I never thought about this until just a few days ago, but have you ever noticed how often you hear “oh good grief!”? It’s a common and perfectly acceptable exclamation of surprise, dislike, unbelief, etc. But at this point in our life, just weeks after losing our son, the normal seemed very odd. What does it mean? Who started this trend of interjecting grief into a simple, seemingly benign, phrase? How does it desensitize us to real grief when it comes…or does it?
I wondered if there is any answer when we play with the punctuation…when “Oh, good grief!” becomes “Oh good, grief!” or “Oh! Good grief! None of us would ever call grief good, would we? Well, maybe so…
Grief is a naturally human emotion. We all will experience it at some point in our lives. But unlike other emotions which are experienced due to an infinite number of possible events, grief has a common catalyst that we all share…loss. We grieve when we have lost someone (even a pet). We experience grief over the loss of material things – think of fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. – the loss of your home can cause tremendous grief. You might find yourself grieving over the loss of a relationship – losing connection with someone who is an integral part of your life can feel as painful as if they had died. And that is where my thoughts have landed today.
When Dustin died a few weeks ago, it wasn’t the first time we had “lost” him. For several years, between the ages of 19 and 23, he had been our prodigal son. We knew in what city he was living and that he had a job, but that was about it. We had almost no communication, and there were days when it felt as though he were dead. I grieved…a lot. But beyond that grief, there was hope that Dustin would eventually come back to us. I found this Bible verse so comforting: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick. But when the desire comes, it is the tree of life.” (Prov. 13:11) So, every day, I would lift my hands up to God and pray, often through tears, “God, I give Dustin to you today. Please watch over him and keep him safe because I can’t. And please bring him back to us. He is yours.” I did this every day for months, then one day I realized I hadn’t done so in several days. And I knew that God had answered my prayers. Dustin was still “out there”, but I knew God would bring him home to us.
Those years of not having him in our lives were hard, but the lesson we learned from them was good…that God watches over His children, even when they go astray. So, in a sense, it was good that I had grieved because it shifted my focus from worry to hope. Four years into it, when our oldest, Derek, & his lovely bride, Kate, got married, Dustin came to the wedding – his first family appearance. He began to come back, slowly at first, but more & more engaged. We rebuilt our relationship, and joy replaced the grief.
The last 8 years have been good. Dustin was a part of our life again, and he gave us a beautiful granddaughter, Miss Olivia. Communication lines were open. We got to see them when we wanted. We took trips together. All was normal, and life was good.
The boys live in Florida & Texas, so this year we visited Derek & Kate the weekend before Thanksgiving and planned to see Dustin & Olivia the week after. Covid had kept us apart for so long, getting to see everyone was going to be amazing!
I know this may be hard to do, but imagine what it’s like to come home from visiting your oldest son on Tuesday and finding out on Wednesday that your youngest son has passed away. Yes…it’s that bad. Shock, disbelief, anger, WHY??? Grief. This time it’s for real…Dustin is really gone this time; we’ll never see him again in this life. Olivia will not grow up with her Daddy. There’s no chance when the phone rings or a text comes in that it’s Dustin.
But there is hope, even in the presence of such grief; the desire in the verse will come. As I’ve said before, grief is like a raging torrent that the enemy wishes would sweep us away. But in God’s arms, the danger of that happening is removed. (See “Grace over Grief”.) We are in a safe place where we can experience grief and joy simultaneously. It’s like being in a boat on a stormy sea and knowing that you are safe because God is at the helm. One minute we can be in tears and the next we’re laughing at a memory; we ride the waves up & down as they roll.
On the Sunday just a few days after he died, we were at our hotel getting ready to head over to Dustin’s house to pack up his earthly belongings, and we were listening to a church service on TV. The pastor said, “I’ve walked into a room with a mom laying on the floor, pounding her fists and wailing uncontrollably over the loss of a child. And I’ve walked into rooms where a mom & dad sit peacefully with a smile on their face and a peace in their hearts. That’s the difference that heaven makes.” (God’s timing on that message for us was, as always, Perfect!)
That’s the difference that Heaven makes. We have the certainty of knowing that, as a child, Dustin asked Jesus to come into his heart. With that certainty, we know that the very moment in which Dustin drew his last breath, Jesus took him by the hand and took him straight to heaven, where I can imagine Jesus saying, “Father, This one’s with me. He’s part of the family – one of the reasons I died on Calvary. Please welcome him in because I paid the price for him.” (“This One’s with Me” by NewSong)
I can also imagine Dustin, standing before Jesus, looking up into His face with a huge smile on his own---totally speechless and awestruck (much like Olivia when she met Elsa & Anna at Disney World!)
With those pictures in our hearts and minds, we will grieve, yes, but it is a good grief on which we’ll ride the waves for as long as they last nestled in a boat of joy knowing that Dustin is perfect, healed, will nevermore worry, be afraid or feel sad. But mostly, the grief is good because of the love we have for our boys and each other. If the love weren’t there first, the grief wouldn’t be as deep. We will miss Dustin until we don’t anymore…because we’ll be in heaven with him, letting him walk with us up to Jesus for our own welcome hugs!