My day to day life is directed quite stringently by a calendar. This is not by choice. My nature, my penchant for the creative, longs simply for a blank page, an expectant easel or a vacant stage, but reality keeps me tethered to a complicated calendar life, color coded, blocked and full of busy. Each trip around the sun seems to be spent tearing through the fussy pages.
Time is so subjective. It is measured only by the means we use to mark its passage. In the months and moments of the last year, there have been very few vast stretches of empty space. Circumstance has informed the significance of instants and has reminded me of the limitations of a fragile existence, but this focus on moments has not served to protect me from the march of conventional milestones that will not be denied.
Parenting is a journey marked by almost daily milestones, and for many years, even after our divorce when the space and distance between us was vast, the adventures and expeditions of our children were events we shared with unspoken but equal delight. Today, as winsome moments pass and monumental milestones loom, one of us is missing. I do not live in the denial that there are countless other solo parents raising sons and daughters. I simply live in the reality that there are waltzes meant only for fathers and their children for which I will never be an adequate partner. My little loves will feel the pang of separation when they are thirteen and when they are thirty. They will tackle important milestones and achievements and even as I beam and smile, they will long for a nod from their Daddy. I will continue this exploration of parenthood, this bittersweet experience of maternal love, without the equal delight of another.
Anniversary dates in grief are significant. They mark the passage of time on the road of loss and they are often met with a sense of dread. Milestones are piercing reminders of our vulnerability to grief, the cost of loving and the breaking of a human heart. The process of mourning is a lifetime journey. Losses never entirely fade. There is a subtle softening of pain, but normalcy does not mean that loss is forgotten. Death becomes integrated into life, and there is an adjustment that comes as we move forward and begin each day anew. Time doesn’t still the waves of grief, it just spaces them out as we build bridges that will ensure our forward movement. It makes them unpredictable and harder to talk about as humanity turns in discomfort at our admission of those still tender places.
As “that day” approaches I find myself looking back to survey the full cycle of seasons. The bitter chill of winter and the unpredictability of spring, the sweet stillness of summer and the fullness of fall, all indications of my journey, not an easy one, but a meaningful one. Death has been a catalyst of sorts, the very thing that shook me awake and pointedly reminded me of my own dreams. It has been an awakening to the need for the courageous pursuit of that which sets my soul on fire. This isn’t a journey that I wanted or imagined. I never wished to create art from death or prose from pain, but nothing has brought about more healing than lending my hands to create something whole from that which was broken.
As grand milestones nudge their way into view, I expect quiet measures of time when pain slips in stealthily to steal the spotlight. Undoubtedly grief will attempt to swallow up the good. But I will lean into the pain, because resisting feeling only feeds the suffering. It takes imposing courage and heart to endure grief day after day, season after season, but with each moment and milestone, the grace of an almighty God far exceeds the pain of denial. And in the gentle hammock hung between what I know and what I feel is the invitation of a creative Creator to deconstruct my journey, to live transparently, and to love authentically.
Nothing about grief is pretty. It is messy, painful, hard and real. But the vulnerability it invites might just be the strengthening of a soul purposed for something beautiful