Grief is a strange thing. In its acute form it’s like a growling and potentially vicious dog. It’s far too loud and dangerous to ignore, and so you deal with it head-on. But then, about the time you begin to feel that you’re dealing pretty well with grief (and you probably are), the wretched cur, evidently rigged for silent running because you heard not a single growl of warning, bites you in the tail section. And here we go again. It’s probably neither quite as bad or as long-lived as the first fight with the beast. Maybe, in fact, it’s just back for a melancholy moment or two. But you still recognize the snarling pup. It’s from the same untamed family as the first one. It’s grief. Round two or five or twenty. And it’s not even, by any means all bad. It’s not always bad to feel more tender than usual, a bit more vulnerable. It just surprises you when that feeling shows up.
I don’t know how many people I’ve walked with through their own grief experiences. A bunch. And so have my brothers-all pastors who’ve stood beside many a grave.
So did my father. I can only imagine how many funerals Dad performed, though, knowing Dad, I’m sure we could easily find records of every one and the exact number of services-when, where, etc.
When Mom died in 1992, I remember Dad telling us something like this: “Fellows, we’ve all helped with countless funerals. But this is the first time death has touched our little original family circle. It won’t be easy, but we’ll learn something through this that will help us help others.”
As usual, Dad was right.
When Mom died, we weren’t ready-you’re never ready-but we knew it was coming. And we drank the whole bitter cup. We walked the whole path and didn’t dodge anything. (Hospice was a huge help in making a difficult experience one of the most meaningful of our lives.) It does no good, you see, to dodge grief. It will come. Better just to look it in the eye and let it.
Then Dad died in 2000. It was much the same as Mom’s death in some ways and much different in others. He was 87, and so how unexpected could it be? But it still caught us by surprise. It was a “good” death. No regrets. Nothing left unsaid. No bitterness in the background. And, again, we didn’t dodge the grief. But the whirlwind of our lives makes precious little time for the work of grief. It comes anyway and is one untamed and unruly visitor you’ve no choice but to make time for, one way or another.
Dad was the best man I’ve ever known. Four years later, I still don’t feel like he’s that far away. He had a wonderful life and was granted a good death. When he preached on the Sunday before his death, his text was Psalm 90: “Lord, teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” It was a good time to go (though he was scheduled to preach on the next Sunday, too!).
So much was right about his life and his death-and his faith. So much good. So much for which to be thankful.
But I miss him deeply.
No surprise. Dad is the one who told me from his own experience with his own parents that it would be this way.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at