Last week I sat at a little table in a crowded beach town diner and gave up on eating my scrambled egg and toast. Two years of grief have taught me that crying, talking and eating can't all happen at the same time.
Across from me sat an old friend I hadn't seen since Greg was alive. Well, friend might not be the right word. Mentor-from-afar, role model and hero of the faith all seem more appropriate, except that grief is a great equalizer and in that moment we were just two people whose hearts have been shattered by loss.
Old questions had risen to the surface in the days prior - the types of questions that come back from time to time and always bring with them an unexpected wave of anger. Why did Greg have to die? Why him? Why us? Why is my son growing up without his father? How can this possibly be God's good plan for us?
Right behind those were the newer questions that I didn't realize I had until they bubbled over in bitterness and anger: How do I cope with others moving on? How do I reconcile good in my life when the person who was the greatest good is now gone? How should I handle insensitive comments from people who just don't understand a loss of this magnitude?
So I sat there, using napkin after scratchy napkin to wipe away my tears and blow my runny nose. I listened with tears streaming down my face to a man whose own grief journey started more than 15 years before mine and who had so much wisdom to share. I heard words that I needed to hear from someone who understood life-shattering, faith-shaking loss.
He never got answers to the why questions.
He wrestled with God for multiple years. Years of deep sorrow, anguish, anger and frustration. His life and faith were in crisis. He could barely believe the loss was real, much less accept it.
Eventually, after a long time of deep wrestling, he realized he had a choice. He could choose to trust and follow God into places he never wanted to go, or he would have to reject God altogether. He chose to trust.
He had to choose trust over and over again. When despair came, he chose trust. When grief threatened to drown him, he chose trust. When the old questions that God would not answer came back, he chose trust. With gentleness, he told me that someday, when I was ready, I would need to make the decision to choose trust too. Even with the pain still there and the questions left unanswered, I would need to choose trust. And then I will need to choose trust over and over again.
Nearly 20 years later, he still carries grief. It's not as intense as it once was, and the waves of deep grief come less frequently, but it's still present. Sometimes it rises to the surface unexpectedly.
Most people have moved on. Even family. Even the people who promised they wouldn't. He urged me to find a couple people who would stay in it with me. Who would let me process over and over and over again. Who would encourage me to keep talking about Greg for years and decades to come.
He shared that he's learned to let go of the insensitive things that people say when they don't know any better. He urged me to keep sharing about my grief, but to save the deepest parts for only the people who could carry it.
He said so many things that were both hard and good to hear. But the most healing words he shared were that my grief, pain and anger are all normal. He reassured me that it's okay to be where I am in my grief. I can't rush it and I need not fear it. God can handle my questions and my anger. But someday when I'm ready - and not a day before - I will have to make the choice to let go of my questions and trust in the God who has not chosen to explain himself to me.
We walked out of the diner a couple hours later and my heart felt a little bit lighter. The questions and anger I had been holding deep inside had come out. He offered no magic fix, and there was no light bulb moment that changed everything. But there was understanding, compassion, and tender words for my bruised and battered heart. It was just what I needed.