Tears filled our eyes. The loss of a child. How does a loving parent ever recover? Our dear, dear friends were walking this painful path of life. Clearly the props of life were knocked out from under them.
We arrived at their home on what would have been Kelly’s 41st birthday. They embraced us with tears in their eyes and joy that we would be with them this entire weekend. We live thousands of miles away so this was the first time we had been back in several years.
Throughout the weekend memories surfaced and a deeper connection was experienced. Kelly was a wife and mother of two children. Kelly died after a long battle with cancer. Kelly’s final words were, “I am ready to go home.” She and her family know Jesus.
Yet, how does a young husband and father move forward without the love of his life? How do his two precious children embrace the discoveries and carefree frolics of childhood amidst their deep loss? Would our dear friends, Kelly’s Mom and Dad, ever be able to “get on with life” as normal?
The biblical story of Naomi is about a woman who lost two adult children and her husband to death–virtually everything, particularly in that culture. Her husband died, then ten years later, both of her married sons died. A widow without sons in that culture was destitute. When Naomi heard there was food back in Judah, she and her two daughters-in-law started back. The familiar story takes us on the journey that Naomi and Ruth completed to Judah.
“I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty….The LORD has afflicted me, the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:21).
Janet Davis describes this well
When we grieve well, as Naomi did, sooner or later, we find ourselves at a place of utter emptiness. It is, for many, that place of greatest pain. This emptiness is not simply a static void, but a dry, lifeless hole that seems to actively suck all potential for life into its darkness. In these moments, much like Naomi, we experience gross disorientation. All we have known about our future, ourselves and our God, the very bedrock of our lives, has given way under our feet.
It is challenging to find anyone willing to abide in the presence of such pain, even those who are experiencing it, much less an observer. Most of us have a strong and grief-sabotaging drive to escape. We try to fill the hole so we will not feel it. We stuff ourselves with busyness, noise, food, drink, new purchases, and fun. But resisting the reality or experience of the pain and chaos does not serve us well; it often prolongs our suffering. (My Own Worst Enemy, Janet Davis, 185).
Naomi did not resist. She entered fully into her grief.
Later (in Ruth chapter 3) we begin to see a shift in Naomi, from grief to gratitude. This was the direct fruit of laboring well through her grief.
“One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, ‘My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for…”
Naomi begins to focus on the future of her daughter-in-law. She begins looking forward, forging a new normal for both of them. Hope re-appears.
That change point came in the lives of Kelly’s parents too. The powerful words of a friend, “Where will you invest your grieving energies that will make an eternal difference in memory of Kelly?” were key.
One day a friend mentioned the need for housing and care for the many impoverished Guatemalan children who would otherwise be forgotten. Several family members flew down to see the potential for a facility that would extend care to babies and children rescued by Operation Baby Rescue. A fairly new nearby hospital provided emergency care, but what was needed was a home for children with “special needs.”
The extended family was definitely moved by the prospect, but didn’t see themselves as fund-raisers. How would they ever gather the funds for such a project? Kelly’s journey was well-known in the community since the family had lived there for many years. So the family began simply telling others of this possibility. The funds began to come in–even those giving Kelly needed medical care were interested in giving something in Kelly’s memory.
Kelly’s House was the outcome. It is a remarkable facility that will care for up to 50 children with severe mental and physical disabilities and other “special needs.” These children are often rescued or brought in by their families who lack the resources to care for them long term.
The smiles of Kelly’s extended family in a photo taken outside of this new facility (with “Kelly’s House” clearly above the entrance and Kelly’s picture inside) are clearly genuine. Smiles that surprised many who grieved the loss of someone they loved dearly. Yet, the energy invested in something eternal goes deep and brings a sense of peace that is hard to describe.
The outcome of Naomi’s care for her daughter-in-law was God-given. Ruth, a barren wife for ten years, now gives birth to a son through her new husband, Boaz. Although some want to characterize the biblical book of Ruth as a romance, in reality it is more clearly a book of loss, grief and enormous emotional pain—and hope.
God’s intervention in both Naomi’s life and Kelly’s family provides extended hope for all of us, particularly in the unknown 2013 ahead of us. Into what will you invest your grieving energies?