“Lord, restore us to Yourself, so we may return; renew our days as in former times.”
Lamentations 5:21 HCSB
Four years ago, I sat in the corner of a tiny break room off the hall of a hospital corridor. My husband, along with his two brothers and the hospital’s representative sat together at one of those eight-foot long all purpose tables whose legs fold up so the table can lean against a wall when it’s not in use. I was there for moral support.
Down the hospital corridor, in a room right across from the nurse’s station, my husband’s mother lay in a bed, barely breathing. Her name was Nancy, but we called her Nano.
My husband and his brothers sat motionless at the table as Christina — the hospital’s representative — shared with them what to expect in the hours ahead. As I sat in the corner, watching Christina (her name was not lost on me) gently describe what happens when our soul leaves our body for good, I watched the reality of her words sink into the hearts of the men around the table. Their shoulders slumped. Their jaws grew slack. They sat back in their seats, visibly blindsided even though it was hard to argue with what we’d seen as we stood at the bedside, holding Nano’s hand, pressing our cheeks against hers, brushing back her silver hair, and whispering love notes into her ear.
When I leaned over the railing and pressed my cheek to hers, she pressed back, her soft skin warm against my own. But that was all there was. She had been sick before — hospitalized, even. In fact, there had been many times we thought, “This is it!” But she always rallied. So much so, I began to believe she’d outlive us all.
This time, as we stood by her bed, we all knew things were different.
In that break room, Christina confirmed our suspicions and it took the wind out of our sails. I held in my sobs, but Christina, skilled in the work of leading loved ones into grief, caught my eyes and offered a sweet look of warm consolation as the tears coursed down my cheeks. By the time the men pulled themselves away from the table, I’d managed to wipe away the evidence of my grief. After all, I was there for moral support.
We gathered the family for their last good-byes and Nano was moved to a quiet room on the hospice floor. We sang and prayed, laughed and told stories. Then, as the hours marched on, with Nano still taking shallow breaths, the room slowly emptied until it was just my husband and Nano in that quiet hospital room.
My husband says the moment Nano’s soul left her body, it was as if the room was filled with her presence and with a beautiful fragrance he could only call, “Love.”
Nano was the last of the generation before us. So we held our nieces and nephews and our own children as they returned to the hospice floor and sobbed at the news of Nano’s passing. We rubbed their backs and squeezed their hands and looked deep into their eyes to remind them how much they’d been loved; and how well.
We held hands together in a circle around the bed to thank God for such a wonderful soul and such a powerful love.
Later, I held my husband as he cried and I listened to him tell the story, over and over again, of what a beautiful thing it had been — a privilege and an honor, he said — to have been with his mother when she died. And when the tears for the night were done, we slept.
In the morning, before I’d opened my eyes, my grief rent me open with deep sobs of lament. I’d held it in for far too long. My cries reached my own ears as something foreign and I struggled to catch my breath. My grief spilled from some place deep within me and my husband and daughter rushed to my side. I had awakened the household with my lament. My grief ran rampant and someone pressed one tissue after another into my hand. That morning, I cried for hours, unable to speak without crumbling into sobs. No one shushed me. No one told me to pull myself together. Not even when I broke down in the restaurant later that morning. No one looked away from me. No one made me ashamed of my lament.
Lament is a gift we are given.
When the world gets heavy and our hearts break open, our chests heave with the weight and we wail from the depths of the emptiness that remains. Our cries set us free and make space for the sweet, sweet ministry of the Spirit of God who is, himself, Love. And so, we are invited to mourn with those who mourn. Even when their method of lament is unfamiliar to us. When their lament makes us nervous or skeptical or sad or afraid, the words of Scripture invite us to pull up closer and join in, creating more and more space for the Spirit of God to come even closer with whispers of love.
I too had been loved so much and so well by Nano. The intensity of my sadness was a testimony to her love. No wonder it was love that filled the room as she slipped from this world into the next. No wonder my lament was so deeply felt and so warmly welcomed by those who had loved her, too.
Are you grieving today? Have you been holding in your tears? Or, perhaps you know someone who is mourning and would welcome your partnership in her grief?