Life and Death All At Once

My Grandmother died on Good Friday the year I turned ten. I remember the drive across the barren Mojave Desert from Los Angeles to Phoenix. I remember how quiet my mom was and the sadness that lay heavy in the air as we walked into my grandparents home where her family was gathered together. I remember sitting at the kitchen table the next morning in the home where we stayed and being asked to fill brightly colored plastic eggs with jellybeans; I hate jellybeans. My mom wasn’t around that morning; I wondered where she was and what she was doing. My grandmother was dead and I was surrounded by preparations for celebrating Easter.

Death and Resurrection were tied together too closely for me at a young age. That Easter lives in my memory in Technicolor, like a well-filmed movie. The jump from holding the loss and gravity of my grandmother’s unexpected death to running around the yard in my Easter dress hunting for eggs and eating coconut bunny cake was too much for my tender young heart to hold.

In one fashion or another that scene repeated itself in the years ahead. Death seemed to always be met with the need to embrace “resurrection” too quickly. The phrase, “It’s Friday but Sunday is coming” rings in my head every Good Friday.

A place was formed inside of me that resisted grief. I had learned to jump over grief, or to use the cross as a means of walking over the chasm, the valley of the shadow of death, declaring boldly that I was on the other side.

The problem was that all the grief that was tied to the death and loss in my life slowly grew into pretty powerful anger and rage. It was lying inside of me, an ocean of raw emotions that I worked to keep pushed down.

I lost my first baby at 24, a miscarriage early in the pregnancy. My husband cried and I was numb. Anger came rising up inside of me. I used it to shut down the grief. I had no idea how to enter the ache I felt, I just wanted it to stop. I tried to think of the positive things about losing my baby. (That statement alone is a tragic commentary on my heart.) I decided I would go for a new job that paid more and that would be really good for us. I took a running start to leap across the chasm of death.

Six weeks later I discovered I was pregnant again. I remember the day the phone call came from the doctor’s office. The test that was supposed to confirm that the pregnancy hormone from the miscarried baby was out of my blood stream showed instead a six-week-old pregnancy. They had no explanation for what seemed impossible. I threw the phone across the room.

Death and Life were colliding into one another, leaving me completely undone inside. That ocean inside of me was churning, the current of grief was rolling deep on the floor of it and the waves felt like they would take me under. But, I couldn’t surrender. I wouldn’t surrender.

My refusal to surrender left me with only my fear and anger as I waited to lose that baby too. Each day for the first three months waiting for what I just knew was coming. As the fourth month started I slowly and cautiously allowed my heart to connect to the life growing inside of me, feeling some excitement and joy.

I would have four more miscarriages and four more healthy pregnancies. Death and life, loss and celebration, colliding with one another in my body over and over again.

I have come to understand that I hold death and life viscerally, I feel them deep inside; ache, grief, anticipation, goodness and celebrating often colliding and washing into one another. It can feel overwhelming, that ocean of emotions, sometimes feeling stormy and frightening.

It is the place where I have come to know Jesus most intimately.

In October my son sent me a song. I downloaded it to the playlist I walk to and headed out on a brisk fall morning towards the trail I love. As I walked the song began to play and that visceral place inside of me was touched. It was a holy, sacred moment as I felt Jesus speaking to me in the words of the song. He was calling to me and I understood that the water was going to be deep again, the current of grief forceful. I walked and held my hands up in surrender.   Not knowing what was coming, but knowing I didn’t want to resist Him. The ocean that once felt terrifying and ominous has slowly become a place where I know the presence of my Savior best.

Today, death and resurrection are colliding, the cross and the empty tomb.  Will you allow yourself to feel it? All of it?

I am feeling it. I am out on the water. He is with me. There’s room for you if you want to join us.

Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12).  Married for 26 years, she is mother to five kids.  After nearly a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.  Founder of Seized by Hope Ministries, she writes here.