Grief and Gratitude

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I have not written anything since our trip to the cemetery where Ezra and Leo are buried, and where we will one day join them, on their due date in August. It was the day of the Great American Eclipse, the first eclipse to span the country in 99 years.

The day was tragic and painful, and yet, at the same time it was beautiful and even miraculous. As we laid on the grass beside Ezra and Leo and as we stared (through the safety of our special eclipse glasses!) up towards the sun at this cosmic miracle, it felt as if the whole world was looking up and grieving with us, marking this day forever in the earth’s collective memory.

There was one moment, when what had been a sunny day was transformed into twilight, that we could hear both birds chirping and crickets crying at the same moment. I can think of a no better way to complexities of our emotions on that day. It felt like a culmination of all that we had experienced and all that we had endured. Somehow even as we were still filled with an agonizing grief, Ezra and Leo and God were all reaching down to us from the heavens, reassuring us that they are okay and promising that (someday) we would be okay too.

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And then, the next day we came home. And we returned to the doldrums of everyday life. We returned to a house that still need to be cleaned, groceries that needed to be bought, bills that needed to be paid, and chores that needed to be done. Each day returned to its usual rhythm. Everything was different, yet nothing had changed.

Life goes on…



There was a time, shortly after Ezra and Leo died, when even these small, everyday realities once filled me with the same miraculous wonder as that eclipse.

After coming so close to death myself, in those first few days I was overcome with an insatiable gratitude for life, even in the midst of indescribable grief.

At the funeral for instance, as I looked upon Ezra and Leo’s tiny casket, I could not help but imagine my own sitting right beside it. I remember as I gazed upon the plot where the boys were to be buried, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that the plot next to it would have been mine. In the depths of my darkest thoughts, I envisioned my husband standing here utterly lost and alone, preparing to bury both his wife and his children. With those horrors in my head, even as I could barely stand from the overwhelming power of my grief for my stillborn sons, I uttered silently to God,

“Thank you.”

Though my grief was intense, it was tempered by my gratitude. I remember once remarking that the doctors had given me too much medication and had transformed me into a zombie, because there were days when I found it almost impossible to cry. Yet, now that the tears can fall easily, I look back and I know that I wasn’t drugged; I was grateful.

However, I have since learned that even near-death, thank-God-I’m-alive, I-will-never-take-anything-for-granted-again gratitude wears off.

How easily do we take things for granted? Even after facing death head on, it is so easy to lose perspective. How quickly we forget.

On a far less serious, much more comical note, it reminds me of my complete and utter inability to appreciate the weather of the current season. As the long, hot summer days transition into autumn, there have been some mornings when the temperatures here have dropped into the mid-fifties or so. Complaining, I have turned to Patrick and said through gritted teeth, “It’s FREEZING!” And yet, I know full well that come January in these snowy tundras of Upstate New York, where we now live, I will one day look about these 50-degree temperatures with wondrous gratitude, as I excitedly exaggerate to Patrick, “It’s so warm, I could run outside in my underwear!”  

Perspective.

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It is too easy to lose perspective.

Gratitude too quickly gives way to grief. Thankfulness is replaced with tedium. That vow to “never complain again” is forgotten only a few seconds later when you are tested by that red light, or when you get stuck behind a slow walker, or you are put on hold with that horrible elevator music and an obnoxious automated recording repeatedly lies, “Your call is very important to us.”



Only recently, I realized that one of the very last sermons that I had preached before losing Ezra and Leo and so nearly losing my own life was actually a sermon about gratitude. Looking back on these words now, knowing what I was about to endure only a few short months after I preached these words, it is almost eerie.

(You can read the whole sermon here – If You Only Say One Prayer)

With spooky premonition, one paragraphs reads –

Life is  a precious gift to be cherished. And yet, how terribly easy it is to take that for granted. In the irony of life, how often does it take sadness to know what happiness is, noise to appreciate silence, or someone’s absence to realize how much you miss their presence?
And like a poignant prophecy, in what may have so nearly been one of my final sermons ended with the words from the final sermon of Kyle Lake, a minister who was killed in a tragic accident on a Sunday morning. Reading these words again was like a jolt back into perspective. How tragically soon have I forgotten the lessons of my own final words from the pulpit.
In those moments when the grief outweighs the gratitude, or when the mundane overshadows the miraculous, may this benediction help you, as I hope it helps me, remember to live a life of gratitude and wonder –
“Live. And Live Well.
BREATHE
Breathe in and Breathe deeply.
Be PRESENT
Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now.
On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and
FEEL 
the wind against your skin.
Feel the warmth of the sun…. Allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to
FREEZE
your lungs
and do not be alarmed,
be ALIVE
Get knee-deep in a novel and
LOSE
track of time…
Feel the
SATISFACTION
of a job well done – a paper well-written,
a project  thoroughly completed, a play well-performed.
At the table with friends and family,
LAUGH
And TASTE
Taste every ounce of flavor.
Taste every ounce of friendship.
Taste every ounce of Life.
Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift.”
In memory of Pastor Kyle Lake
(June 12, 1972 – October 30, 2005)

 

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