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 John, chapter 15, verses one and six through sixteen:
Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”
Nobody chooses grief. It chooses us. It insists on changing us. Nothing has shaped me, has shaped my life, like losing my first husband when we were 32. Nothing shaped our child’s life like losing his DaDa when he was barely two.
Grief forced me to think of myself as a snake shedding her skin. The life I knew no longer fit in the wake of Scott’s death. Not the job I had loved. I shed it to enter divinity school. Not even the town we had moved to as newlyweds. I shed it to move a few states away to a city I’d never seen before.
But the word “shed” makes it sound simpler than it was. In truth, it was agonizing. I remember watching people walk down our driveway from the tag sale I held. I felt like I was watching our life walk away.
Only the love of others helped me make endure the agony and make the transition. When it feels like your life is leaving you, it helps to have someone hold your hand. For several months, friends would help with a room at a time, many traveling several miles to do so. We sorted, we cleaned, we packed, we donated, we kept. One even helped with the drive the day we left the only home Teddy had ever known, the house where Scott had died.
We were all young, in our twenties and thirties, and I think we were all unprepared for the power objects hold.
Grief endues objects with a meaning that cuts to the quick. Like Scott’s Chucks. When he started chemotherapy, Scott bought himself a pair of bright red Converse sneakers. It was 1990, and nobody wore bright red Chucks. But they were on the sale rack, and caught Scott’s eye, that their goofiness served as his personal shield and sword as he battled cancer. Every time Scott had a treatment, a doctor’s appointment, a procedure, he wore his ruby-red Chucks.
I kept the Chucks for Teddy in a chest full of other memories of his dad – baseball hats and videos Scott took incessantly. Fellini couldn’t have been more pleased with himself that Scott the day he got on tape the first time our baby rolled from his back to his stomach. “His first rollover!” Scott proudly shouts from behind the camera.
At the urging of a friend, I kept a couple pairs of Scott’s dress shoes. “Men’s dress shoes never go out of style,” he told me. And someday, Teddy will want to wear them,” he predicted. And someday, Teddy did. It was 8th grade when Ted grew into his dad’s shoes, and when it came time for graduation, the only question was whether he would wear the black pair or the brown pair. He chose black, reasoning that “they look more special occasion.”
By high school, though, Ted had outgrown his dad’s shoes. A couple times, he squeezed into them, but they were just too tight for comfort.
We never got around to donating Scott’s shoes, though. But the friend who encouraged me to keep them for Teddy? He’s Ted’s godfather, the friend who drove us from Ted’s first home to his second. And Scott’s shoes that Ted outgrew fit him perfectly.
Grief is a thin place.