I have always loved the excitement and hope associated with a new year. I love the traditions of a New Years day meal, creating resolutions, and planning for a better, brighter year. But January is also a month I associate with grief, hospitals, and ultimately loss. My father passed away January 25, 2011 and our son Graham gained his angel wings on January 24, 2017. When I reflect on those time periods, I am flooded with images of sickness, hospitals, and death. These recollections are sad and they contradict the anticipation of a new year we associate with January. And even though these events happened years ago, the memories often feel so present.
When scrolling through Instagram, I came across a quote by John Piper. “When sadness makes life heavy with tears, don’t stop doing your work. Own the pain, believe a promise, take a step in faith.” Whenever grief strikes and feels as if it consumes my thoughts, I try to remind myself to take this moment in. Feel the sadness, recognize the pain, but do not stop doing what God has called me to do. Although I’m still not sure what that looks like, I know He wants me to be a wonderful wife, a strong mother, a great friend, and good teacher. To be the person He has created me to be, I must live with my grief. And the key word is “live.”
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
Grief does not fade away over time. It is always a part of us, even when the rest of world believes you have moved on. But it cannot consume you. Living with grief does not mean you cannot experience joy and hope, and we should not feel guilty for those feelings. But living with grief is a constant battle of those emotions. If you know someone who has experienced a loss or trauma, remember to recognize their loss and the emptiness they carry with them on a daily basis. Take time to say the name of the person they lost, or share a memory of their person. It truly lifts them up because in your simple gesture you are saying, “I still remember and am here for you.” It’s never easy to juggle the joy of the future with the reality your loved one will never be a part of it. But when someone acknowledges this challenge, it makes a world of difference.
Even though I lost two amazing men in January, those memories do not define this time of year. I also have images of hope when I think back to January 2016. When Graham was born prematurely at 24 weeks, the doctors were not sure if he would survive. And if he did, the statistics indicated he would face countless obstacles. But Graham surpassed every challenge and survived. He was a miracle! Not only did Graham show us that he was a fighter, he also reminded us God’s power. Our Lord can help us achieve anything! When I think back to those NICU days in January, I remember how Graham surprised us each and every day. He showed us how strong he was and how good our God is. Even though we might struggle outwardly, like Graham did, God is lifting us up each and every day. Graham tackled each challenge and rose above the obstacles stacked against him. These NICU memories remind me that despite temporary troubles and setbacks, God is with us. He renews us each and every day, so that we can achieve a greater glory.
I will always associate January with sadness and pain. After all, no matter how much God loves us, the loss of my father and son is very real and very present. And even though my grief is a part of me, it does not define me. I am able to live with grief because of God’s love for us and His promises for us. During this January season, I am also reminded of Graham’s strength and God’s ability to help us rise above the challenges we face. God is good and He is faithful. His love for us endures forever. As I look forward to 2020, I am full of joy and hope.