unexpected gift (in the grieving)

by Kristen

I stopped the car and took a deep breath before getting out. The grass was wet. The buzz of chainsaws and wood chippers a few hundred yards away filled the air as tree trimmers went about their work.

I walked slowly. Cool air hit my face and the late-morning sun warmed my back.

Kneeling down my hand instinctively reached out and brushed stray grass clippings off the headstone. The edges of the raised letters still new and sharp stung my fingertips. It’s been almost five months since I was here—then it was a mound of dirt covered with artificial turf, a deep hole swallowing a muted blue casket, an unsettled ache ripping open inside me—but today the scarred earth shows no sign of the violation . . . though my heart still gapes.

I’ve never gone to a cemetery alone. I’ve never gone for anything but a graveside service or unveiling. I never saw—or felt—the need to return. Until now. Now I had to go. I was drawn.

As I knelt and reread the words and dates I knew by heart I turned to Psalm 116. The words in verse 15 rang hollow when Uncie shared them at Grandma’s graveside and memorial: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” But today I sought refuge in the context. I read all nineteen verses, and how different it made it.

I flipped back a hundred psalms to find the phrase on her headstone—”in your presence there is fullness of joy”—and I read all eleven verses of that psalm, too.

Something shifted. A bit of the haze lifted.

“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (16:6). “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. …Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. …What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? …I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord” (116:5, 7-8, 12, 17).

I am not done living.

I stood alone in a cemetery on Christmas Eve and felt more alive than ever. The cavernous grief is not gone. Grandma will not be at the table with us tonight. But my soul can rest. I have farther to walk. I have a beautiful inheritance. God is gracious and merciful. There is fullness of joy . . . joy and grief inseparably twined.

I am not done living. And neither is she. We’re not living together for a while—but, oh, we are living.


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