As you perhaps know, the year 2014 has not started very well for the Henk family. The death of my father and brother within the same week was an unexpected blow from which I am still recovering. Grief is a funny thing; it harkens you back to the past where memories are abundant and, for me, filled with wonderful experiences. At the same time, it sticks your nose into your future where you feel an emptiness as you miss the people of whom you were so fond and who were paramount in your life. I find grief to be a pendulum that swings wide and far in your heart. It seems to disappear for a while as you go through the routine of your life and then it rears its ugly head and brings you to a sad and lonely place.
This movement is captured as well in the words from C. S. Lewis in his book A Grief Observed: “For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?” He is right when he says things seem to get repeated over and over again. One moment you are feeling OK and say to yourself, “I am going to be all right” and in another moment you feel frozen in time and in pain. As C.S. Lewis describes the cycle, he hopes that he is not on a circle, endlessly repeating the experience or else spiraling down as he moves through what he calls the circular stages of grief.
There is also the possibility of spiraling up and, maybe, eventually out of this emotional field. This is my hope in my bereavement. Somehow I want to look forward to a time when I am not caught in this reoccurring painfulness. I am smart enough to realize that it is all going to take time, and I must work through it all without trying to avoid it or deny it or run away from it.
My faith helps me, but it does not take the pain away. It may even deepen it, when you consider how precious the people were whom you lost. C.S. Lewis is quite visceral in his descriptions; for example, he says that “the death of a beloved is an amputation.” Indeed it is. Someone is cut out of your life and cannot be put back or replaced. In my case, I had long planned for the eventuality my father’s death since he was 93 years old. However, I was totally unprepared for my brother’s unexpected death at a young age.
Of course, going through this is not something you look forward to, but it is something you must do with the knowledge that it will leave you wounded for life and will be something you must live with, that will never be completely over. My faith tells me in the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.
As I sat in the church, prepared to preach a sermon/eulogy about my father and my brother, I realized that my faith broke my fall and somehow made it possible for me to know how important they were in my life and how deeply I would miss them, but at the same time it helped me let go of them and hand them into the hands of their Creator. The community of faith that I belong to held me in those moments and in the days I continue to face. It makes me feel grateful, hopeful, and full of love.
I need to thank each of you for helping my family and me cross this difficult street and survive many sad and painful moments. It is interesting as a pastor and caregiver to so many that you actually receive more than you give. The thought was brought home to me when I read about President Eisenhower, then a general, going through various divisions to lift their spirits, but in the end an observer noted that Eisenhower appeared more comforted by the very troops he was trying to encourage. I suppose with the suffering of the losses in my life I can say the same thing. Thank you for your comfort.