This is dedicated to my friend, Vlada Moiseeva. Thank you for your constant support and encouragement in my writing. What else could I do to support you in one of your hardest moments, except to write? I pray in mourning you would be comforted.
A good friend’s father died today. He was all of 48 years old. He died on Orthodox Good Friday. I don’t know what that means, if anything. He died on the same day Jesus did. But he won’t be resurrected on Sunday. Most people aren’t, you know. Most of us are simply in a holding pattern between Messianic visits. When we die, we turn to dust. The earthly shell disappears, and no one has ever been able to change that. That fact becomes very real and evident on days like today.
It’s now Saturday. I wrote the above words yesterday and like everything else in my life, I didn’t finish the thought. I couldn’t come up with anything of substance. I couldn’t produce beauty, and order, and sense. I wanted to write some tribute, some flowery words about how the father lives on in his lovely daughter, some such sentimental mumbo jumbo as this. I couldn’t bring myself to do any of it.
You know what I did instead? I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. I have recommended this little book to many people, and perhaps even quoted some of it, but I never read it. Like so many things, I like the idea of it, but taking time to actually do something concrete such as read the thing, no. Too many dishes to wash in the sink.
Anyway, I spent most of my Good Friday evening reading this 37-page unbelievably vulnerable journey of a man in the first throws of grief after his beloved wife dies of cancer. His candor was appalling and agonizing. It was like bathing in ice water. The more I swam in his words, the colder I became, even as hot tears scalded my cheeks. I couldn’t believe he wrote the words. Well, I could believe it, for I myself have written in much the same way, but then he actually published them. The courage, the audacity, it took for him to send this out into the world--I was simply stunned. I believe I may have witnessed one of the most courageous acts of any author I’ve ever known.
In the book, we watch Lewis lose his faith. We watch him lose it, and then slowly gain it back, but in a form previously unknown. Jack (as he was called by friends) realizes his faith was nothing but a “house of cards” as he puts it over and over. And he has to have the house fall, totally destroyed, in order to see what it was made of in the first place. He chooses to rebuild the house when this happens--but not everyone does. Tests come, pain comes, death comes--and the house falls down, as it should, as it must. But what shall we make of these things when the pieces of our lives are a bloody mess on the floor? Yes, not everyone can find a way to build again. But to those who do, the house seems to be much sturdier the next time around. Grief, as a building material, turns out to be of much stronger stuff than religious sentiment.
I don’t know what to say to my friend. I don’t know how to journey through grief with her, since I haven’t experienced much of it. Not on par with her or Jack Lewis anyway. I want to give her some gift that will make things easier or better or less burdensome. But why should I want to do such a thing? I cannot possibly ease the suffering. And if I could, should I?
Maybe there is a gift in grief that belongs to the griever that no one should try to touch. Something deeply, eternally precious--a brilliant stone formed in the depths of the suffering, in dark, lonely, secret places. And if I try to “comfort” her by bringing her to shallower ground with sentiments and spiritual pat answers, I am doing her no real favor. It is only those willing to allow the griever their gift who can be called “comforters.”
I told you that it’s Saturday--the day between the death and resurrection of Christ. It is silent Saturday, shrouded Saturday, the day Jesus visits unknown regions, preaches in the depths and darkness, and does who-knows-what in the mysterious caverns of the unseen world. I am so monumentally grateful for Saturday, that Saturday, which gives meaning to this Saturday, when my friend’s father also lies silent and shrouded. There is something extraordinarily beautiful about that truth. That Christ knows. He experienced it. He traveled to the darkest depths on Saturday, and he holds the keys to the mystery of what is beyond the grave.
There’s a tension here, that if I continue to write I will simply spin into the sticky sweetness of sympathy or God forbid, even write something like “At least he’s in a better place.” If Jack Lewis taught me anything last night with his raw and wounded words, it is that it is best to leave such things unspoken, even when we do believe in the ultimate truth of them.
What can I do then? Lewis’s meandering essay on grief serves as part of the answer for me: I’ll send this, my own meandering essay, out to the world at large. Selfishly introspective, I realize this is a paltry gift to my friend--but it’s all I really have to give that has any meaning.
I pray my friend journeys, and grieves, and dives to the depths, and I even pray that her “house of cards” falls down, if there is one. I pray mysterious and precious gifts will be given in this time that come at no one other time, and she holds them tightly and securely, eternally captured by their beauty, forged in the fire of her suffering. Some things in life are not worth the price we pay--but this one is. I pray she holds onto that truth.
And I pray the agonizing, suffering Christ of Friday, and the silent, shrouded Christ of Saturday, and the victorious, resurrected Christ of Sunday will all be hers in ways she has never known or experienced before.