22 November 2011

My Sorrowful Mysteries :: Tales of a Spiritual Life After Death (Part 1)

Depending on when you asked me over the course of the year between Ewan's death and the first anniversary of it, I might have felt everything or nothing as I realized that important anniversary was approaching. It's hardly surprising that losing my son and nearing the first anniversary of the night he died in my arms would give rise to a wide range of emotions, each of them bubbling up from the depths of me and popping when they rose to the surface, meeting the free air. Perhaps even less surprising is the number of questions I had for God to which his death gave rise.

Though "why?" is a natural question and one that, in the throes of some black and turbulent nights, was asked frequently enough, it was never at the top of my list. I can't imagine that there's a single answer God could give me that would satisfy the empty arms that had been prepared to cradle my baby, or the aching breasts whose milk had dried up. If my son wasn't coming back to me healed and whole, then even the best answer God Himself could provide to the question of "why?" would be utterly unsatisfying.

grief & faith

It wasn't the actual loss that I questioned, or even why God tenderly knitted Ewan together inside me with a heart too broken to sustain his life so much as it was the question of where God was in the weeks and months that followed. I read any number of Psalms or other scriptures that spoke of His care for the brokenhearted, or how He captures every tear. I read of a God who provided His brokenhearted faithful with comfort and solace and protection. So why did I feel so utterly abandoned? Why did I feel like, after He attended to us in those final moments of Ewan's life, that I was anywhere but beneath the shadow of His wings?

I can't tell you how many nights I sat in the rocking chair in a dark and empty nursery, clutching the armrests with white knuckles, weeping hard enough to break the windows. I can't tell you how many times I fell to the floor in a heap and pounded my fists until I thought they might break through the floor, begging for some form -- any form -- of comfort and solace. I can't tell you how many times James held me in bed, my body curled up tightly in the fetal position, my spirit wracked with a pain deeper and more exquisite than I had ever known as I kicked and screamed and thrashed and wept and clawed and begged. I wondered when the grief might kill me -- it was not a question of "if." It was the loss of my son, yes. But it was also that I felt like Jesus was leaving my broken heart unattended in the aftermath. If I ever needed some divine arms around me, it was in those moments. But if they were there, I didn't feel them -- not in the slightest.

My God, My God -- why have you forsaken me?

This went on for several months, this knowing but feeling nothing of Him, but feeling all that weight of hell instead. It was like having a husband you love, but never seeing him. You might see evidences of his presence from time to time: a plate with food left on it that you know is not yours, or his shirt hung over the chair. Perhaps you hear his footsteps echoing in another room or detect his scent on the pillowcase next to yours. He might leave you a note saying, "I love you," but it's been ages since you heard him speak those words to you in person. You know he's there, but you never see him. You have forgotten the shape of his face under your hand, and how his fingers feel interlaced with yours.

That is how it felt with me and God -- like the relationship that was supposed to be the most intimate and important of all relationships had been all but abandoned. I was doing my part, and it seemed that He was failing to hold up His end of the bargain.

I had been walking with Christ long enough to know that just because I didn't feel Him didn't mean He wasn't present. I prayed, I continued to attend Mass regularly and participate in the sacraments. I continued to open the pages of Scripture to read and to study. I recognized and thanked Him for the things He provided. My faith and my devotion were not built on feelings, after all. I reasoned that perhaps I was feeling too many other things to feel Him. I thought that maybe the unending, infinite grief in our lives had crowded out my very finite ability to sense the supernatural. I thought that maybe when the raging sea died down to a calm, that I would perceive at least a shaft of sunlight and in it, the God whose presence I craved.

all at sea

Frankly, I was surprised when I didn't. I grew increasingly frustrated with trying to make sense of what felt like His prolonged and unmistakable absence -- trying to take something that felt so horrible and painful and make it out to be good and loving somehow. Oftentimes, having no words for my prayer, I would take to Him an image of me holding out my heart in front of him: dripping, shredded beyond repair, throbbing limply and weakly with what little life remained. Nothing ever happened, though. He never came and held me, never took my heart in His hands to mend it. He left me there, holding it with cupped palms and outstretched arms that ached and burned with its weight. It didn't matter how much I begged. He never took it from me, and never stretched out His hand to heal it.

It started to feel like I was making excuses for Him. It was infuriating.

I gave myself pep talks about keeping up faith despite my feelings. I knew with certainty what was true -- though in different ways, I had experienced enough crucible moments prior to Ewan's death to doubt His love and care for us in this one. But my fury grew, and I was having an increasingly difficult time understanding how His seeming absence could be for my good, or how it could be loving to leave me alone in the middle of a wide sea, heart dying in my own hands, when He had the power to save me.

To Be Continued


  1. Oh the dance between grace and grief! I can identify. Looking forward to reading your continued words.

  2. Kirsten, your honesty here is wrenching and exquisite all at once... Thank you for being willing to share these sorts of questions in this space.

    anticipating the continuation.