Walking Through My Own Stations of Grief

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In January, I went to Mexico on a family vacation. It was the first time my kids had ever been on a plane and the first time any of us had stepped foot on an all-inclusive resort. What luxury—this life of sunshine, ocean waves and beach-side beverage service.

This trip was a Christmas gift to our family, and my sister’s family, from my mom. From the very first time my parents ever stepped foot on these sandy shores, they dreamed of taking us all down there for a family vacation. They dreamed and planned and began to save. It took seven years, but they did it. They made their dream come true.

Only, Dad didn’t make it. He died three years before, but Mom decided to make this trip happen anyway. It was a gift to us and a tribute to his dream for all of us.

We boarded the plane with our matching, personalized hats, excited but so aware of who was missing. During our seven-day stay, we must have said, “Dad would have loved this!” at least a dozen times a day. We laughed and made memories; all with a terrible lump in our throats, all with the weight of Missing on our shoulders.

We planned an excursion to an eco-park during our stay. It was one of my dad’s favourite places and all day long my mom shared memories of their hours spent floating in the underground river, relaxing in hammocks and soaking in all the cultural goodness that this park had to offer. While I enjoyed the time with my family, I struggled all day with the weight of grief in the middle of all this goodness. I wrestled with the Why of our whole mess of grief and disappointment—in the middle of this “fun” excursion.

In between supper and the evening show, I found myself with an hour on my own and I knew exactly where I wanted to be. I had spied a chapel on the map of the park earlier in the day that I desperately wanted to visit, but I wanted to experience it on my own, without impatient kids or politely indulging family. I wanted to feel this space. I craved it. So, I made a beeline to the Chapel of Guadalupe.

Walking into the chapel, the first thing I saw was her—Guadalupe, the Mother. Behind the altar, at the bottom of the stairs, in the middle of a cenote, stood a 12-meter high carving of the smiling mother. She took my breath away and my knees felt weak.

As I made my way around the perimeter of the chapel I noticed a dozen niches with handmade statues and paintings of Guadalupe. In each one, her face was full of tenderness and understanding. And her hand was outstretched. To me. As if she was inviting me to join her in her grief and in her joy. As if she was making space for me to share my own grief, disappointment and loss.

There was one small painting in a niche near the front of the chapel. It was done on a clay tile. It was simple without a lot of detail, yet it was captivating. She stood in a garden, surrounded by trees. Her feet were bare in the grass. She was present in that place. I could see it. And she drew me in. Tears started to flow as I realized that she understood.

This mother, who loved and lost and celebrated and grieved, she knew what was in my heart. And what was more, she stood in this place of grief and mercy. In fact, she held that space for me, in that moment.

I knelt in front of that niche and willed myself to remember.

I remembered my dad, my two lost babies, my friend’s husband, my grandparents, my aunt and a dozen other people who had faded from this life. I felt their echoes in my grieving heart. I remembered each of the Missing and I felt the loss. I also felt a whisper of hope in my soul. It reminded me that God is okay with my grief. It reminded me that the Father’s own heart grieves. As did Jesus’ mother’s heart.

In recent years, I’ve made it a point to tour churches in my city and in nearly every city I’ve visited. I’ve walked through some of the most beautiful cathedrals on this continent and I have sat in the pews of some of the most humble, ancient places of worship. I have learned volumes about myself and my personal faith from exploring other branches of Christian faith. The greatest lesson I’ve learned, though, has come from recognizing a gap in the tradition I grew up in. Many of the places of worship I have visited, hold an important element modern evangelical churches are missing. They display the Stations of the Cross. The Way of Sorrow.

Perhaps the reason I’ve struggled with the reality of grief is that I have not been taught how to sit with it, how to just be in it. I think sometimes I equate grief with a lack faith. Have we forgotten this very real component of the resurrection story? There was grief. There was loss. There was sadness. And there was confusion.

And then there was hope. And joy. And celebration.

This celebration was all the sweeter for the grief that was lived. I think we forget that sometimes. Grief is terrible and heartbreaking and doesn’t feel very good. But it is necessary. It is necessary to acknowledge grief. To feel it. Breathe it. It is necessary to allow grief to flow. It is part of our Hope of Heaven.

Grief does not erase the Hope of Heaven.
Nor does the Hope of Heaven eliminate my grief.
It just lifts the despair.
It lifts the despair, but my grief remains.
The grief, I think, is the price we pay for love.
Grief is the residue and the echo of the love we give and the love we miss.
This grief, my grief, is holy.
It is a sacrament of love.

Just as we walk through the Stations of the Cross, I am walking through my Stations of Grief. This is not some clinical interpretation of grief as a process to get through. This is my own personal journey to healing, through tears and through hope. In turns. On this journey to healing I have no expectation of “getting through.” Instead, my intent is to feel more and accept the change in my own heart that comes from love lost.

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Nichole Forbes
Nichole is just a regular gal loved by an extraordinary God. She believes in community, justice, freedom, reconciliation and the sacredness of storytelling. Her journey to connect with her Metis culture and history has been her own liberation song. She tries to live bravely every day and say the kind words that need to be heard. She raises her three Not-So-Wee-Ones in the middle of the Canadian prairies with her favorite person ever—her husband, Brad. Nichole blogs, writes and speaks on the things that fill her heart and frame her world. 
Nichole Forbes
Nichole Forbes

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