When Life and Death Intersect, What Are the Rules?

Apr 11, 2014

Our son Michael’s birthday was last Wednesday, and even though it’s been over five years since his passing, my husband and I still haven’t quite figured out how to honor this most important day of our lives.

Something is over, and it feels a bit awkward celebrating a new beginning when it’s already past and gone. When something is over, it’s not just different or changed. It’s done, complete, final. Never to be again.

I woke this April 3rd wondering, when life and death intersect, what, then, are the rules?

The Rules Are: There Are No Rules!

A friend mockingly tells me that her uncle still goes to the cemetery every day to visit his wife of fifty years. “He should be over this by now,” she tells me. “After all, she’s been gone almost six years.”

My brain gets stuck on the numbers as I respectfully listen. Can six years really erase a lifetime of loving?

Death makes you stupid. You do crazy things when you don’t know what else to do. Nothing is intended to be morbid. No one wants to get stuck in grief. You just do whatever you can to love, remember, and get through. There really are no rules. There simply can’t be.

To those who would mock or judge, I would say, either you have never significantly loved such that you understand the suffering of loss. Or, perhaps, worse still, you have denied yourself the experience of grief.

Remembering Michael.

I decided years ago to give grief it’s time, but I refused to let it claim victory over me. I would learn to remember the joy of Michael, the life over the loss.

On this April 3rd, I sat in the patio basking in the warmth of spring. Only days before, I had stumbled upon a book, Lament for a Son (1987). Somehow it had mysteriously appeared among hundreds of books on my overcrowded shelves. I don’t know where it came from or how it got there.

My mind plays a silly trick: A gift from Michael perhaps? I leap to a memory of his childlike voice. “When I grow up, Mommy, I’m going to buy you a Lamborghini.”

Grief is stupid, too. One object of insignificance suddenly takes on new meaning; the heart leaps to a now cherished memory. I savor it like a rich piece of chocolate. Please, God, don’t let the memory melt away.

Suddenly, this dusty book becomes a must read, as in right now, today. It is, after all, a gift from Heaven, miraculously calling my attention on this most important day.

I move from the patio to the couch to curl up with my new found book. Reality strikes. There are no more gifts from Michael. Truth is, I was probably drawn to this book sometime after his passing, and don’t remember the purchase. Maybe a gift from a friend? Who knows. Does it really matter?

I commit to the read. It is glorious.

I am lost in the beauty of the words as they float across the page. And, I remember what it was like to love… and to lose… all that mattered.

In some strange, crazy way, there is comfort in remembering. Perhaps it’s the love that carries us.

In writing of the loss of his own son, Mr. Wolterstorff addresses the importance of giving voice to the pain of loss when something is over.

In Lament, he eloquently writes:

“The wound is no longer raw. But it has not disappeared. That is as it should be. If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over. Grief is existential testimony to the worthy of the one loved. That worth abides.”

I couldn’t agree more.