The admonition in 1 Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances seems pretty straightforward…but honestly, ALL circumstances, Lord? Have you asked Him that question, yourself? How many of us can honestly say we are grateful in all circumstances?
What about grief? I mean, let’s be real. As we struggle through the foggy pain of loss, can we sincerely say “Thank you, Lord,” and mean it?
Of course not. In recovering from such circumstances, we muddle through. Our focus is limited to those in our immediate vicinity. “I’m doing the best I can,” we explain to others, and it’s true. We attend to the tasks absolutely necessary for our loved ones, for that day…and then the next…and the next.
When our second child, Hunter, died as an infant, I did just that. Each public outing, even a simple trip to the grocery store, felt like a survival mission. My heart hurt, my mind was numb, and my thoughts were scattered. For a long time, I fought against a deep seeded instinct to become reclusive. Any energy I had was poured into our little family, and quite honestly, nothing else.
Born prematurely, Hunter spent his short life of 16 days in and out of the hospital, fighting everything from a low birth weight to jaundice. He died at home, and the official cause of death was marked as accidental suffocation. Tragically, I had fallen asleep while nursing him.
If you’re familiar with the stages of grief, you’ll know that despite an extraordinary situation, I was feeling pretty normal for someone who lost a child. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance; there are quite a few milestone emotions to move through, and it’s very understandable for the process to take a while.
For me, it was about three years. As a part of the depression, I was understandably stuck in guilt, and then fear, for a good long time. Parenting becomes a whole different ball game when you realize that despite your best efforts, your child’s life could be gone in an instant.
In retrospect, almost a quarter of a century later, three short years was just a snap of the fingers. In the middle of that sadness, though, it seemed like it would never end, and I felt awful for not being a very happy mom. Overprotective, for sure, but not fun at all.
I’ll always remember the moment I felt that veil of grief lift, though. Reluctantly coming along with my husband to play outside one night with our kids, I found myself joyously catching fireflies in a large field near our home. Everyone’s laughter was like a favorite radio station playing in the car; the melodies were catchy and uplifting, but I hadn’t even noticed it had been on the whole time.
Looking up, I saw the stars, and looking out, there were the twinkling fireflies. We had two sons by then (and would soon add another), and they squealed with excitement in the dark. The beauty of the moment took my breath away, and I cried—happy tears. As a young woman, I realized I didn’t know if I’d ever paid attention to all of the amazing works of God’s art, from our giggling children to the glorious earth and sky that surrounded us.
Waking the next morning, my vision felt clearer than ever, and I couldn’t stop marveling about everyone—and everything little thing– I saw. How cute are toddler’s toes, I wondered, and had they always been this adorable?! Even the orange daylilies that grew in the ditches along the way to church, with their long, carefree leaves, captivated my attention like never before.
To everything, there is a time; a time to grieve, and a time to dance. It took me a long time after Hunter died to allow myself to “dance,” moving freely among the living, with joy and appreciation. The rhythm of my life now beats with a cadence of service, faith, and gratitude, though I once couldn’t have imagined a complete, hopeful healing from the pain of such an enormous grief.
So, no, I didn’t feel thankful for Hunter’s death. But slowly, over time, I saw reasons to be thankful, even in that circumstance. For example, we were blessed with another wonderful son a year after Hunter’s birth. Who knows if we’d have even had another child so soon after Hunter’s birth? For him, I was grateful.
Are you in your time of grief? Take heart and be kind to yourself; the heaviness will lift for you, too. One day, as you’ve moved through the stages of grief and you least expect it, your time of dancing will commence, your own retrospective gratitude list will become clear, and you will be thankful.
Guest bloggist, Tracy Willard, lives in Port Huron, MI, where she is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Hunter Hospitality House, Inc., providing free lodging for those in need of restoration while their loved ones are hospitalized, or during their own outpatient treatment. Emails to Tracy can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can find out more about Hunter Hospitality House by searching for them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and on their website, HunterHospitalityHouse.com.