“Grief confuses us by spinning us around to face backward, because memories are all we have left, but of course it isn’t the past we mourn when someone dies; it’s the future.”
The quote above is from a book I started today called Lost & Found: A Memoir by Kathryn Schulz. I am about a quarter through the book and I have been surprised by some of her very cogent observations on loss and life and their relationship to Biblical truth. From what I know at this point, the book is a memoir of the passing of her very beloved father and a new relationship she found along the way.
These books fascinate me as may be noticed by the fact that I already did a blog reflecting on C.S. Lewis’ master class on grief and the human condition, A Grief Observed. I am so impressed by someone’s artistry at capturing on the written page what we only feel, but cannot articulate. They carry the twofold burden of living the hellish torture of grief while chronicling it for posterity.
It was in the passage I quoted above that I immediately gravitated to the truth in that sentence and at the same time, saw in it a very vivid description and painting of an ancient Biblical truth. We look back because that is all we know, that is all we have; what we mourn is the future, the what ifs, and what-might-have-beens.
I was in South Africa sleeping soundly next to my wife when my phone rang at around 3 am my time and I tried to focus on the screen through bleary eyes and made out my dad’s number in Florida. That was never a good sign. I never received a call in the night there that was a good one. I remember him telling me that a friend of mine who I had been close to, but hadn’t seen for a few years had passed away in a traffic accident. I remember being very calm on the phone until I hung up and then just instant, searing, hot tears, and grief engulfed me. I remember the very thoughts that went through my head.
In a moment, I thought of all the good times we had spent together as friends growing up, and then in the same moment, all the times we would never have. I had wanted to get together again when we were both Stateside. I thought he would get to know my wife and kids and all that came crashing down in a moment. Grief spun me around to look backward, but what I missed was the lost future.
The biblical truth that this quote immediately struck me with is that of hope, an eternal hope. We all share this human condition, we all share grief and pain and loss. What makes loss different for the person who truly believes that Christ is who He said He is, is looking to the future.
When Christ died on the cross, His disciples never actually understood what he had tried to tell them about His death and resurrection. When He died, they too were spun backward looking to what had been and mourning the what ifs, and what-might-have-beens. They too were crippled by a loss of future, a loss of hope until the resurrection and everything came together and they could see a hope that transcended death. After that, they were unstoppable. They chose frequent beatings, exile, and martyrdom in exchange for the future that they could see before them.
For the believer spun backward by grief, there is hope and a way to get past the mourning of a lost future. We can rest in the hope that those who know Him will be reunited again in a place with no more death, no more pain, no more loss. Like that bright wave on the eastern shore that Lewis wrote about, we crest the other side and see all the riches that He has for us.