…YOU have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness. Psalm 30:11
As a family, we honored the tradition of lighting a Yahrzeit candle and saying the Mourner’s Kaddish over our little boy Joshua Zion today on the one year anniversary of his death. Having had a full year to mourn and grieve has been such a healing experience for me. As I reflect on the year, I see a thread of God’s faithfulness through all the emotional ups and downs. It is good for the soul to remember Yahweh even in loss.
Perhaps there are those who would say that since Joshua didn’t have the chance to live with us, we don’t really need a full year to grieve over him. However, if I truly believe that life is sacred even in the womb (I do) and I want to honor with my whole being the life of a son that I desired and somehow express that honor to the highest heavens, to try to shorten the mourning period does not show the depth of my respect for life. There is no point in comparing this to someone else’s loss. Pain is pain and grief will look different to everyone. Having a set period of mourning is comforting in so many respects. I think of how God describes the way He designed the waves of the sea in the book of Job. “Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop” (Job 38:11) Mourning is meant to be complete and thorough, but it is never to take more than its share of our souls. It is not meant to destroy us, though I can think of many days in the past year where I felt like I was being ripped apart. There were days when I wanted to be anywhere other than sitting inside my body, feeling the way I was. Not just because of a death, but because of the life that will never be lived. It’s other-worldly how grief can be so intense that you feel you need to run for your life. The survival instinct can be overpowering. There is something so visceral about allowing a depth of sadness to wash over you from the depths of your soul. To me, it so keenly reflects how much love you had for someone who is now gone. You do have to allow it because those waves are coming whether you can acknowledge it or not. But if our Father can stop even the ocean waves in their rushing upon the shore, how much more will He allow us to know in the midst of our crying out that He has not destined us to be annihilated by the waves of grief over death? He will raise us up. He will sustain us. And He has conquered the evil of life’s breath being taken away. A year gives a person enough time to settle into the idea that a baby will not be there. It’s long enough to start to live in a new normal, though there are many days of stumbling through the motions. In the case of our family, it’s long enough to conceive a rainbow baby, which is only the utter mercy of the Lord to me in the state of having a shredded heart. I don’t look at the day after the anniversary of Joshua’s death as the complete end of ever feeling saddened over his loss again. I know that every time a birthday or milestone is missed, I will feel that prick in my soul in wishing he had had the chance to experience life with me. Instead, I choose to acknowledge that God has set a time for all things under heaven. He has set a time for mourning and a time for dancing. In fact, it is the Lord Himself who removes our garments of sadness and replaces them with garments of joy.
I am looking at the rest of my life without Joshua. It starts today. Will I let my heavenly Father say to me, “Now it’s time for you to get up and go on. Now it’s time to remember My joy again. Now it’s time to walk out what I’ve fashioned in you during this season of loss.” My heart says to Him that I am ready for my sackcloth to be laid aside. I am ready for HIM to turn my mourning to dancing. I choose to take that step into whatever God has for me, scars and all, and remember with the way I live my life that He wastes no opportunities to make us more like Christ. He won’t waste one tear or one moment of heartache. All of it, every single bit, is the mortar He will use to build my life’s portion in His kingdom. Moving forward is acknowledging that I am to be a comfort to others as I myself have been comforted. There are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters the world over experiencing loss and grief of all kinds every day, and for many of them it is unbearably unimaginable. And now it’s time for me to set aside my own sadness so that I can be an instrument of healing to someone else – the hands and feet of Yeshua.
For the past year, one way I have chosen to honor my grief has been to refrain from cutting my hair. I have not even had a trim in this entire year! Trust me, my hair is pretty scraggly by now. Not cutting it has been my way of wearing sackcloth or wearing black to remind myself that I am in mourning and giving myself the permission to fully embrace the sadness. I have endeavored to completely allow the process of grieving to do a sanctifying work in my heart. I know that any sort of suffering in this life, though not what we would ever choose in our earthly minds, is meant to purify us of dross and make us more like our Bridegroom. Grieving is all a part of that purification process. It forces us to face the eternal, the “other-than-ness” of God on His throne. The pain of loss wakes us up in our souls and is intended to call us to a higher level – if we let it work the holy work in us. It is meant to destroy our faulty foundations and replace all of our perceptions about God and His ways with the Rock foundation of Jesus Christ. I feel more alive today than I ever have. It took a death to bring me to this place. It’s not as if God rescues us after just one period of grief and we never have to face it again. All of life is filled with these valleys of death shadows, and each one takes us deeper into His bosom. I can only pray that my heart is tender towards Him with each loss I have to face. Today, I will chop off my physical sackcloth, and in my heart I will be handing over my grief in its completeness to my heavenly Father. I trust that when I leave this day behind, He has a robe of gladness for me such that I cannot even imagine right now. My joy does not exist because I am having another baby in little while, though I acknowledge the amazing privilege of sharing creation with the Lord. My joy does not exist because I look around and see how blessed I am in my family, though I acknowledge that He is doing something incredible in all of us. My joy comes from that deep, abiding understanding that Yahweh is on His throne. My shalom is complete. In Strong’s concordance, shalom means “completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” What a tiny word that packs such a punch! The word harmony sticks out to me as I am moving forward. I am choosing to be in harmony with God’s plans for me, trusting that He speaks the truth when He says He works all things together for my good. I walk without the agitation and discord that fear and a fleshly lack of faith would say is my portion. An even more interesting tidbit from the root word shalom is the Hebrew words “shelem” (which means to pay for) and “shulam” (which means to be fully paid). So when I say that Yeshua purchased my peace, I am ultimately recognizing that the price has been fully paid for me to live in perfect harmony with Him even when my “dusty” mind does not understand His ways.
One of the things we did as a family today was read this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote it after the loss of a daughter. It is long, but I have yet to find something that expresses more eloquently the stages of feelings I’ve walked through this past year. For me, the words of this poem are on my heart as I leave this line in the sand behind me.
There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there!
There is no fireside, howsoe’er defended,
But has one vacant chair!
The air is full of farewells to the dying,
And mournings for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted!
Let us be patient! These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.
We see but dimly through the mists and vapors;
Amid these earthly damps
What seem to us but sad, funereal tapers
May be heaven’s distant lamps.
There is no Death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.
He is not dead,–the child of our affection,–
But gone unto that school
Where he no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.
In that great cloister’s stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin’s pollution,
He lives, whom we call dead.
Day after day we think what he is doing
In those bright realms of air;
Year after year, his tender steps pursuing,
Behold him grown more fair.
Thus do we walk with him, and keep unbroken
The bond which nature gives,
Thinking that our remembrance, though unspoken,
May reach him where he lives.
Not as a child shall we again behold him;
For when with raptures wild
In our embraces we again enfold him,
He will not be a child;
But a gentleman, in his Father’s mansion,
Clothed with celestial grace;
And beautiful with all the soul’s expansion
Shall we behold his face.
And though at times impetuous with emotion
And anguish long suppressed,
The swelling heart heaves moaning like the ocean,
That cannot be at rest,–
We will be patient, and assuage the feeling
We may not wholly stay;
By silence sanctifying, not concealing,
The grief that must have way.