“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve -- even in pain -- the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I love this quote. It grabbed me right away as I found it accurately described my journey with grief. I gained an empty hole in my life when my dad died.
A few months after turning 40, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They said he had 4-6 weeks. He fought hard. While he had no fear in facing death because of his relationship with Jesus, he wanted to raise us three kids who were 17, 16 and 11. He lived six months and his character never wavered. Who he was when he was well is who he was when he was sick and dying. What a man.
What a hole he left. It’s 20 years this September and we still miss him a lot. Just writing this and remembering him has me in tears. I sure love my dad.
To understand the empty hole in my life, I have to tell you about the person who occupied that space! My dad was a pretty spectacular guy. Trying to describe him in words seems woefully inadequate and cliché.
He was a pilot, adventurer, entrepreneur, athlete, and businessman. Before all those things though, he was a son of the living God, husband, and father. He was such an incredible dad. I see this more clearly now that I am a parent. I appreciate it more now. I wish I could tell him that.
He traveled a lot as a pilot but when he was home, he was home. We never felt like we had to compete for his attention. He was an intentional teacher, guiding us through life. Level headed, not easily upset, logical. Yet, very tender hearted, especially when it came to his wife and kids. Confident, but not arrogant. He made up songs with life lessons and sang them to us in the car (not at all a singer!), snuggled with us, wrestled with us and most importantly, he prayed with us.
I think that was the most important thing to him - walking with Jesus. He demonstrated that in such a clear way in how he lived his life and how he was in the home. He was consistent across the board. Perfect? Not by any means. However, he was quick to own his mistakes. We loved him very deeply.
I will always have a dad-sized hole. I think that’s why the Bonhoeffer quote stuck out to me so much. Until we are reunited in heaven I will miss my dad. I just will. It’s not heavy all the time, I have lots of joy in my life and in my family BUT it’s never going to go away either and that’s okay.
And while that dad sized hole will never be filled, it’s been an incredible place to meet and bond with Jesus. Jesus crawls into our holes with us. Isn’t that amazing?! The God of the universe, creator of all things crawls into the holes of our lives and meets with us and grieves with us. So incredible. When I meet with Him in these places it leaves me worshipping Him for His goodness.
Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
John 11 talks about this. Lazarus has died. Jesus is God, He knows He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Mary and Martha are grieving the loss of their brother and He wept with them. He is an almighty AND compassionate God. These moments are opportunities to bond deeply with Him.
We just have to invite Him in. Wait on Him. Sit with Him. Take that time with Him.
The reality is that we will all grieve in our lifetimes. Each one of us. We live in a world where there is death and brokenness until Jesus comes back. Until then, grief is a part of the human experience. It can’t be avoided. We can try, but it will be to no avail. It will come out somehow, even if we try to push it down.
Here are some things that were helpful for me, maybe they will be for you too:
1. Meet with Jesus. Set aside time to just be with Him in the Word and in prayer. No one can speak to your heart like Jesus can. You can’t even speak to your own heart like He can. He created you, He knows you and knows how to be with you. Build this into your life even if you aren’t going through something hard. You are laying a foundation of relationship with Him.
2. Have Community! God made us for relationship with Himself and with others. An important part of going through hard things is having trustworthy, safe people to do the journey with. People who love you, will pray with you, tell you the truth. An important, foundational investment. It really is wonderful to not be alone in grief. I had a wonderful friend who just sat with me when it was heavy in the early days. She didn’t try to fix me, give me all the positives or let me wallow. She was just with me and a safe place to share if I wanted to. I will always be grateful. 3. Find Balance. Balance sitting and taking time to grieve, and also to keep going by getting up, washing your face and doing life. Both are important. Being stuck in either mode will lead to trouble down the road. I tend to be ‘glass half full’. I also used that as a way to avoid dealing with my loss. I just counted all the positives and kept going. Ten years after the fact I had a very safe person in my life call me on it in the most loving and gentle way (community) and I began the process of dealing with my loss at a deeper level. Hard, but so good and needed.
No earthshattering advice. Just the simple things we probably all already know. It’s just the actual doing of them that can be hard.
I’d like to leave with the verse that is on my dad’s headstone. It was of great comfort to our family and been of great comfort to me at many different points in my life. Lots hope and lots of joy to be had! I hope it is a comfort to you to.
Romans 8:18 "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
About the Author:
Charis had three kids in under two years (twins daughters and a son). If that alone is not enough to make her superwoman, she homeschooled them for years! These days you will find Charis working in the prayer ministry at her church and coaching her kids basketball teams along with her husband Stu.
If you would like to send Charis a message, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Charis” in the subject line.