This morning I was listening to the final episode of the podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” A quote at the end really resonated with me, “The longer that you live with a mask the greater the void grows between the mask and the internal reality of who you are. And that void becomes vacuous and empty and hollow and ultimately you end up being loved for something you’re not rather than who you actually are.”
I immediately thought of grieving people when I heard the quote. We live in a culture that seeks to put parameters and time limits on grief. Many grieving quickly learn there can be negative ramifications of transparently sharing their grief, particularly as time goes on. For some who wish to avoid those ramifications, mask wearing becomes a necessary skill. In 2018 I wrote about my experience with this in “Faking Fine in The Midst of Grief?” and “The Hypocrisy of Grief.”
In the early days of Sarah’s absence I felt the angst of the void between the mask and reality. But I am so very grateful that God has since encircled us with a precious band of sojourners. There is no mask worn with them, they see and know us as we are. Most of them understand because they also bear the pain of deep grief, many of child loss specifically. But others not yet scathed by deep grief allow us to be maskless because their sincere love for us renders them willing to accept the reality of our sorrow as well as our hope.
If Sarah were here today, we would be excitedly preparing for our traditional family birthday party, her twenty-second. I would be busy in the kitchen cooking and preparing the dinner and homemade cake she had chosen. And her sisters, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins would be preparing to come celebrate her.
Instead of that, though, we find ourselves marking the fifth passing of her birthday in her absence. With each passing birthday we have learned better how to navigate them as a family, we no longer fearfully dread their coming. But the tension between deep sorrow and gratitude remains.
I am continually deeply grateful for the seventeen and a half years I was given with Sarah. And yet the passing of her birthday without her is a deeply sorrowful experience. My heart longs for her presence, to know what she would have been thinking and doing if she were here and actually turning twenty-two years old. So I find myself once again with tear streaked face, simultaneously deeply grateful and sorrowful.
This morning, I find myself sharing this for those who also know the sorrow of deep grief, compelled largely by the aforementioned quote I heard this morning. Those who know grief know the tension of which I speak. They know the reality that five years later you long for their presence just as much, or perhaps even more than you did the first birthday without them.
If you find yourself grieving today but painfully hidden behind a mask, be encouraged that there are people who will see, know and love you without the mask. Don’t allow the adversary to isolate you through his shame filled lies about the realities of grief. Scripture says we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope,” but it does not say “we do not grieve” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
We grieve the absence of those we love, but with hope. That hope, the Hope of Jesus Christ specifically, enables us to persevere living fruitfully, gratefully and joyfully, in the midst of ongoing sorrow. But that Hope also allows us sorrow without shame. He compassionately promises us one day He will wipe away every tear, but that day has not yet come. Condemnation for tears is not from Him.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 [ESV]
There are tears today as we mark Sarah’s fifth birthday in heaven. But there is also gratitude, hope and joy. Sarah had a bucket list, so we checked off one of her bucket list items by going to Graceland in honor of her and her birthday this weekend. You can learn more about Sarah’s bucket list at SarahsBucketList.com. Tonight we will gather with her sisters and their guys again and have dinner together, decorate cookies (one of Sarah’s favorite traditions) and watch “Christmas in Graceland” to round out bucket list #3.
At the close of the night Scott and I will celebrate, possibly tearfully, being five birthdays closer to seeing Sarah again, and the incredible gift we were given in her twenty-two years ago today.