What is it that causes you to grieve? Is it the loss of a loved one or another traumatic event? For me, the day that causes me to pause is February 22, the day I did not die. Since then, I’ve learned about grief with God.
For a long while, every conversation led back to the accident. But these days, I don’t often think about it.
Till the anniversary, then something inside remembers.
The screeching brakes that jolted me awake
In Kenya, our truck bounced then rolled down an embankment before emptying us out onto the ground.
I’d closed my eyes on a typical afternoon. Now, I opened them to a real-live nightmare.
Outside the vehicle, I leaned against the back tire. How did I get there? The truck rocked and a voice screamed, “Get out of the way; it’s gonna roll!”
Who was that?
A few feet away, my tent mate, Kathy, crept in the opposite direction. It must have been her. She always knew what to do.
With the metallic taste of blood in my mouth, I crawled twenty feet before looking back at my home away from home, crushed like a bug.
My friends scattered across the red dirt.
As if on drugs, I felt disconnected from my body as I gazed down at it. My sarong was gone, but bikini intact. I lifted my head to the sky and acknowledged a drizzle with a shiver that zigzagged down my back.
In slow motion, I bent my head toward my throbbing hand. Noticing a deep groove across the base, I peered at the muscles and capillaries which were like transparent layers of a medical book.
One by one, I pulled the seven metal bracelets embedded in my palm out of the sticky congealing blood and set them on the ground.
That’s when my friend Andrea filled my field of vision. I jumped. She assessed my injuries and wrapped my hand with a towel. “Don’t worry, “ she muttered before running to nurse another, “It’s only a scratch.”
“It’s only a scratch,” echoed that same detached voice that had screamed. It wasn’t Kathy’s, it was mine.
In shock, I believed Andrea instead of my own eyes.
Then 4 Masai warriors stood before me.
The African supermen were dressed in colorful regalia. My heart raced when one tipped his head as if to say, “What’s wrong?”
I had something he wanted to see!
I beamed, sort of, as I unwrapped the towel. He hovered nearby, concern etching his face. I lifted my hand and it flapped open.
Wrinkling his whole face, he turned away.
“Some warrior you are,” I screamed as tears filled my eyes. “It’s only a scratch.”
I couldn’t yet feel the physical pain, but his disapproval stung.
Wavering back and forth, I stood, then hobbled.
My friend Graeme loaded me and Kathy into the back of a stranger’s car, a Good Samaritan who sped us toward the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi.
At each jostling curve of the ninety-mile ride, we groaned, afraid of what already happened.
Stop-and-go traffic slowed our pace as we entered the city. Out the windows, we watched people set fires, break into storefronts, and throw things.
What was going on?
“Riots everywhere,” our driver explained. “Someone found the body of the foreign prime minister’s daughter.”
“Don’t stop talking,” Kathy begged, her back wedged up against my side. We didn’t yet know her pelvis was broken.
In the backseat of that stranger’s car, no words came. She and I often withdrew from the group and sang songs while we washed our clothes in a river. So, I eked out a bit of our favorite Eurhythmics song, Sweet Dreams.
I sang about traveling the world looking for that elusive thing that brought happiness.
Without seeing the irony, I’d done what the song said, and there I was speeding toward a hospital far away from home.
Inside the emergency room
A nurse stitched my hand and my head then x-rayed my back and my knee but refused to give me painkillers.
“You might have a concussion,” she said as she wheeled me to a ward and put me to bed.
I whimpered like a puppy, unable to sleep as the shock wore off.
The numbness had helped, hidden the pain. It slowed my response time emotionally as well as physically, my kind of defense mechanism. Agony now replaced it. I rocked back and forth and moaned.
I tried to remember, then hoped to forget.
I’ve seen pictures after accidents
. . . but since I was in this one, this affects me differently.
It doesn’t tell the story of my emotions. Thirty years later, I still feel the chaos, the roll of the truck.
When you’ve been through trauma, no one else knows the pain except God. He’s the only one who understands what it’s like for you.
Has time healed all wounds?
Of course not, how come people say that?
The accident will never unhappen. It’s just like all of the other painful things we’ve been through.
So what do we do?
I think about people who say, “I just put it behind me and never think about it again.”
Can you do that?
Where does all the pain go?
I don’t want to judge anyone who deals with grief that way. But that didn’t work for me. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but in my accident,
I lost a friend so I know what that feels like.
My friend, Anna, and I talked about dying the week before
That day I’d waited in the usual line we found at a crowded phone bank in Africa, this time in Uganda. I waited for an hour just so I could have a few minutes of scratchy connection overseas.
I’d started having these thoughts. Someone died. I knew it.
Never the ideal place to hear bad news, but the only opportunity to phone home, is where I heard my mom confirm my worst fear. Covering my ear with my left hand, I screamed into the receiver, “Who, who died?”
“Your cousin. Hit by a truck on the way to work. New Year’s Eve.”
The call dropped leaving me alone with all the emotion and my questions.
Did she see it coming? Did it hurt? Where was she now?
After the call, Anna and I searched for food
In a rare opportunity, we found comfort in a restaurant with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth.
Neither of us wanted to think about mortality or what the end meant, so far away; yet, apparently, so close for her.
We talked about our travels and the losses we’d experienced.
Grief wove its way through our conversation like black embroidery thread. It’s like together we stared at the back of a messy cross-stitch. But now, having flipped it over, I got a peek at the image on the front.
She and I had no way of knowing how soon her turn would come, but this conversation felt somehow connected when she was gone.
Three days after the accident, we held a memorial service for her.
There we sat, our ragtag group in the front two pews of the church across the street from the Grosvenor Hotel, staring at the minister like a herd of deer in the headlights of death.
“We all have an appointed time to die,” he said. “Are you ready?”
So, what does grief with God look like?
GRIEF WITH GOD, STEP 1: Remember
Each year, I set aside time to think about what happened.
Even before I went to Mars Hill Graduate School (now the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology) to study counseling, I’d check in with myself. How was I doing?
GRIEF WITH GOD, STEP 2: Write
My cure from grief with God looks like the excerpt you just read from my soon-to-be-released book.
Writing has always helped me explain things to myself. There’s something about being able to put trauma into words.
When I tell God everything I know, explaining it in as much detail as I can–you know, how I hurt, who I’m mad at, and the anguish I carry–something happens.
God already knows.
But there’s something about this process that heals me every time I write until there’s nothing left to say.
If you haven’t experienced the healing that comes from this,
GRIEF WITH GOD, STEP 3: Feel
Yup, you heard me right.
Am I someone who whips herself as penance? No. But believe it or not, this is key.
We heal when we feel the pain.
So when my body reminds me of this date each year, I make a date with myself. The details look different each time. Maybe I sit with my journal and my Eurythmics CD.
GRIEF WITH GOD, STEP 4: Thank God
I thank God for the second chance and I thank Him for teaching me how to cope with grief, for healing me. I thank Him for simple things, like all the todays I wouldn’t have had and for what I get to do and the place I do it and the people who make that possible.
Once I get started, it’s hard to stop.
Thankfulness shifts my perspective every single time.
GRIEF WITH GOD, STEP 5: Listen
As I lay in bed early Saturday morning with my Bible and my journal, I kept remembering a verse about how God knows the number of our days before we’re born. And He knows the good deeds He’s prepared for us to do.
Thank God for Google.
And Bible Gateway where, with one click, I can search for the verse and read it in lots of translations.
Look how cool this one is:
“We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it!” (Ephesians 2:10, The Passion Translation)
God really does love you. He loves you so much that He wants to heal you in all the ways you need it.
Where would you like Him to start?
Whether you hear from God all the time or never have before,
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