I was able to smile and limp my way through most of the time, but those moments were fleeting.
I couldn’t fake my way through it. No one can. The reality is that emotions have to be dealt with, or they will eventually create an issue. They are like an underground river that erodes everything under the bank until it’s eventual collapse. I realized that I had to stop avoiding those memories and all the things that brought them up. There was a choice that I had to make, I could either be overwhelmed by my grief or I could embrace gratitude.
Gratitude doesn’t take away our grief, but it does give us a higher perspective.
The reason most of those memories hurt is because they were good memories to begin with. For me, the memories flooded with scents, places, stories, when I read DL Moody, EM Bounds, Oswald Chambers and John Wesley, and even when I ate certain foods. With all the grief work I have done I should have been prepared but I was not ready for the effect theses emotions would have on me. It took far too long for me to take my own advice, but I finally began to. I had to choose which emotion to identify with the most, the joy from the memory, or the pain of my grief.
Every time I succumbed to the pain of grief I found myself tapping into an almost unending stream of sentiment that would seemingly never ebb. I cried alone in my office. Brooded in my chair. And found myself picking unnecessary fights with my wife. None of that was helpful.
When I turned to prayerful gratitude, everything changed. I went into detail, thanking God for everything associated with those memories. Rejoicing in those resurrected moments of laughter, savoring the sacred times we shared in prayer, and everything in between. I invited Jesus into that grieving process in a very literal way, and like He always does, He kept his promise.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
I doubt I will ever fully be over the loss of anyone I have loved, it is part of why the promise of Heaven is so sweet. But I have been learning to allow gratitude to guide my mourning process, and in that I have found not only comfort, but freedom and a deeper sense of both hope and joy.
If you are like me and so many others for whom the pain of loss is still fresh, I invite you to bring Jesus into that healing process. Take time to remember, and do it with a thankful heart. Laugh, and cry if you must, but do so with His name on your lips, and you will find what I have found, that He really never does leave us or forsake us. Even in our deepest hurt, especially in those times, He is right there in it with you.
Happy Thanksgiving, may your remembrance be wrapped in His promise.