Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Gestation of Grief

He’s been gone nine months.

That’s equivalent to the length of gestation for the average human being.

Nine months since my dad died.

Pregnancy, when healthy and completed, will result in a new life being born. A new life that matured from embryo to fetus to air-breathing baby. 

For approximately 40 weeks, human potential is floating in the blackness of amniotic fluid and developing in the womb until ready to be birthed into a fresh form of existence.

What’s the gestation period for grief? And when it’s complete, what does it birth?

The mysteries of human anatomy are more fully understood today than any other time in history. We can, therefore, predict the trajectory of a pregnancy, monitor the growth of the fetus, and formulate a fairly fail-proof birth plan. 

Grief is a different beast entirely. True, social scientists have observed and recorded findings that help us understand the most expected path grief will take. The human factor is, however, so vast and so varied that the only foreseeable pattern in grief is that very little seems predictable.

And as best I can tell, as grief incubates and develops in healthy ways, there is a sense that something new will emerge, but it’s not always clear what that will look like or when it will occur.

What’s the gestation period for grief? And when it’s complete, what does it birth?

I hadn’t consciously viewed this path of grief as a gestation period for me. The countless tears, the throbbing loss, the empty absence…I didn’t see any of it as a necessary process toward a new birth. It was just unavoidable in the wake of death and I was just trying to manage survival.

It’s good to know that God sees a bigger picture even when we can’t. 

Grief isn’t meant to last forever, at least not in an intensity that socks you in the gut, confiscates the oxygen from your lungs. The image of a headstone isn’t meant to leave someone stone cold indefinitely. And the freshly dug earth beneath the grave marker, will eventually be covered again in the green growth of grass. It’s the meantime that bridges those two realities. “Meantime” is a gestation; a period of waiting while something grows, develops, matures, becomes, readies itself for birth. 

I am just now realizing, through the fog that something new can actually come to be.

The gestation of grief isn’t measured in days and months, but perhaps there are milestone moments that indicate you’ve moved a little further along in the process. 

Moments when…
  • The times my children ask if my sadness is because of Granddad decreases.
  • The loneliness of my grief has, in part, dissipated.
  • I realize deep ache morphed to anger for a time, and now the anger has subsided.
  • I can laugh more easily.
  • I am finding eucharist in the everyday spaces again.

The gestation of grief has not reached it’s culmination in me because…
  • I still can’t write about Dad without crying
  • I still feel acute loss on special days because I won’t get a phone call from him
  • I still fight a twinge of jealousy toward those who talk nonchalantly about their fathers
  • The Hamilton soundtrack generates melancholy in me because I can’t share a brilliant lyric with him next time we talk.

All these months, while I was lost to myself in the blackness of my grief, an unseen process was nurturing the potential for new life. Jesus has been sitting shiva with me in the darkroom of my grief. He’s been waiting patiently with me and working to insure that what emerges is neither underdeveloped nor overexposed. The God of invisible strength, who holds all things together, has been holding me in tender and capable hands. 

When my tears only seemed to erode my hope, the Comforter knew at just the right time, though unplanned by my calendar, the gestation of my grief will come full-term and something new will be birthed.  

He’s been gone nine months. 

Like pregnancy, there’s a whole lot that has to transpire on the inside before visible confirmation of progress is seen from the outside.

For the first time in this journey of grief, I see evidence that something new and hopeful will born of this. Just yesterday I lay contorted on the driveway to capture this shot. 

As I lay bent on the warm concrete, smelling the delicate scent of these blooms, I realized my lips had turned up in an unforced smile. I may not be able to predict what will come of this gestation or when it will culminate, but if God sees fit to give a flipped-out curl to each petal of the Lily of the Valley, then I trust it will be really, really good.

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