Grief is a tricksy little hobbit

Alright, you got me. Grief isn’t a hobbit at all. But it’s like a hobbit’s hunger, sometimes, insatiable. It keeps coming back, second breakfast, elevenses, all day long. Grief does not run according to schedule, though that’s what our society would prefer. Grief does not run its course. Grief is perpetual. Grief may shift, may cycle through stages, may lodge in multiple stages all at once. But grief is not a track and field event.

Grief, like the hungry hobbit, returns again and again, because our loss is continual. When we lose a loved one, we do not lose only a loved one. We lose all the potential futures with that loved one. We lose all the choose your own adventures with that loved one. We lose all moments-to-come with that loved one. And again and again, the grief is hammered into our hearts with the reminders of absence. The absence is its own gnawing hunger.

Grief transmutes from one hunger to another, from one heaviness to another, from ubiquitous, all-encompassing to, oh, I forgot for a moment about my grief and now it is back and, oh, the searing loss of its return.

Grief has its own poignancy, aka distress, aka sorrow. Time does not mitigate grief. But perhaps time transmutes grief, like a wizard with a gift for alchemy, or like the pressure of the earth on minerals, turning carbon into diamonds, turning ashes and dust into hardness of the soul or to beauty or to surfaces that reflect a deeper, more faceted being than what we once believed we were.

Grief sneaks up in moments, a laugh heard from a distance, a song lyric, a meal, a photograph, a name, an inside joke. Grief is a tricksy little hobbit, stealing not the one ring, of course, but mindfulness. Grief sucks us into its vacuum of memory, of longing, stealing the present, steeling us to the present.

And grief moves us along, grief has its own energy, its own wherewithal. Grief is warranted. We have suffered a loss and we continue to suffer. We continue on, alive to grieve and alive to grief and alive through grief. We carry on, wayward sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends, loved ones. Grief is no three-act movie with a catharsis or a moral of the story. Grief is the story. Grief is the catharsis. Grief is the moral.

Holidays remind me of my grief, and so I decided to honor my grief by allowing these words to bubble up. They are probably messy and imperfect. And I honor that, too.

On grief, a lament

“Even in laughter, the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.”
Proverbs 14:13

I have been overtaken by seasons of grief, and the present is no exception. Though I’m also in a season of healing, of developing resiliency, of learning, of overcoming, still grief abides.

I have tried to understand grief, to wrap my mind around it. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross studied grief and classified five stages: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, acceptance. The stages aren’t linear; they may be cyclical, they may be an avalanche, they may be long seasons.

“It’s not the news we were hoping for.”

My attempts to make sense out of grief are also efforts to sterilize it, to keep it at arm’s length. But as is said, “the heart won’t be denied.”

Grief rages.
Grief aches.
Grief wounds.
Grief consumes.

Over the years, grief has filled my dance card and I’ve never been one for dancing. Grief doesn’t wait for an invitation; it is no respecter of persons.

A dear friend received devastating news that cancer has returned and spread. That news reverberates to all who are part of his community. The grief is palpable.

This news throws into sharp relief this tension we live in, we are alive, we will one day die. Now in these shadowlands, we straddle the time we have and the time we don’t.

Some use past tense, perhaps subconsciously, perhaps fully aware, and I think, no, he is not past tense.

He and his family now dwell in this tension, this muddling of tenses, past, present, future, absent. How can we possibly reconcile these?

My soul echoes the refrain of poet Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night,” crying out “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” My denial weighs heavy on my heart; my anger beats in my chest as though it could burst.

Ever before me is a path that leads to depression, a path I have stumbled down many times. Grief and its manifestations could lead me there again and probably will. But not today.

I could seek solace in the oblivion of disordered eating, replacing the utter discomfort and rending of grief with the so familiar strains of guilt and shame over food. But not today.

I could bottle up my emotions and try to convince myself I feel nothing. I could fill my time with busy-ness to distract me from how awful the reality is. I could press play from one episode to the next to escape the feelings that I would rather not face. But not today.

I am not new to grief, and yet grief is new each time it strikes. Grief is a DJ, spinning all its past iterations in with this newest; all the grieving of the past is remixed into this new song of grief.

Today, I feel. Today, I grieve.

I grieve for my friend, for his wife, his son, his grandchildren, for community.

I grieve the past griefs anew.

Today, I am searching for those nail-scarred hands and feet, that broken body. Today, I am resting on promises that I’m not always certain of. Today, I am railing against cancer.

I am double-minded, many-minded, a doubter struggling, a child lost, a daughter forlorn. I lament, but I am not hopeless. Not today. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope…”

Lamentations 3:19-26 (translation: The Voice)”Grievous thoughts of affliction and wandering plagued my mind—great bitterness and gall. Grieving, my soul thinks back; these thoughts cripple, and I sink down. Gaining hope, I remember and wait for this thought: How enduring is God’s loyal love; the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion. Here they are, every morning, new! Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the day. Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need. My soul boasts, “Hope in God; just wait.” It is good. The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him, to those who seek Him wholeheartedly. It is good to wait quietly for the Eternal to make things right again.”

Spending Time With Granny

I’ve been spending time with my Granny June. Well, her memories. Today was my Granny June’s birthday. She lived a long, full life and passed away peacefully in December, 2003. Who Granny was informs who I am, and I’d like to share my Granny with you.
Granny and baby meGranny and Grampy

Granny June got into the habit of journaling at some point, perhaps after Grampy died in 1990. Her handwriting is tricky to read, more so in her journals than in the cards and letters she wrote. Granny chronicled the facts of her days: what time she woke up, what she did, what she ate, what time she went to sleep. She wrote about her quiet times, she wrote notes from books she was reading and from bible studies, she kept to-do lists, and every now and then prayed.

“Lord, keep me on track today. Take away my irritation and frustration and make me a blessing to those with whom I come into contact, that I might serve you in the way you would have me to serve.

6:55 a.m.

Time to get Mindi up for school. This is her last week in elementary school.”

June Walker, July 20, 1992

Granny was kind of a saintly do-gooder, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. She attended bible studies, Sunday School, church services, meetings, fundraisers and participated in them all. Most of her days started with quiet times spent in prayer and reflection. She ministered to friends in convalescent homes and often took them goodies. She was an incredibly generous person. It seemed like she was always writing and mailing off checks to support one cause or another.

I love little old ladies, which I mean as an endearment, because Granny and her best friends were little old ladies. I love elderly people because Granny taught me to love elderly people. And those elderly people grew to love me, too. A couple of them are still around to do it. I love getting back home to visit them, and I’m often a little tempted to move back just to get to spend more time with them.

Granny and me and Shirley-Bird

7FC9421F-86CB-4B48-89BF-8A6396B23D65I’ve always loved to write letters and send cards. Perhaps that’s something else I get from Granny. She sent out oodles of cards and letters all the time. There were always stamps and mailing labels and stationery at Granny’s.

In the last few years of her life, Granny moved to Tehachapi to live with my sister, her husband, and their daughter. She writes about Buttons, the cat who would mischievously pull all the clothing out of any open drawer. Apparently Granny sometimes counted while she was putting items away, because she wrote specifically, “20 items.” What a crack-up! I can just picture her folding and counting and grumbling a bit at Buttons. What she didn’t write was that it was usually the underwear drawer… I don’t think Granny ever wrote about underwear, unless it was on a to-do list, perhaps.

In Tehachapi, Granny joined a group she referred to as the Crafty Ladies. I’m not sure whether that was what they called themselves. She endeavored to relearn how to crochet and describes trying to make new friends in a new place. Even at 83, Granny was learning new things and making new friends.

It’s another act of providence that Granny spent those years with Myshelle and her family and that she kept up with her journals. Myshelle passed away very suddenly in 2002 in a car accident. That day, Granny wrote:

Got up – Read newspaper. Myshelle left about 9:30 to go to work. She had a bad accident about 10 min. later and the Lord took her home. I didn’t get the news until about 3 p.m…

Then just a few lines down:

I feel it was a part of God’s plan for my life that I should be in Tehachapi sharing her life. I reminded her a few days ago when I returned an 8X10 picture which had hung on my bedroom wall all  of these years that she had been my little girl and I thought she should hang the picture with the others on the wall. I loved Myshelle very much. In her 28 years, she had become a mature woman. She loved [her family] very much. She had made many friends…and was active in community affairs… I’m thankful for the opportunity I have had to share in her life. We pray for your peace, Lord, and healing in our grief, and draw us closer to you.

Later that summer:

We are still working through our grief… I have gone through many stages. My strength comes from the Lord. I have new issues every day as I work through my grief. Lord, make me a blessing and not a stumbling block.

Sorry to close out a bit abruptly and without as much proofreading as I’d like, but I’ve got to get on my way to church and have a couple of little old ladies I get to stop and pick up along the way!

On what would have been her 97th birthday, I’m proud to be able to honor my Granny June and all her wisdom, grace, patience, kindness, generosity, compassion, and faith. Thanks for letting me honor the memories of my Granny June by sharing her with you. As a benediction, from Granny’s journal in 1998:

From moment to moment one can bear much.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

May the God of mercy, who is well acquainted with grief, bless us with gentle comfort and healing for our sorrows, Amen.

Marchiene Vroon Rienstra

P.S. – Below are pictures of Granny’s journal entry from her 75th Birthday.

Granny June's Journal

On the occasion of her 75th birthday

Photo Apr 11, 1 12 38 PM Granny June's Journal 1