When grief and trust collide

At 7.15am on Saturday, I was thinking about making some pancakes for breakfast.

One phone call, 50 miles, and four hours later, I was standing with six other members of my family at the hospital bedside of my darling Nan, my one and only, amazing, bonkers, beautiful Nana.

The cancer that had invaded her lymphatic system over the past five years had grown so big that she was undone.

She had died.

I never thought she would leave us this way.

I looked into the face of my Grandad, widowed after 60 years, and all of us were asking How? and Why? She was well, she was well, she was well, and then suddenly she wasn’t, and it all came crashing down in less than 72 hours. None of us were expecting it. None of us were with her when she died.

How do you move on from such agonising grief? From knowing that someone you loved so much has gone, that they’re not coming back? And never even having said goodbye.

Regret bubbles up and crushes the heart and I wonder why I didn’t visit her more often, why I didn’t pick up the phone, why I didn’t send her a photo of her smiling great-grandchildren even though I knew it would bring her joy.

And so much was unsaid. Did I say ‘I love you’ enough to last a lifetime?

For there will be no more meetings, no more phone calls, no more letters, no more stories, no more chicken pies, no more jellies, no more walks in the garden, no more listening to the sound of her voice, no more loving.

IMG_4306Someone leaves you and all you’re left with is a pile of letters in a flowing, neat hand and your toddler self’s favourite bunny that you cuddled so much it became threadbare so she went and bought another one which you loved almost as much.

How can we live with this brokenness? Every love we ever have ends in loss, one way or another, so that sometimes it seems as if we are better off not loving at all.

Yet I couldn’t help but love her. She was indescribably amazing. And she loved me, loved us. She gave us this beautiful gift of herself and if I could say one thing to her now, it would be this: Thank you.

Thank you for loving us. For always listening. For never, ever making us feel small, or worthless, or belittled. For saving your empty packets so we could play shops in your chalet. For teaching us how to love nature. For taking us on so many train rides. For being so very brave so we could enjoy more time with you. For all your ‘there we ares’. For being bold, and frank, and speaking your mind. For all the stories. For the letters. For the cards and for never forgetting our birthdays. For every moment that you loved us, for all our years.

How can we accept that someone who has been part of life from the very beginning is no longer present? That we can never talk to them again, or hear their voice, or touch their hand? That the last touch was cold, that every moment I looked at her and thought she would move, breathe, she didn’t? That the papery skin and the white, soft hair were just an empty shell?

We are not built for goodbyes.

It’s not that I think I can do a better job of running this broken and busted world than God. I know I never could. It’s not that I doubt that there is a plan and a purpose, or that I am bothered by not knowing whether she will be there in the eternal kingdom. That is his business. I haven’t lost trust.

But when grief and trust collide, the question is how to live with the brokenness and allow God to work through it.

And if love always ends in loss, then it proves that the reward of loving is in the loving itself. For love is an action, not an end. I see this with my children, when I wish I could hold them once more in their baby form, and know I never will. I couldn’t hold on to that love, but love I did. And I would again, even though it would end. Love was not the end but the journey.

And if the reward of loving is in the loving itself, then she was rich indeed. For she loved us without counting the cost, and she taught us what friendship is, and she taught me what kind of grandmother to be. Brilliant, brave, bold, and beautiful, and so very, very kind.

Nothing will ever be the same. I will miss her all my days. My heart is broken but it will keep beating, and I know Jesus opens his arms and bears his heart to us and says ‘Come, I have comfort even for this’, and underneath everything are his everlasting arms and one day everything will be fair forever and for now I weep and I trust and I put on one more load of laundry, because there is only so much time to love.