Through, not over.
Life took a drastic turn for our family in 2011. On July 18, 2011, our son Brian was killed by a murderer's bullet in the Eastside of downtown Charleston. His sudden, violent death assaulted our emotions and dragged us into the perplexing depths of grief. A multitude of family, friends, church members, and colleagues surrounded us with support and encouragement. We were challenged to seek a new normal in our family life, and promised the emotional and spiritual strength to get over many aspects of personal sorrow. The Christmas season that year, even with the loving care of our daughter Elizabeth Carpenter, son-in-law Scott, and the seasonal joys of our grands, was somewhat grim. His death was the proverbial elephant in the room throughout. Every Christmas since then has been a rich blessing. Still, the grief as been our constant companion. And, we have learned that we will never get over our son's death.
It's one of the myths about grieving, that we humans can somehow muster the inner strength to get over heartbreaking loss. Just getting over any and everything is a really a fallacy of our good old American work ethic. Underneath the stark horrors of life is our determination to conquer obstacles and move past painful and horrific moments. In the following years we learned that getting over our darkest hours isn't the real goal of survival anyway. It became more clear to us one day in Wally World. Strolling the aisles I noticed a book with a compelling title: Getting Past What You'll Never Get Over By John E. Westfall ( Revell, 2012). That day I learned that our grief would involve getting through the ordeal rather than getting over it. Through, not over, became our life pursuit.
Grief is one of those life realities that hovers over many people during the Christmas season. The memory of loved ones, Christmases past, and the absence of them in such a festive season renews the sadness and depression of loss. While everything around us is merry and bright, the weight of death is is heavy. Learning the metrics of getting through such emotional stress became our constant learning point. And, many people around us struggle with those precious elements during the Christmas season, a time that surrounds us with holiday gaiety. Several thoughts converge in this personal goal of getting through. Primary for me has been to cling to the promises of God.
Early on God gave me a promise that continues to guide my life every day, but more so during the Christmas season. Simon Peter wrote, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time" (1 Peter 5: 6, NIV). This promise has given me firm direction in getting through the loss of our son. The promise for me is that God will lift me past this horrible event in his time. I've learned that personal grief doesn't have a time table or even a dependable process. Thousands have written about grief but my lesson has been that every experience of loss is unique, personal, and therefore different. This promise assures me that there is a time in God's order that will be foundational in my getting through it. This promise gives me daily comfort.
And, of course, the Bible is a book of God's rich promises. Over these years I have read dozens of book and articles about the grieving process. Noting however, has been more central to our getting through this loss than knowing God's promises to be with us, guide us in life's realities, and experience his goodness in every circumstance. I am reminded that "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it" (1 Thessalonians 5: 24, ESV). My first counsel to those whose Christmas season is clouded by personal loss of any kind is to discover the certainty of God's promises and cling to them. If you know someone living in the haze of grief this Christmas, offer them a Bible promise to help them get through the season.
Remember, it's through and not over.