THE GIFT OF GRIEF
A Mother’s Story
My daughter Jolene died at the age of twenty- three.
She didn’t die of disease, or accident, or even murder. I guess you could call it murder. She murdered herself: she committed suicide.
I know grief on a first name, call-in-the-middle-of-the-night basis.
The first time I read the beatitudes after her death, the words slapped me in the face. “Blessed are they that mourn.”
Oh, I understood the comfort part. God comforted me, in spades, giving me strength to carry on and using me as a testimony to the people around me.
But losing a daughter in the prime of her life did not feel like a blessing. Today, almost five years later, it still feels wrong, unnatural, unnecessary, heart-rending, life-changing. All of that, and more.
I wrestled with the idea of grief as a blessing. Mourning and grief are feelings; I didn’t “feel” happy, no matter what word Jesus used in preaching the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus didn’t deny my feelings, discredit them, or tell me to be happy when my heart had been ripped from my chest. Instead, He blessed me with His actions, with facts that took on a whole new reality. Ten months after the tragedy, I took stock of the rock-bottom truths which had gained a new depth.
· Jesus died to give me eternal life.
· Jolene has eternal life because she placed her trust in Jesus.
I had witness her decision to follow Christ, I have heard her testimony from her own lips and read her words. She is alive.
· Jolene is in heaven, where tears and pain are a thing of the past.
Even if Jolene could return, I would never ask her to. She is healed of the Borderline Personality Disorder that made her so uncertain and unhappy.
· Jolene is watching me as I continue to run the race before me.
Jolene wants my happiness. She is cheering me on. I am the missing generation—she is there with her great-grandmother and her grandmother.
· I will see Jolene again.
The more of my loved ones go ahead, the more I want to join them. What a reunion!
· Because God became man, He understands my pain and mourns with me.
I knew Jesus had experienced grief—look at Lazarus. He might have also known the pain of losing someone to suicide. He cried right along with me.
· Jesus welcomed Jolene home.
Jolene wrote about Jesus hugging her in His arms. As life ebbed from her body, He cradled her in His lap.
I have always accepted these facts as part of my believe system. With the blessing of grief, facts traveled from my head to my heart and etched themselves on the raw nerve endings, seeking to scab over as I healed.
As if all of those biblical truths weren’t enough of a blessing, God added another to enrich the life-from-death truth of the gospel: my first grandchild was born nine months’ after Jolene’s death. Jordan Elizabeth Franklin will never meet her aunt this side of heaven, but her smile, her bouncing brown curls and bright brown eyes, her giggles—she is God’s gift here and now.
Holidays have come and gone. Each Resurrection Day reminds me of my loss; we learned of Jolene’s death on the Monday of Passion Week. With Christmas came a different kind of celebration. What I enjoyed wasn’t the trappings of Christmas—presents and lights and trees seemed hollow without Jolene... I went through most of advent praying, Lord, just let me survive.
Even the things that gave me joy faded. How could I sing my favorite Christmas carols without remembering the caroling Jolene and I did each year, waiting at the bus stops after a night of Christmas shopping?
How could we decorate the tree without crying over each and every memory? Baby’s first Christmas 1984. A hand-crafted tree-top angel made out of a lace doily. A blue delft disc reminded me of the visit we made to the Dutch Festival, and the golden boot with the Olympic rings brought back vivid memories of going to the Salt Lake City Olympics.
And yet, as I struggled, Christmas became more real than ever. God became man.
The incarnation—God becoming man—that is the blessing of grief for me.