Grief, Faith, and Butterflies: The Hardest Year

grief, faith, and butterflies

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

Punk Rock Grief

It’s a rare occasion when I get to choose the music to which I listen. My children have borderline scary memories, particularly for song lyrics, so our radios are always set to Christian music to avoid the awkwardness of small children singing about adult topics. I like Christian music, but when I don’t have kids with me, I relish the opportunity to listen to other types of music. The other day, when I had a half-hour drive to a meeting for work, I set my internet radio app to my “Punk Rock/Emo” station, which brings back memories of high school for me.

Back then, I embraced the teenage angst that characterizes this particular genre, but now I listen for the nostalgia. Mostly. On this car ride, one song spoke to me in a way it never had before: “View from Heaven” by Yellowcard.

The song was written about the grief experienced after the loss of a friend of the band. Its lyrics include powerful phrases that compare the writers’ hopes for their friend’s experience in Heaven to the grief and sadness they experienced at his passing. Some of the lines that struck me were, “if we all believe in Heaven // Maybe we’ll make it through one more year” and “I know that I’ll find you in Heaven // ‘Cause I’m so lost without you // Down here.”1

I never really understood the power of the song until I heard it after my experiences in the last year.

Faith Gets Us Through Grief

Just about a year ago, my husband’s mother passed away suddenly from a series of strokes. She was an adored wife, mother of six children, grandmother to 23 grandchildren, and teacher to a dozen preschoolers. Everyone who knew her loved her, including me. Some people have strained relationships with their in-laws, but I’m blessed to not fall into that category.

The last year has been the most challenging and painful year in our family.  I don’t pretend to understand what it feels like to lose the person you birthed and raised you. But I can say that we have all felt a void, an empty Mom-sized hole in our lives that we just can’t seem to fill. There have been many days where faith is the only thing that gets us by – a knowledge that we will see Mom in Heaven again, that “good-bye” was really just “see you later”. We know this to be true because of our faith in Jesus Christ. As Peter says in Acts 4, Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

Things We Want to Forget

No matter how far away we lived from her, my mother-in-law was an integral part of all of our lives. And I’m speaking as a relative outsider, having married into the family; by no means do I claim to understand the grief my husband, his sisters, and his dad feel. We can never forget Mom, and we don’t want to. But there are some memories from the last year that I wish I could forget:

Reading the emotion on my husband’s face as his sister told him Mom was sick. The phone call I got from my husband when the doctors told them Mom wasn’t going to survive. Telling our kids that Grandma was going to Heaven and they wouldn’t see her again on Earth. Standing in the waiting room, watching some of those people most dear to me come out of the Intensive Care wing after saying their goodbyes. Watching my sister-in-laws’ grief as they followed the casket after the funeral.

These are the images that still haunt me. And I know they don’t compare to those that run through my husband’s head of Mom’s last days or what she looked like after her soul went to be with Jesus.

As she lay dying, I chose not to see Mom. We brought the kids to the hospital when she was still conscious and responsive, and I decided it was best for me to have this visit as my goodbye. Sometimes, I feel like I took the selfish way out. But I felt I needed to stay strong for my family, and I didn’t think I could if I followed all of them into the room. Now, I regret this decision. But when faced with an impossible situation, you make the best decisions you can.

Bringing Back the Good

When you have so many grief-filled memories, it can be difficult to sort through your brain to find memories of the loved one you lost that you actually want to remember. Slowly, painfully, as the last year has dragged on, some of these memories have surfaced:

How Mom would almost always be in the kitchen at their house, greeting us with a friendly hello. Mom and Dad playing the “Tickle Game” with our kids in the living room, sitting on opposite couches and reach out as the kids ran past them, screaming with laughter. The pride on her face when she would attend church with us and watch her son lead worship behind the drum set. The way she embraced all of her 23 grandchildren like they were each the only one she had, no matter how many were around or how old they were. Mom’s face as she watched us all interact the last time we were able to get together.

Someday, I know these types of memories will dominate my mind when I think of my mother-in-law. But right now, they take some work to pull out of the mental filing cabinet.

Family and Butterflies

Besides her Lord and Savior, Mom loved nothing more than being with family. And, being a teacher, she always looked for ways to educate her grandkids (as well as spoil them). So, one Easter a few years ago, she gave each family a voucher to get Painted Lady caterpillars. We cared for them until their metamorphosis into butterflies and then released them in our backyard. Painted Ladies imprint where they emerge from their chrysalises, so they return to our yard year after year.

This year, we had two family get-togethers at our house: Easter and Fourth of July. Although we saw the Painted Ladies sporadically at other times in the spring and summer, they spent quite a bit of time around the family during these two occasions. Both times, they fluttered around the family, even landing on the kids’ hands and faces for extended periods of time.

I know these insects weren’t Mom. But I do think God was using them to remind us of His goodness and His promise that Mom is safe, happy, and in His tender care.

We’re Not Okay… Yet

Knowing we’ll see Mom in Heaven again someday brings great comfort, but it doesn’t mean things have been easy. In a message where sharing about his struggles with depression, Pastor Bill explains, “Life can be a difficult journey this side of Heaven. There are times and seasons of animosity, boredom, confusion, fear, grief, hurt, insecurity, loneliness, pride, rejection, sin, and a whole bunch of other maladies. It’s okay to not be okay.”2 Being a Christian doesn’t mean you have it all together; it means you recognize how much you need a Savior.

Jesus our Savior brings us hope, even in the toughest of times and in the depths of grief. “Sometimes it’s difficult to believe God’s promises are true. When we face challenging times like unemployment, heartbreak, loss, and death, we wonder if we can really believe what God tells us. But God promises us that he’s there for us, he won’t condemn us, he’s our strength, and he’ll make all things new in eternity with him.”3

And knowing this is how – eventually – we’ll all be okay again.

Mom

A perfect picture of my mother-in-law Jan: surrounded by her family, singing hymns to her Lord and Savior. This is definitely what she’s doing in Heaven!

EDIT: I mentioned that my mother-in-law “embraced all of her 23 grandchildren like they were each the only one she had”. While this is an accurate memory, it does not acknowledge that she, in fact has 24 grandchildren. She was absolutely delighted to find out shortly before she got ill that one of her daughters was pregnant. So, although she did not get the opportunity to hold this grandchild, she would have been overjoyed to do so and already loved this child before she went to Heaven.

Sources

1 Harper, Benjamin Eric et al. (2003). View from heaven [Recorded by Yellowcard]. Ocean Avenue [compact disc]. Capital Records.

2 Limmer, B. (2019 February 24). The masks we wear. Let’s Be Real message series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/the-masks-we-wear/.

3 Limmer, B. (2019 July 14). I’ll answer. Promises, Promises message series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/ill-answer/.

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