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A Father's Lament
A meditation on the nature of reality and the pain of loss.
The most fundamental reality of our world is the love of a Father for their Son.
This world is not the result of some cosmic accident, which set in motion a series of random, aimless events.
No. Our world is the overflow of an eternal love that exists between God the Father and His Son, who desire to display that love and welcome others into their shared delight.
The very purpose of life itself is to know our Heavenly Father and His Son (John 17:3), and the eternal, infinite, incomprehensible love that they share.
But if this world is the overflow of a Father’s love, then it follows that the deepest pain one can experience is the loss of a child. This loss is, in a very real sense, a tearing of the very fabric of reality.
The only appropriate response to the loss of a beloved child is lament.
Even our Lord, when confronting the death of a friend, wept (John 11:35). He who held the power over life and death was not indifferent to the tragedy of loss. I have long wondered about this details of Jesus life, and what it reveals to us. In the least we can say that the horror of death is so great, and the pain of loss so deep, that even when it is temporal, it is overwhelming.
To be given to grief over the death of another is the necessary evidence of love (11:36). Jesus could not withhold tears because He could not withhold love.
It is because of this that I find myself nearly desperate to express the pain of this loss. Not to draw attention and sympathy to myself, but to draw attention to the object of my love: my child.
I feel as though I am betraying their life and memory when I simply move on without, in some way, publicly expressing my pain, and thus, my love.
Since the sudden death of our pre-born child, I have experienced novel feelings of such deep, visceral pain that I have realized that something is different about this kind of loss. This unnatural tragedy has flooded my heart with not only sorrow, but fear.
Death, in general, is not new to me. I have already felt the sting of loss to our ancient foe. I held my Grandpa’s hand as his breathing turned to shallow gasps. I recited the Psalms to him, to strengthen his spirit as his body failed. I watched his last gasp, and waited for another breath that refused to come. Those who insist that we are merely matter in motion have never seen a body without a soul. It is not the same. It was not him. I announced his death to the nurse, and called my grandma and his children.
I watched the slow, terrible deterioration of my own father. Death arrived early for him, and took its time. We watched my father die a thousand deaths before the end, and we grieved a thousand times before the funeral. I sat with him in the same building that I had with his father before him, where two men of unusual strength finally succumbed, powerless against the enemy of all mankind.
I have sat in hospitals with parents as their children’s lives slipped from their loving yet powerless hands. I have experienced the horror of a miniature casket, and stood watch while the last shovel of dirt covered it from the sight of those left living.
I have received word of a brain tumour in a child, and heard the sound of unspeakable pain in their parent’s voice. I have walked into hospital rooms to comfort those in shock, and looked into the eyes of a child facing an enemy we had hoped would not strike so young. I then faced the terrible prospect of another small casket.
What I am saying is that I have felt the pain of death.
But I have never felt this.
When we first realized our child was in mortal danger, I heard the tortured exhortation of the poet ringing in my heart:
“Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
We had hoped that if my wife just lay still enough, the child would overcome the overwhelming forces of darkness; that even in their most vulnerable state, they would rage again the dying of the light they had not yet seen.
I do not know if they went gentle or hard. I just know that, in the end, they went.
And as they went, a thousand hopes and dreams and memories went too.
I had been planning to protect them. In the end, I lost them without a fight.
But I know that my hands were never the safest place to be. The safest place to be is in the hands of our Lord, where they are now. And I must not forbid you from going, my child, when He calls your name.
This is a sadness that goes so deep that it feels like reality itself is coming undone. And in some small but real sense, it is.
It is a sadness, mixed with fear, mixed with horror.
I still have the image of blood burned in my mind, the first sign that our child was slipping away from us in the dark of the womb. Alone and defenceless. The feeling I felt when I first saw the red traces of death, and the feeling that still comes to me in the night, is not sadness; it is terror.
It is the feeling of your worst fears coming upon you.
There has never been, and will never be, anything I fear in the world more than the death of my children. No threat or accusation or harm can ever produce in me the kind of absolute fear I feel at being powerless to protect my children as I witness them descend to the grave.
There has never been, and never will be, anything I love more in this world than my children.
As I have considered these things, I have concluded that my love, and corresponding sense of loss, is a tiny reflection of the Father’s love for not only His own Son, but for us (1 John 3:1).
So, like our Lord, I have not run from my fears. I have not withheld my tears. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. And I have taken heart that ‘Thou art with me’, even here.
Even in the place where reality seems to be coming undone.
I also take heart in the fact that, just as the death of Christ was some kind of cosmic undoing, His resurrection was a true re-fabrication of reality. When Christ rose from the dead, a new world was born (1 Cor 15:20).
A world created by the reciprocal love of a Father and Son.
But unlike the old world, this one will never again come undone.
We live in the dawning of the new creation, with a sure and certain hope of the resurrection. For now, our love compels us to lament who we have lost, and eagerly anticipate the day when we will go to them (2 Samuel 12:23).
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