Or at least that’s what they told us in seminary. Grief doesn’t necessarily take a track that goes directly from point A to point B. Sometimes (most times) it goes in a spiral–sometimes you’re closer to “ok” and sometimes closer to the depths of dispair. And anything can trigger the change.
I know this. Yet I was surprised when I walked into the emergency room last night to be with one of my congregants who had been in a nasty wreck that invovled the car flipping a couple of times. I was with her, yet I was also in another Emergency room on New Year’s Eve Eve several years ago, where I was looking between my parents who shouldn’t have walked away from their wreck. I was also in yet another emergency room at UNC, where I had to tell a woman that the same wreck that had put her there had also killed her sister. As I was watching the guy stitch up my young congregant, I was in all of those places– places which I haven’t been in a long time. Places that I had more or less forgotten about, or at least managed to bury pretty deep.
The mom reminded me of something I had felt when my own parents were in their wreck– I was a rock until I saw the car. My dad kept telling me “When you see the car, remember that we’re ok.” (We actually saw the car before we saw them, per Dad’s request to get their luggage and things before the wrecking yard closed.) When you see the way a piece of steel crumples– a piece of steel that contains people you love– how can your own strength and resolve not crumple too?
But I was also reminded how I could literally see the hand of God around not only my parents, but around this young girl. In my parents wreck, the sunroof caved in on both sides of and in between my parents, leaving only enough room for them. A few inches either way and the story I’m telling today might have had a different ending. From what I hear of the young woman’s wreck, her car caved around her on both sides, except for a tiny space big enough for her. Maybe this is because I’m a preacher, and I’m pretty active about looking for God’s presence in the world, but I see the ways that God’s hands literally made a shield for these that I love.
I prayed with the family last night–and I guess prayed the prayer that I wish I had prayed to myself several years ago, which went something to this effect:
Living God, thank you–thank you, thank you for your care. Thank you that your hand was upon these people. As they look back on this day, may they see not the distaster that almost was, but instead remember that you were ever present, holding them in your hands. May they not remember this day with anxiety and grief, but with a sense of your peace, which surpasses all that we know. Help her heal quickly, body and spirit. Calm the fears of those that love her.
Maybe that’s still a prayer I should be praying. I don’t think of that day of my parents’ wreck often, but when I do, I’ve never felt a peace about it. Until right now, some two years later. And I am grateful.