On Grief and the Latency of Projects

I wish this were a cheerful post today. I wish I were cheerful.

Actually, I don’t really wish that. Cheeriness would be out-of-school right now, even if my veneer of cheer to my coworkers is substantially an act. But no. We lost my wife’s mom last week, and I don’t feel cheerful about that. Truth be told, I’m not sure exactly what it is I feel.

We had one of those late-night conversations about this. We both feel like we should somehow feel worse than we do, and as a result experience a level of guilt. We lost a parent; shouldn’t we be crushed and lamenting and inconsolable? Why don’t we feel that way?

Truth is, this is not my first rodeo. Or my second. I’m in my sixties now, and this occasion marks the fourth and final parent that has taken the journey into the Kingdom– and that doesn’t include the numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends we’ve lost along the way. I think I once heard a title of something like “A Grief Experienced” or some such. Oddly, I’m curious what exactly that means. Ultimately, grieving is a deeply individualized process and we all experience it in our own way. Either that or I’m just a callous, uncaring cretin. But, I’d rather go with the individualized-process assertion. Thus guilt is thwarted and we move forward without the additional baggage of self-recrimination.

All of that said, the process of losing a loved one really has a way of putting everything else on the shelf. Literally. Right when Mom was getting seriously ill, I was deep into a modeling project, building a Trumpeter kit of the USS Yorktown, one of those absurdly-detailed kits that I’ve been working on since Christmas. From the moment of Mom’s final slide, I haven’t touched it. I don’t want to touch it. I have lost interest in it, and in my railroad projects, and in my Amazon-published book, and pretty much all the “interests” that define much of my activity. Facebook fan groups. Politics. Music even. Just not appealing.

When will I get back to my normal activities? Well, I tell myself, once the memorial is complete and we’ve dealt with all the other logistics and things finally settle down, I can go back to painting tiny little aircraft and planning a launch event for the book.

But, truth be told, I don’t really believe it. Aside from this blog post and a few updated images, I have not the energy to do much of anything, and I don’t know when that will change.

I suppose, for me, grief takes the form of lethargy.

(See, writing about it has given me that little bit of clarity. I suppose that’s why therapists recommend journaling as a way to recovery. Maybe it actually works.)

My surface calmness right now is like the planetary crust. You don’t have to go far below it (in terms of ratio of crust / molten core) to find emotions waiting to bubble out. Let’s look at that for a moment, because I think it’s instructive.

First: what emotions? Well, in my case they’re the kind that express by what we call “choking up” and crying. But that’s not very helpful; most emotions I personally feel end up getting expressed that way. Joy, sadness, certainty, pride, appreciation, hope… they all trigger the waterworks. Cute puppy? Cry. Beautiful sunset? Cry. Cute puppy run over on the highway? Cry. Singing an Easter hymn? Cry. You get the idea. Tears are a many-to-one relationship in my spirit. Not a helpful clue. You need more data. So, what am I actually feeling, emotionally, during this time? What causes the unexpected outbursts?

For answers, I am afraid that I must disclose foundational principles. The prime movers of my person. And those are my deeply-held convictions in the veracity of my Christian faith. (It’s my blog and I can talk about religion if I want to!) And what the source documents of my faith tell me about a time of grief is this: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thess. 4:13-14, NIV) Fine words? More than fine words? Here’s what I can say. Mom was a 92-year veteran of the faith, a lifetime minister and worker, and I know that she has graduated to her reward now. She hasn’t vanished into some cosmic nothingness; she has not ceased to exist. She worked her whole life for this moment. The Bible has easy-to-understand criteria regarding entry into the Kingdom, and she exceeded these. And because of that, I truly do not grieve as one who has permanently lost someone. The last thing I said to her, or rather to her lifeless, cooling body that she no longer inhabited, was “We’ll see you soon.” And I’m quite certain that within 40 years, possibly much sooner, I will see her soon. So, it’s not with the irretrievable sense of loss that I grieve. It’s the absence that I feel. I’ll see her, after I too pass through that veil, but in the meantime we all feel the void she left behind. It’s different with those who have rejected the life that Jesus offers; those people I will never see again. But even in that, there’s a certain belief in God’s righteousness and justice that he causes all things to end up as they should. My faith bears me up through all times of grief.

So yeah. Even with the faith I have, I grieve, I hurt, I lapse into lethargy. But I have hope. Hope that, as described in scripture, is a certain, but future, expectation.

Experientially, I find the ancient words of the Bible to describe exactly the journey I make. As the Apostle Paul’s closing words in the so-called Love Chapter say, “Now abide faith, hope, and love, these three. And the greatest of these is love.

I loved Mom. I still do.

… and here go the waterworks…

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