In Finite Sadness

If I ever had a post go viral, it was this one. I still get traffic and comments on it, because people hate clichés, they hurt. No one wants their deepest pain to be dismissed, over generalized, or completely misunderstood.

Death is unbearable and it deserves all the, confused, hurt, angry expletives you want to throw at it. Go ahead, I won’t judge.

My Aunt Sue passed away in her sleep earlier this week. A month or so ago she fell down the stairs, broke many bones, fought her way through surgery and rehab and a lot of pain.

We were so thankful to have her back. She was home for five days before dying in her sleep and we have no idea what happened. We are in shock,

It doesn’t make any sense, I have a few expletives.

Her sister, my other aunt, said this in a recent email: “How much sadness can there be in the world?”

I was thinking over that question this morning while cleaning up the breakfast dishes. Dishes, in my house feel infinite.

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Then I ran downstairs and rotated laundry. If ever there was infinity on earth it is laundry with kids.

With laundry going, I ran upstairs to wipe down the highchair. Highchair-cleaning to me seems infinite, there is banana goo everywhere …no matter what I do.

Clara toddled around after me as I made my way through my “after the kids are off to school” routine.

As I caught her toothy, wild-haired grin behind me I realized… her toddling is not infinite. In that moment it felt ever so temporary.

And for that highchair won’t be here for long either, soon she will be on the farmhouse bench next to her brother and sister, joining the chorus of nitpicking any dinner that isn’t pizza or tacos.

And the dishes, they are numbered as well, they aren’t really infinite. There is a set number of dishes I will wash before I die, I don’t want to know what that number is as it would surely cause weeping and gnashing of teeth, but dishes too… finite.

And the sadness? The seemingly infinite sadness? That too will not last forever… will it?

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In one of the most comforting verses in scripture, oddly placed at the end of the tumultuous book of Revelation, Chapter 12, verse 4 Paul writes this:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

At the end of the book, the end of the story, the sadness doesn’t win, it all will be set right again. Now, even with this knowledge the pain is keenly felt. I’m a firm believer in feeling your feelings, turning them over and examining them until they you have absorbed all they are trying to tell you… lessons… memories… insight.

Not because they were sent by a vindictive God to punish or instruct but because the world is fallen and the pain is a part of the business of living life on earth… for now anyway.

As you sit with your bundle of feelings and memories, I hope you notice that even the sharpest, most painful seasons have a sweet side. Sometimes it is imperceivably subtle, so much so that we miss it completely, but in my experience, it is always there.

My daughter has these geodes which she received for her 6th birthday. They started as as ugly rocks that let off a chalky mess when she dumped them out of the box. Then we wrapped them in an old towel and hammered them open on the back porch the chilly spring morning after her birthday party. The yard was still strewn with solo cups and hot-pink plastic forks.

Inside the ugly were white crystals, she suspected them to be diamonds and I didn’t immediately tell her they weren’t… you’re only 6 with shiny rocks once, she’ll figure it out.

I saw those chalky geodes this morning, sitting next to a card given to me by a dear friend which read “blessed are those who grieve, for they will be comforted.”

I used to hate that verse, thinking… I would rather not grieve to begin with God, thanks, if it’s all the same to you… you can keep your blessing thankyoukindly.

But that’s not life, is it? Life is a series of death and rebirth. From the seeds that grow our food to the families we belong to, all of this living and dying is a hot mess of bittersweet.

This morning that beatitude, blessed are those who mourn, struck me in a new light, sitting next to those crumbly, sparkly rocks.

I would not choose bitter grief as an option, I would not willingly enter into a season of loss, of breaking apart and being hit with a hammer.

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However, I have no say in the matter, not really, but I will say this: The blessing that comes from gathering to grieve with family and receive comfort from your people, there is a certain sweetness there.

It is a haven in the storm that reminds you of who you are and what you have to be thankful for.

Every warm dish delivered and flower placed in a cool vase of water seems to speak God’s love to me when the bitter comes to call.

It is not an even trade off, the sweet that comes with the bitter, it does not make the intense grief all better or even okay. Life is not a zero sum game, it doesn’t balance like a nerd’s checkbook and thinking of it in those terms will only leave you bitter and angry.

In the finite sadness of life, I count the comfort I have received in seasons of grief as a precious gift… truly one of the first things that comes to mind when I look for God in my story.

So this weekend I join with my family, mostly bitter but a little sweet as we remember a woman who is leaving us far too soon. I will weep, I will grieve, but I say hold on to my believe that sadness too, has an expiration date.

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  • Natalie Hart

    The observation that the blessing and the pain are not an even trade-off is wise, wise, wise. That’s what so often feels wrong when in pain, that the blessings are “supposed to” cancel out the pain and grief. The grief is real and the blessings are real, all at the same time, in the same messy soup. I send virtual hugs to you over your aunt’s death.

  • http://simply-rea.blogspot.com Rea

    Beautiful, beautiful words. Yes, sadness will not last forever.
    I’m sorry for the loss of your aunt

  • Mark Allman

    This is the second time I’ve read this Leanne. It has moved me each time. I am thankful that sadness has an expiration date. I am also thankful that there are things in my life that mean enough to make me sad. Some things we never get over but there is sweetness in that because it is a testament to whatever that is and its impact and meaning to us.