How should we then grieve?

And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. — The Apostle Paul, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (The Message)

Grief is so intensely personal because it flows from love. Memories come flooding back to us, hopes and dreams dissolve into tragedy, and we ache in our bodies and hearts for a restoration of what was but is suddenly lost.

There’s an overpowering helplessness in grief. We are weaklings before death. It violently breaks down the door and steals from us like a thief in the night; we are crushed by the realization that we’ll never get back what was taken from us.

It’s no wonder, then, that grief is so crippling. It feels like the universe has tilted upside down. It forces unwanted changes on us while leaving hurts and unspoken words hanging, unresolved.

Does faith in God make any of this easier?

On the one hand, no. I walk into my son’s empty room and miss all the ways I used to encounter him there. Often I would sit down beside him as he slept, gently wake him, and assemble his diabetes test kit while chatting with him about whatever came to mind. At other times, when he was working at his desk, he would share with me something interesting he was doing or reading.

Now, I walk out the back door and through the gate that he and I built together, in the shade of the porch that he and I built together, and find his bicycle hanging on the wall where he left it. Around every corner is a reminder that he’s gone, reminders of the many ways he enriched my life, reminders of the times we made each other laugh. Reminders of all the little vignettes that added up to a life together.

I find it indescribably sad that those old memories will no longer be filed away next to new memories.

One thing that has comforted me is the belief that he is being ministered to and healed in a place where there is no pain, no tears, only love. My faith in Jesus leads me to believe that there is such a place promised to all of us who have trusted in the cross.

But thinking about what Paul says to the Thessalonian church, I’ve wondered if there is something more beyond the sadness and the hope of eternity, something that comforts right now in the midst of this pain.

Perhaps gratitude is a uniquely Christian ingredient to grief and loss. Am I grateful that my son is gone? Heaven’s no. But I am grateful that I had such a son. I’m grateful that God has allowed me to be a father. I’m grateful for the uncountable moments of joy and laughter we had together growing up. I’m grateful for his kind heart, his inquisitive mind, his generosity of spirit, his love for his family and his friends. I’m grateful for the honorable person he grew up to be as an adult, for his untiring willingness to help others, for his enjoyment of good friends and good times.

I’m grateful that he was willing to keep struggling with depression for so many years, that he sought help and tried hard to find a cure for the darkness that dogged him.

I’m grateful that he loved me, and that I could learn so much about what love really is through the experiences we had together over 43 years.

I’m trying not to grieve “like people who have nothing to look forward to.” I’m trying not to grieve in a way that fails to acknowledge how blessed I have been to have been a father to such a son.

Sometimes all I can feel is sad. I miss him. I wanted a much better ending than this. But in the midst of these regrets, I am deeply and genuinely grateful for the life we lived together.

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