“All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.” Cormac McCarthy
Recently I had a vision: I was walking down the street in front of my house, and it was covered with snow. However, I was not wearing shoes and noticed that I wasn’t cold. Looking closer, I saw that I was walking through ash. It was soft under my feet, like walking on a cloud. The sky around me was white, and ash fell from it. It landed on my hair, my clothes, and my outstretched hands. I walked through the ash, and I was not afraid.
Two weeks ago my friend Lexi died. It was unexpected, to say the least, for this beautiful 34-year-old woman to be alive one minute and gone the next. Just last month she sat at my dining table with a small group of women gathered for my Red Tent dinner. She joined in our storytelling and laughter, and the next day she texted me: “Thank you so much again for the wonderful dinner last night. It was so great to be there, surrounded by so many women I love and admire.”
I was at school when I got a text saying that Lexi had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. I had three classes to teach, so as soon as the final bell rang I got into my car to drive to the hospital. I thought that I would sit with her husband until Lexi was moved to a hospital room. Just so he wouldn’t worry, I called my husband, Tim, to let him know my plans. I was met by a quiet voice, and I recognized the tone all too well. “I don’t understand what you’re telling me,” I said over and over. Lexi was gone. Seriously? Though his words didn’t make sense, I turned my car away from the hospital and toward home where he was waiting.
This is not the first time that I have heard words too shocking to believe or felt my heart break with unimaginable loss. Each time I think, “We are not meant to live in a world like this.” This reality is perhaps the most painful part of it all. The sting of death rouses the slumbering ache for what was lost in Eden, and this fallen world feels unbearable.
Recently I heard trauma defined as any “loss, harm, or violation that would not have taken place in the garden of Eden.” * What a perfect description of the loss of our precious friend: a young mother of four—loving, kind, generous, and wise—snatched away in death. There is disbelief and confusion, anger and oh-so-much grief. I have friends sitting in the ashes for the first time, struggling with the choice to feel the pain of Lexi’s loss or to embrace the numbness of the shock. I join them there.
My heart aches both with the grief of this present moment and past grief that is called to mind. The weight of cumulative loss presses me deeper into the ashes. In the quiet of shared mourning, my friends and I lean into each other. Our tears fall fast and thick. Eventually, in a whisper, they implore, “Tell me something true.”
I speak these words—truths learned in the valley of the shadow:
We have a Hope.
We have hope that grief will turn into joy; pain into wisdom; loss into restoration; and mourning into dancing.
We have a loving Father, sufficient Savior, and constant Counselor who will never leave us or forsake us.
We have the confidence that God is sovereign, and nothing is outside of his control or care.
He is the God of the brokenhearted, and right now, this means you and me.
We have the assurance that Jesus intimately understands our suffering, and he weeps with us.
We have the gift that when we are at a loss for words or cannot pray through our tears, the Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.
We have the promise that death will not have the final word, and in the end, Love wins and Life endures.
We have the confidence that Lexi is healed, whole, and free, and we have the assurance that one day we will see her again.
I finish with perhaps the hardest truth of all: You must be brave enough to experience this grief. You have to face the loss, feel the pain, ask your questions, and wrestle with God. Shutting down will not serve you well.
Trust me, friends: Beyond this grief you will experience joy. Acknowledging your fear will invite deeper faith. And, on the other side of this agonizing hurt, you will discover abundant hope—Resurrection Hope—that will give you the strength to declare, “All will be well.” Then, you will get up out of these ashes. Until then, and for as long as you need, I will sit here with you.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 23 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.
* “Effects of Trauma.” Interview. Audio blog post. Conversations with Ransomed Heart. John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart Ministries, 23 Jan. 2017.