Grief, especially the loss of a parent, can be an odd and disconcerting experience. It is like stepping into a funhouse hall of mirrors, or struggling to gain footing on the slippery, pitching deck of a ship.
Grief startles thoughts out of dusty corners to spin like dust motes in a dim sunbeam. It bends the heart first one way and then another, emotions strung on a taffy puller. It alternates between tasting like sweetness and choking like ashes.
Second-parent grief weights the heart with a sort of orphan’s burden – part loneliness, part confusion, part searching. There’s a dawning awareness that there is no longer anyone above you on the family tree. It fundamentally changes the journey.
It is not a journey to be taken alone.
My father went Home to be with Jesus last week. In the hours after I posted the news, calls, text messages, Facebook posts and Twitter direct messages flooded my phone. The immediacy of social media came alive with fresh power.
Scrolling through those messages was like putting my life story in a blender. Family, friends from childhood, people from every church we have served in four states across the past three decades, colleagues in ministry. The scope of people who made the effort to respond to the news was staggering and touching.
Then came the visits at the funeral home. Some were people who had been my parent’s friends for a half-century or more, people from our home church who held me when I came to the church for the first time as a new born. Others were friends and teachers from high school, members of our church youth group, co-workers with mom or dad. A bus-load of folks from our Highland faith-family made the three-hour trip to western Kentucky. Memories and “Leo stories” were shared, laughter rang, tears fell, conversations lingered.
Here’s what I discovered in those hours. There is a beautiful mercy (or maybe a merciful beauty) to the companionship of long friendships. And overlapping that is the Spirit-fueled kindness of the church, the faith-family of Jesus’ people.
I was embraced in a web of Jesus’ compassion.
What happens there?
-sorrow is shared.
-mercy is enfleshed.
-love is expressed.
-friendships are renewed.
-comfort is given.
-help is offered.
-perspective is gained.
-memories are recounted.
-legacy comes alive.
-balance is restored
-prayers are offered.
-weariness is overcome.
-burdens are lifted.
-healing is applied.
-hope is kindled.
-grief is relieved.
It is a wonderful place to be.
Of course, all those things are gifts from Jesus. But they come through people, an incarnation moment. It is the body of Christ who will “weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15)
And I am profoundly grateful for the sweet friends, and the brothers and sisters in Jesus’ forever family into whose embrace I have fallen in these days.
What about you? When have you been caught by the web of compassion with Jesus’ faith family in a dark or painful moment?