Today, I feel the absence of Annie on this trip more than any of the days that have passed by so far. There were moments on the airplane, when I looked at the empty seat next to me and I really felt like crying but I held back – at least until the toilet was vacant. I haven’t got a problem with crying – or crying in public at that (well, maybe just a little) – but for whatever reason I’d consider it a bit unnerving to see someone burst into tears at 30,000 feet and so I held off. A lot of things have been said about grief but I wonder if it’s ever been said that with great grief (and altitude) comes great responsibility?
One thing that has been said of grief is that denial is one of the many ways in which it may express itself. I don’t believe I’ve encountered that yet; I’m not sure that I ever will. Based purely on my own self-assessment, denial is an experience alien to me in my grief. I grieve with hope and that makes denial redundant. Of course, I’m sure that some folks reading this might conclude that my ‘hope’ is precisely the expression of that denial – denial disguised so convincingly that it even fools me; that rather than denying the reality of Annie’s death, I’m simply denying the finality of it. But all opinions and philosophies and beliefs and imaginations and discussions regarding the finality or continuity of life after death must not first centre on us – or our loved ones – but rather on the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I want to say “There’s no denying that fact!” but there is. You can deny that fact – but that’s all. That fact stands. A person either accepts or denies that fact – both responses alike come with life and death transforming consequences. Jesus has risen from the dead. Annie knew and loved Him as her Lord and King. Therefore, she is – right now – enjoying the real, conscious, living experience with Jesus Christ that He promised her. My knowledge of that experience right now, is – and will be until the day that I die – so very limited. My faith in that fact is not always as strong as it could be, or will be or has been. But my knowledge and faith and feelings change nothing in the eternal realm. My enjoyment of that fact may be hinged on my faith in it but the fact itself is hinged on something apart from me – on truth. Doubt and denial do not alter the veracity of the fact that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead; neither do they cast a shadow over the experience of those – like my Annie – enjoying the reality of it.
Back home, I am slowly and gradually becoming more accustomed to the fact that Annie is not with me. I’ve walked through the front door of my home enough times to know that the house is empty and as I left it – Milo is the only agent of change when I’m away! I’ve gone to the supermarket and sat silently in our favourite coffee shop enough times to accept that Annie isn’t down another aisle and that seat on the opposite side of the coffee table will never be graced with her beauty, her vivacity. Since my Annie’s death, I’ve woken up 164 times to an empty bed. I get it. There’s no denying that fact: Annie is not here. I say this with the greatest respect to all those who mourn Annie’s absence with me: nobody on this planet knows that she is not here more than I do.
Nonetheless, the company of family here in the USA has not made me forget Annie but rather made me feel like she’s with us. And by ‘with us’ I don’t mean in the fanciful way you hear people use that expression as if it were somehow true of a person who has died. It’s just something about the strength of the collective memory of Annie in a place and among people so very dear to her. The sounds, the faces, the voices, the temperature, the climate, the tastes, even. There’s so much sensory stimulus that before we even talk about Annie, I’m powerfully and pleasantly reminded of her. The last four days have been so joyful that the memory of Annie has had the effect of me forgetting that she is not with me.
Does that make sense? It does to me – and attempting to make any further explanation will only be more confusing than it already is!
Today I spent the morning and early afternoon by myself – by choice, I should add. I meet my uncle Marty for coffee each morning at 6am at the nearby grocery store (just as my Annie used to love doing) and then after getting showered, I got in the car and headed to the mall for the day. That’s when Annie’s absence hit me and I wasn’t expecting it to do so. Not even the memory of her helped to cut through it. Doing familiar things on my own for the first time without Annie – that’s when absence can really hurt the most. And yet it’s in those times when I really crave and sense the Presence of God the most. His Presence is the only thing that can cut through the pain of her absence. It was good to be back with the family later on in the day and it was good for me to be alone too. I thank God for this assurance:
…the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6
In His Arms.