When Grief Catches You by Surprise


“No one is promised tomorrow,” they say.

“Live every day like it’s your last,” they say.

“Life is short,” they say.

And “they” say it all the time. Everywhere, reminders not to take life and health for granted find their way into our consciousness. You can’t escape them.

But we’re pretty great at ignoring them. That’s why it takes the news of a friend (early 30s) having a seizure and being put on life support to shock us to tears and expose our collective denial that we are indeed finite.

Today as I cried out in prayer for my friend, Carmine, I imagined taking Daddy God by the wrist and yanking His hand down to touch Carmine’s brain and restore his health. Like a child frustrated at her own efforts who just wants Daddy to “make it work,” confident in Father’s ability and desperately at the end of her understanding, I want God to “make it work” again. It’s a miracle Carmine needs and a miracle God’s got. So I begged and pleaded and wept for God to grant mercy, to let Carmine live, to spare his wife and infant daughter and all those who love him dearly the pain of losing the light of their lives.

But as I prayed, I felt guilt wash up. Suddenly, I couldn’t distinguish the tears of pain from those of shame. I knew Carmine years ago. We hung out at church a few times and played ultimate frisbee at the beach once. We catered at a few weddings together. But we haven’t spoken in long, long time. Surely my tears were unwarranted. Surely they belonged to his wife, his mother, his brother, his sister, his friends. Surely the brief season our lives intersected couldn’t produce a grief this strong.

And then I realized my anguish isn’t just about Carmine. It’s about fear. A healthy young man’s sudden seizure and the subsequent discovery of an inoperable brain tumor mean that I, too, am not exempt from knocking on death’s door at any moment. It means we’re all a moment away from grief, that as much as we work to delay the end of life, it comes. And that’s as true at 15 or 30 as it is at 90. Our youth belies our frailty. It’s not fair, it’s not just, it’s not beautiful. It’s downright terrifying.

On a normal day, if someone asked me if I was afraid to die, I’d start quoting Psalm 139 and assure them that I trust God with the number of my days. But today I look up at the God I’ve chosen to serve with my life and say, “What are You doing?! Get down here and help! I know You didn’t do this, but You’re the only one who can fix it!”

That we are asked to trust His sovereignty even in doubt is too much for me to grapple with.

Every fiber of my being wants Carmine to survive this. I want his new daughter to know her father and for him and his wife to grow old together. I want his mother to never know the pain of losing a son. So, I’ll keep praying, yanking on Daddy’s wrist, begging Him to please have mercy on my friend, and by extension, on me.

I’m okay with admitting that my faith is as fragile as my health—capable of being broken in an instant. But in faith and in life, one thing survives the crumbling. One thing is more resilient than fear, and that is hope. Tonight, it’s all we have. Carmine, we rally our hope around you, open our clenched fists to the One who holds your healing, and pray:

Psalm 119: 73-77

With your very own hands you formed me;
now breathe your wisdom over me so I can understand you.
When they see me waiting, expecting your Word,
those who fear you will take heart and be glad.
I can see now, God, that your decisions are right;
your testing has taught me what’s true and right.
Oh, love me—and right now!—hold me tight!
just the way you promised.
Now comfort me so I can live, really live;
your revelation is the tune I dance to.

UPDATE: Carmine passed away on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. Though I’m heavy with the unwelcome, yet familiar ache of grief, I know the only way to keep from abandoning hope is to cling to it; to remember that God’s grace is capable of exchanging beauty for ashes, even in this.


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