Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.
Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.
I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me. Today’s scripture is from Matthew, chapter 20, verses 17 through 28:
While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Losing my grandparents and parents was losing my past. Losing my husband was losing my present. Losing my only child is losing my future. Each of these losses is distinct, unique…and yet, each of these losses has taught me how little control I have. And each loss has taught me the power of companionship.
I don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse of grief, but grief teaches us how very little control we have. Disease runs its course, and while maybe we can hold it off for a time, death of some cause comes eventually.
All we can do is be there for each other. When I was in graduate school, I was dumped by a young man I wanted to marry. As I look back, I think I probably dodged a bullet. But at the time, I was devastated. One afternoon, I sat in the dorm room across the hall and sobbed. My friend handed me a box of tissues, and I sobbed my way through the entire box. Tissue after tissue wadded with my tears filled her trash can before I left.
When I thanked her later, she said, “But I didn’t do anything!” “You did everything,” I told her. “You stayed with me. You didn’t judge, and you let me cry.” I wonder still if she realizes what a gift she was to me that day when I could not see tomorrow.
The other day, an elderly friend of mine who is quite ill, told me she felt my son, Ted communicating with her across the thin veil that separates this world from the next. Ted, who died at 27, was particularly fond of this friend and her husband. Ted referred to my friend and her husband as “my unjudgemental grandparents.” Not only did their attention lack judgment, it was undivided. It was about the best kind of attention there is. No wonder each of his visits to me included plenty of visits to their house.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised the other day when Ted’s adoptive grandmother, who is quite ill, told me she felt Ted in her hospital room. She was in that state of a little loopy and oddly clear when I spoke with her on the phone. “Teddy’s been visiting me,” she said. “He’s finally healthy and happy – he’s really doing well. He wants you to know that. And he wants you to feel better.” My friend’s thoughts shifted, but of course, my mind stayed on what she’d told me about Teddy.
I couldn’t visit my friend in person because I was out of town at the time, staying with friends. After I said goodbye, I wandered into the kitchen, where I told my friend.
“No words,” he said, “no words.” And he hugged me as I wept.
We drink the cup of life because we have no choice. Often, that cup is as bitter as our tears, as hard to swallow as opening our hand to let the dirt fall on a loved one’s grave.
It is company who are as frail themselves as tissue, friends who don’t have words, friends who share how thin the veil is, that keep us sipping the cup of life.