His inhaler was empty.
A little American boy woke up a few weeks ago and went to school…just like my four sons did. If he is like them, he was in his favorite class, PE, when the attack came. It had happened before. This time his inhaler was empty. His lungs felt as if they were filling with water. The pressure inside pulled everything into that growing liquid. He was drowning in a room full of dry air. His throat was closing down in the middle of the gym. And his inhaler was empty.
Did you head into the holidays with an empty slot? A vibrant friend who took his own life? A parent you’ve never been without at Hanukkah before? A brother who fought the cancer till he had no fight left?
Is there an empty slot at your center threatening to suck your whole life into pain? Threatening your joy with sorrow? Threatening your blessing with unbearable loss?
When I started writing this blog, Alan Thicke and George Michael were still breathing. Mother and daughter, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, were still in the world together. Shocking. Taking our wind for a moment. Yet distant. Not like my husband’s father and his aunt. My friend Beth’s brother. My student Sydney’s grandfather. Not like Yuhan, the little boy in my nephew’s class. No article by CNN will review that we lost them this year, or the person you lost who makes your throat ache and close.
Some people will try to comfort us. Try to speak of how great his life was. How my aunt did everything on her own terms. How filled their lives were with accomplishments, or family, or friends. You know what though? Friends don’t cut it. Honestly, if there’s an empty slot, no lover, no marriage, no success, no child birthed or adopted is ever going to fill that slot. And no words of sympathy, no matter how heart-felt, are going to relieve that grief. Not right now.
My friend wrote me about her loss. “As the year comes to a close here in a few hours for me, I find a strange sense of anxiety welling up inside me. It’s as if by going into 2017 and leaving 2016 I’m stepping through a door and closing off my brother forever. I don’t quite understand that one.” I don’t get it either. But I feel it. Don’t you?
My religious tradition talks about an emptiness inside us that we try to fill with the things of this world, that we think will make us happy. Maybe some of them work for a while. Distract us. Put a lift in our step. A smile for a moment. The hole is God-sized though, and nothing else can take that place. No one else can fill it. And grief is that way too.
An older person dies and somebody somewhere will inevitably talk about how fulfilled their life was. Really? Can’t they feel how wrong that death was? The great-aunt in her 80’s or the little boy in gym class–IT’S WRONG. It was not how this world was created to be. We know that truth inside of us even if we don’t have any way to express it–even if the words won’t come to us or the faith is beyond us. Death is wrong.
Her life was filled. Was it fulfilled? Full-filled life. How do we get that?
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said. Weren’t those people already living? Well, yeah. There’s more though. More for you and for me to reach full-fillment. It’s there for anyone who seeks it. That’s what I’m opening my heart to.
In 2017, that is the air I breathe (song lyrics again) when my chest is too tight to expand. That is the bread I eat when my throat is too constricted to swallow. How do people go on without Jesus? There’s lots I can imagine. Not that. I really can’t imagine that.
2016 was the year that: the colleague lost his dad, the granddaughter lost her grandfather, the wife lost her husband, the sister lost her big sis. The year that you lost…
The doctors said my nephew’s best friend would have died even if his inhaler had been full. If the medics had been right there. If he’d been in the hospital at the time of his asthma attack. Sometimes the emptiness is one that nothing on this earth can fill, that nothing in this world can fix. One song lyric says, “And all I see, it could never make me happy.” And if that was the point of the song, it’d be one pretty depressing tune. But the chorus quietly prays:
Let me know that You hear me
Let me know Your touch
Let me know that You love me
And let that be enough (Switchfoot)
Oh God, so many of us are hurting. We need to feel your touch, to know you love us. Some of us know that you hear us, but you seem so far away. We know you are there for us, that you are here with us. Let that be enough. Fill our emptiness with more of you. Full-fill our lives with all you have for us.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
I had decided not to write this post. Not to transfer the words from my chicken-scratched notebook to this page. Then I opened social media, and two more friends had lost someone so dear to them. I couldn’t not write it. I couldn’t not tell you that there is hope, that there is comfort, that there is a brighter tomorrow. It might get worse before it gets better. And that tomorrow won’t be the same as those yesterdays with your loved one. This is new place, a new way of being in a new year…
2017 Without You
Never without our all-loving God.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Maybe this will speak to you, the words of Gwen Flowers’ “Grief”
I had my own notion of grief.
I thought it was the sad time
That followed the death of someone you love.
And you had to push through it
To get to the other side.
But I’m learning there is no other side.
There is no pushing through.
There is absorption.
And grief is not something you complete,
But rather, you endure.
Grief is not a task to finish
And move on,
But an element of yourself-
An alteration of your being.
A new way of seeing.
A new definition of self.
(Some names were changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.)