Consolation, Desolation, and Stumbling into the Light

It has been one week since I buried my mother, and I have returned to “normal” life.

I wanted to write down my experience here.  This isn’t meant to be prescriptive.  Grief and loss differs for everyone, and everyone’s experience is as unique as the person who endures it.  What I am writing about, other Christians may or may not encounter.  I don’t know.  But I did want to share it, if there is any value for anyone else in what I have come to understand.

I’ve written before about the journey through my mother’s illness, and in particular the last, intense phase of it these past two to three months.  I cannot understate the difficulty of it.  I wrote, either here or in my private journals, that the experience was like birth in reverse: contractions of pain and sorrow leavened by brief respites, only to get worse and worse until the end.

The two weeks up to my mother’s death, I was relying solely on rote prayer and well-rehearsed Scripture.  I could not pray spontaneously.  I had little ability to focus.  And I stopped listening to worship music altogether.

I assumed that grief and the period after her death would also feel like that.  But it hasn’t.

I don’t know how to say it other than to be blunt: a lot of people talk rapturously about God’s special presence with those who suffer and mourn.  And while I have felt that to a certain extent prior to my mother’s death—I have been aware, at least, of God’s presence, and of His affection—I have not fully understood it until now.

That is to say: I think this must be what consolation feels like.

I don’t mean I’m not sad.  I am and continue to be very sad.  I laughed a little with my husband yesterday about how I seem to be crying with absolutely no permission from my cognitive self.  It’s as though every few hours my body triggers some release valve and I will cry, like it or not.  It comes like squalls, daily, and leaves as suddenly.

But it’s as though, overlaid over the sadness, there is a shimmering light that covers everything.  Fine and glimmering and only seen at the right angle, but indubitably present.  It is as though, for a time at least, I can see with two pairs of eyes.  I have always believed in heaven, but the reality of it has become quite piercing. And the love of God along with it. Mike Cosper and Richard Beck and many others have written about the significant loss of enchantment and wonder in modern Christians, but for me right now everything seems enchanted.  Philip Yancey writes frequently about the cosmic and divine events unfolding beyond a veil we cannot see—and I still can’t see beyond the veil, but for this period my awareness of it has suddenly grown acute.

God, who felt so remote, feels now present to me at every opportunity.  I listened to Christmas songs in a sort of giddy weeping delirium today.  And I can’t emphasize enough that this is not happiness, not even an emotional state, so much as a…seeing.  Or an understanding.  As though, to comfort the loss, God has reset my sense of orientation.

This includes orientation to the past. 

How could I have imagined, or dreamed, I was being prepared to endure this sorrow?  I didn’t know it, but I was.  I made friends casually who have not-so-casually provided a gentle foundation during my return to daily life.  I have gained hobbies and a career that help frame a sense of purpose.  Small actions I took years ago now seem, to my present self, prescient. 

And the love of the church has been the love of Christ to me through it all.  My old church—my dear home church—carried me through and carries me through with prayer and action and all the desperate love it can muster.  I received a message recently from a believer I barely know, who said he is praying for me.  Friends, family, support from unexpected places: I see God’s love in all of it.

It is a strange and a beautiful thing.  And it makes hurt and suffering and pain and loss much less a thing to be feared as much as I do grieve it.

It’s difficult for me to write it: that one might walk through a grim and dark time, waiting for comfort that feels it will never come, trusting God is there but not really sensing it, then stumble into the warm light of day at the time of deepest darkness. 

It’s difficult to write because I know it will sound trite and exactly like everything I’ve read that promised consolation after desolation.  And to someone walking through that dark place, it will seem impossible to understand. 

But I didn’t want to write it down because it was easy to grasp, or because it makes sense to me.

I wanted to write it down because it was true.


4 thoughts on “Consolation, Desolation, and Stumbling into the Light

  1. Your words are most beautiful! It seems to me that God is shining His presence more brightly than ever right now. What an amazing God we serve, and I’m thrilled to hear of your experience. Praying for continued peace for you!


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