Seasons of Overcoming: Purification of Grief?

Jesus_117It’s February, a time of transition rich with ancient symbolism, refining elements of nature and seasonal celebrations. There are many good reasons to celebrate love, new life, historical traditions and international tributes. Currently some are happy about the Super Bowl outcome while others cheer on the Winter Olympic winners! The word February comes from Latin origins meaning to “purify” or “expiate”. The ancient Romans recognized it as a season of purification—where festivities were held to reestablish a renewed focus on righteous living. Winter rains, snow and ice provide a cleansing with anticipation for renewal as we wait with hope for spring.

This is my February story about how the purifying fire of grief changed my family and my life.

It was not an ordinary February day—no not in any way. After a restless night of fitful sleep combined with prayers and tears I was drained. Thankfully I had previously arranged to redeem a massage (an unusual but very special Valentine’s gift from my husband). On my way home, I stopped and purchased some pretty primroses and planted them in spite of the frigid weather. I’ve always found gardening to ease my soul. I warmed up in front of the television, when a special news alert came on announcing that two bodies were found nearby with no further details available. Anxiously I searched the internet for further information and then waited for the evening news.

Alone in the darkness I heard a loud knock at my front door. Who could it be? I wasn’t expecting anyone and already knew my husband planned to work late. When I opened the door and they asked if I was Carol Smith my heart broke with anxious thoughts of why they were at my home. “Did I know Stephen Smith?” the detective asked. “Yes, I am his Mother” and then I immediately asked “Is he okay?” Immediately I broke down in tears because my worst fears were about to unravel as they asked to come in and talk with me. “No! No!” I cried, “Please tell me it isn’t true.” I knew it was true as I was silenced in shock. They were compassionate and patient. I gasped for God. This was absolutely the worst tragedy…

February 21st, the day life stopped. My beloved son Stephen was found dead a short distance from our home. The last time I saw him, he made me breakfast and his last words were: “I love you Mom.” He seemed upbeat as he left that morning but he did not come home. The next time I saw him he was cold and absent from his body. His cause of death: heroin overdose. Stephen suffered from a broken soul: anxious, deeply depressed from so many injuries and personal losses. He became addicted to anything that would ease his pain. I’ll never forget picking him up in a small but heavy box…placing his ashes in the back seat for the drive home from the mortuary.

So many threats and unknown attempts finally culminated in his death—ruled accidental but was it his final suicidal fulfillment of his desire to escape this troubled world? Shame, guilt, fear and worry can overcome the best of us. Judge not for you know not the full story—especially if you have never experienced mental illness, brain injury, serious diagnosis and addiction in your own family. We tried everything to get him help: unceasing prayer, faith and hope that he would be healed. We were diligent with interventions, trips to the emergency rooms, psychiatry, prescriptions, temporary detoxifications, rehabilitation all ineffective fixes. We felt helpless as all our son’s attempts to get help failed. We observed his desperate cries of self-condemnation; we witnessed his tormented anger at God. We endured many relentless days and nights of fear. We leaned onto our faith in a loving merciful God. We sought help for ourselves through our church, Al-Anon and professional counseling. We tried detachment with love. Nothing we could do would fill the emptiness of his soul. He knew we loved him but it was not enough. Only God could save him.

Addiction is a chronic and deadly disease that affects everyone in the family. It’s been a generational curse in my heritage. Everyone in its path is l victimized by the crisis and consequences of it’s destruction.  We felt helpless but we refused to give up hope. Stephen felt he was permanently damaged unable to climb out of the depression. He expressed over and over how he hated being an addict. He could not control the unceasing drive to ease his chronic pain brought on by brain damage, multiple injuries and worse yet the withdrawals. Stephen warned us he was giving up just two more days before he was scheduled for another rehab.

Stephen will always be a part of us. He is constantly in my thoughts. I get flashes of him as I see young skateboarders or bicyclists along the road. Relief comes just as quickly as grief grips. Memories can be painfully haunting or sweet and sober. I cry and immediately pray “help me Jesus” over and over. God gives comfort and renewed strength. Thankfully my husband and I have drawn even closer through our faith and love. We share a mutual compassionate understanding as we mourn the excruciating loss of our “one flesh.”

What anguish to lose anyone you love; we are not designed for death or separation. No matter how it happens, you can never prepare for grief—especially when devastating losses keep coming. What could be worse than sudden death of my husband’s baby sister Christina or the mysterious disappearance of my youngest sister Michele—never to be found?

Over the years, many of our closest relatives passed away in winter. But in February—the designated month of purification I lost my Mother and many years later my Father and now my youngest son. We are weary from the seemingly endless adversities but I vow not to give in. Nothing can separate us from God and His love.

What do you do to get through grief? Grief penetrates very deeply. My husband and I grieve very differently. Ron became more active in his volunteering; I withdrew and needed time to process with God alone. I needed to pray, read, research and write. As a couple we listened intently, cried and comforted one another with patience. We received loving support. We found solace in solitude. There were moments when I wanted to end the suffering, go to sleep and join my loved one in peace. But for us it was important to give in any way we could for in serving we experienced healing relief.

Each day, I am challenged to choose between gratitude or grievance? Will I focus on my pain and suffering or will I trust and seek God for overcoming in Christ?

Letting go of suffering is a continual surrender especially when there is a very painful ending. Grief is awfully deep as it fiercely strips every layer of your sanity and sensibility. Too many “if only;” “could of;” or “should have’s”—or even worse the regrets of Why’s with no answers!

One year later, I survive but not without struggle but I will keep holding on. Grief is not necessarily something you overcome…there is no closure until Jesus comes and brings an end to all death. Revelation 21-22

There is healing as we trust in God’s promises especially Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)

37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“And they overcame…because of the blood of the Lamb

and because of the word of their testimony,

and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” 

Revelation 12:11 NASB

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol J. Smith
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 00:55:50

    This was very difficult to share–my most vulnerable story of suffering. I write for grief relief with my prayer that someone will be comforted in their loss.

    Reply

  2. Marnie
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 06:15:33

    Thank you for sharing this, Carol. Your skill with words was only surpassed by your willingness to bare your soul to an often harsh and cruel world. Thank you! Praying for you today, on this memorial day. May your thoughts be filled with the delights of knowing Stephen Smith, even for a shorter time than you hoped or imagined! I am so proud of you!! Love, Marnie

    Reply

  3. nwjoanie
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 07:52:36

    This was beautifully written Carol. I can hear in your words the pain, but I also hear the hope! When my niece was killed in an accident at age 16 by trying to “hood surf” in the parking lot of her HS parking lot, falling and breaking her neck, my sister-in-law said at the memorial that the pains were similar to giving birth, in that the pains were brief to begin with, but became longer and more intense, and closer, until finally delivery came. The pains this time were reversed; intense and long to begin with, but occurring in rhythmic waves, loosing intensity and spreading further apart. I found that so interesting that in bringing forth life and loosing a life would be experienced in an opposite way. Makes sense.

    The heart pains we experience in loss is actually the spasms of the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. The brain perceives this as something to be concerned about, so some anxiety can be added to this pain. The heart is a sensitive organ, but amazingly strong; and it is uppermost in my mind right now because we just finished covering the heart in my ap2 class which included dissecting sheep hearts. I ask my students to run down the aorta along the wall until they come into contact with the semilunar valves that stop blood from flowing back into the heart between contractions, and its fun for me to watch their faces light up with amazement when they see how thin this tissue is, but how incredibly strong! I challenge them to try to break through the valve with just the force of their finger, and no one yet has been able to accomplish this. Yet, when the heart is broken, as when Jesus heart was, I can imagine that the whole vascular supply to His heart went into full spasms until clots were formed in all of them, and the heart muscle became starved to death, which He knew was imminent, when He cried out, “It is Finished!” I can imagine the pain of the heart He endured for us, but because He did, I know He understands ours, and is with us through it all, the good, bad and the ugly.

    Thank you for sharing your heart issues with us, and your HOPE in Christ!

    Have a Precious Sabbath! I am attending Fall Creek Church today and spending the rest of the day with my folks.

     Big hugs, Joan

    Reply

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