I have been wanting to post this for months, but have been too afraid - afraid of the pain I knew it would bring up, for myself and for others who have gone through it with me. But for me, writing is part of healing, and so I must write. Even when it hurts.
It was raining that night. How cliche, I thought at the time, that the same night the world would stop turning, the sky should be weeping.
I had spent that day sprawled awkwardly across some terribly uncomfortable padded chairs in a surgery waiting room while the seconds seemed to pass with horrific hesitation, as if they wanted at all costs to avoid advancing all the way to that dark, rainy moment in which everything would change. I was frustrated by them at the time. Now I wish they had tried harder.
I remember the ringtone, startling me out of my sleepiness while I was trying to listen to the Book of Job on audio. The mile marker glared green in the headlights - 54. Then the voice, in which I failed to read the shock - the stress - the pain.
So when he said it, I was not ready.
"Grandma B passed away."
I said it out loud into the phone, just like that, with a note of hysteria - I was not ready. Could never be ready.
We still had almost an hour to drive in the pouring rain and the dark, and I remember I cried the whole way, though it seems odd to think of it now. Why did I cry, since I did not believe what I had heard? Why, for nights on end after that, did my whole body seem to heave with sobs when I knew it couldn't be true? Grandma B was simply home at her apartment in Goldendale, and I would see her the next time I visited.
But eventually, something shifted, and belief set in - and with belief came something worse than tears, worse than sadness.
It was anger - and fear.
I was so angry, not at her for leaving us, not even at God for taking her, but at the fact that someone who had only ever wanted to bring joy into the room had been forced to cause such pain. She wouldn't have wanted to do that. She would hate that we were all broken because of her.
And I was so afraid, for though I finally believed she had gone, I did not - I do not - believe she is dead. I know that the brilliant spirit of my Grandma B could not be quenched by something so feeble as death, but I feared, deep down in my clenched gut, that wherever she was, she wasn't okay. Was she in pain? Was she lonely? Was she afraid?
I just wanted to be able to call her on the phone and ask her if she was okay.
The denial and the sadness were hard, but the fear was excruciating. I had expected God to seem near when I walked through the Valley of the Shadow, but instead He seemed unreachable, just like Grandma B.
But He did not leave me alone.
There were nights when I asked Him to stand right beside me and hold my hand while I tried so hard to fall asleep, and He did. He touched my dreams with a beautiful vision of Grandma B's smiling face, a thousand times happier than even the happiest I'd ever seen her on earth, and I knew that she is okay. And one Sunday morning in church, some ten days after her funeral, while we sang the words "worthy is the Lamb who was slain," He showed me the heavenly throngs joining with us around the Throne - and she was there. In that moment, at last, I knew peace.
The days after that rainy night sank deeper into the darkness than I have ever been, for more reasons than one. Now that we've reached midsummer, I find myself spending hours of every day outside under the sun, as if to force myself to believe that life is growing lighter again, and that perhaps the world did not stop turning after all.
I am learning that grief is no five-step process - it's just a tangle of unpredictable emotions that ebb and flow. I am learning that my God can be trusted to hold my world in His hands, and to work in deep and invisible ways - even in the ways I least expect Him to. I am learning not to let myself keep up the pretense of being "fine" for too long, even though it's easier - because sometimes the healthier thing is to sit down and write; to open up the wound again for a cleaning, even though it requires me to relive the pain.
We will gather together for our family vacation this week. It will be the first one we spend without her, and it will be hard for us all.
Grief is the price of love, it has been said. And I think, in the end, it's a small price to pay for how I have loved - and been loved by - that extraordinary lady, my Grandma B.