Two weeks ago, my friend, my attorney, my confidant and I had lunch. Steve and I hope to share and catch up weekly, though it seems that busy times tend to make that monthly. And this get together was long overdue.
I arrived first, sat and waited a few, and Steve arrived not long after the determined time. A quick hello, and then the strangest first question I have ever been asked.
“Do you think animals go to heaven?”
Now Steve and I have known each other for decades, since my first journey to Tulsa in 1977. We shared many moments back then, including working together in Youth Ministry. So deep or unusual or probing theological questions are not new to us, but frankly this one was unexpected to me in the context of this lunch get together.
My answer was short. “Why not?”
My follow up, more significant. “Why ask?”
Steve’s cat of 15 years had passed just hours before. Found warm by his 17 year old daughter, still on the couch. Slumber and life had left. Steve and his daughter, who had known that cat essentially all her life, were in the throws of grief.
Grief. Oh beloved, heart wrenching, soul searching, life consuming, control abandoning, and life giving grief was wrapped around my friend. Yes I did start this sentence with Beloved and end with Life giving. Grief has changed my life. Or for those who know me, God changed my life by introducing me to grief. And oh what a glorious ride my life has been since discovering MY truth as I deal with MY grief and try to respond to yours.
Let my say that most of my life I just ignored grief. It was not that I was cruel and unusual, I just thought that grief was something that should be handled. I find this strange now, because I would cry in sadness when growing up while watching movies and “Ol’ Yeller” was shot, or Bambi lost her mother. But I truly did not understand grief.
I was one blind guy when it came to this grief experience. And I am not sure I am prepared at this moment to discuss the whole journey into revelation. But here are the grief highlights.
My first real brush, 1990. Which I come to find out now was no brush at all. My Father at age 71, fell, hit his head, brain hemorrhage, dead quickly. The service was sad, some emotion, and I got over it.
Then lots of people and family of people I know died, and lots of other people’s animals died. And I would say I am sorry. And then I would go on. I did not know anything. I did not feel anything. I feigned caring. And would use my Spiritual “ignorance” to remain above the fray. Just rejoice and thank God in all things.
November, 2009, as some of you may know, I came home from work to an unusually darkened house. I found Michelle, my wife, dead in the bathtub. Sadness, anger, shock, fear, helplessness, this was about to get personal. I was about to meet grief. It would not be at her service however, that was just sadness.
I don’t remember the day. It was not my first visit to be with Michelle after her passing. It was however the first time I took Tank. GRIEF, it was THAT day. My best friend of 4 legs, the dog that Michelle rescued in the first months after meeting her. And I tell you in all candor, as I tear up now, looking at this picture, I am consumed. Hello grief. Excuse me… I need a break.
I am back.. gut wrenching, soul touching, out of control, wailing, crying out… and as quickly as it appears, it recedes. Cathartic and unexplained. It will not appear every time I see this picture. It will just appear when I need it to… yes need. (and I share that as I proofread and edit this before publishing, and add this line, no return of grief.)
For it is in grief, that I walk on holy ground. I have read that “God’s heart grieved” Grief is the very image and essence of the God I know and love. It is so special, it can’t be conjured. It is unexpected, and now a welcome visitor. It is beloved. It gives me life.
And it caused me to pray a new prayer. “God help me to be a comfort when a person is grieving. Help me to say what should be said” To any and all who grieve… What would You say God? How do I speak into someone’s sorrow.
And so it came to pass.
Steve, I believe you will hear the purr of your kitten again. Yes in Heaven, why not. And for you, and all who grieve.
“I sorrow in your sorrow, I grieve with your grief, and when appropriate, I will smile with your remembrance.”
May you be blessed, may grief lead you into joy and life anew.