I love peanut butter. Really, all kinds of peanut butter. But I also know that I don’t really love it. I like it a lot. But I don’t have a deep, intimate connection with the stuff. I know that I don’t really love it because I know what it truly means to love something & be loved. I am loved by God, & in response to that incredible & faultless love, I love my wife, our kids, & a large handful of some wonderful family & friends. And if I’m honest, I really do love our dog, Abbey & possibly the Chicago Cubs too. But I know love. I don’t love peanut butter.
And if you had asked me earlier this month, I’d have said that I knew what grief & shock were all about. I’d have told you a list of things that ‘grieved’ me or had shocked me in my life. But then last Monday, in the earliest part of the day, one of my best friends, favorite people in general, inexplicably breathed his last breath…..
And right there, in that moment. When a few hours had past, his family was just in the wee hours of that horrific tragedy, I got one call that placed an emptiness in my heart or stomach, or maybe my soul, & I haven’t truly shaken it. It’s like wishing for your ears to pop as your flight begins its descent home, but that pop never comes. I can’t do anything with the empty feeling of grief & the shock of this loss. I thought it would pop when I saw his wife or high-fived his children. When his mom & dad gave me that first hug, I was certain that the grief would break & I would start processing the shock of it all. But I was wrong.
Tripp was not just my buddy. And a few of his friends aren’t simply mutual acquaintances. And his family aren’t just folks that raised him. His wife isn’t just the nice girl he married. These are my people too. I love his wife. His family has always loved me. I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t love someone in his family. And very quickly, once I had confirmed the awfulness of last week, I pictured some of the funniest, most sincere friends I have ever known. And it really just compounded the grief & fortified the shock.
And like a dutiful minister, I went to the Bible & to prayer. I have desperately wanted to find a plan for closing the grief-hole in all of our hearts. But instead, I found out that God is daily grieved. That Christ was deeply familiar with grief. And that the Bible doesn’t tell me when this hurt will subside. And that is challenging for a man of faith to process. But that’s just what I’m doing. I’m processing it. Every day I have thought of my friend. And it doesn’t stop the hurt. Sometimes the thoughts inflame my emotions into tears. But I give into the daydream because, honestly, I trust God that like my body digests food naturally, I will just process my mourning naturally as well.
Whenever you eat something your body takes the process of digestion as a challenge. Separating the good bits from the bad, utilizing the good for the sake of energy, health, cleansing & clarity. The bad bits, & depending on what you eat, it might mostly be bad bits, pass through & either hurt your overall health or become the waste that they are, & you know how that ends. So here’s the question I’m pouring over as I fly home (deeply grateful for JetBlue’s free wifi!!):
What Am I Grieving? Where is the Shock Resting?
And I think I’m discovering there’s a healthy grieving & a harmful grieving, & I have to make the choice each morning, that I’m going to grieve healthy. So I am chewing on how great my friend was. I’m taking in the memories that are so precious to me. I’m committing to remember & hold on to the people that matter most to him. I’m remembering that while he can’t be the dad, husband, brother & son today that he’s always been, I still can be. So I think about my wife & kids a lot. And I cry. But it feels healthy. I’m not forgetting God. I’m not denouncing Christ or forfeiting my faith. I’m certainly not burning bridges or forcing myself to pretend I feel a way that I don’t feel. Tripp is in Heaven & that is more than enough cause for celebration & gratitude. Now, to be clear, I still confess to God all of my confusion & hurt. But God tells us to cast our burdens on Him, so I’m just being obedient. I’m not angry. I’m sad. I’m not hopeless or faithless, I’m just staggered & stunned by pain. And if anyone gets that, I trust that God does. And I don’t want to isolate or ignore my grief. I want all of those people in my life with me. I’d like to add some new folks too. If misery loves company, then healing wants the company to just move in & stay a while. And the worst way that I could honor Tripp is by distancing myself from faith & family right now… or ever!
So I’m going to keep on grieving. Just ask the woman in 9A. She’s on the plane right in front of me, with her 2yr old daughter & apologized just before take-off. I guess that’s what all traveling parents with children think about doing. And she just casually said, her Daddy is away for a while so ‘it’s just us’.
I immediately teared up. She looked mortified. I was embarrassed. Her husband is deployed in the Air Force & will be back next month. Good.
But a couple hours into the flight, when her daughter (who flies better than most adults) had fallen asleep, she turned around & asked if I was ok. So I just spilled it. I talked about how awesome Tripp was & how great his wife is & will continue to be. I told her about his family & friends, & how much I miss him. How badly I want to get off this plane & hug Grace & our boys, nonstop for about a month. And I told her where he was right now, with Christ. I spoke with hope. Yes, I choked up a couple times in those short minutes. And grief is still grief.
There’s still that awful pit in my stomach, reminding me that I’m not over it today. But it’s a process. It’s probably a slow process. But I’m getting all of the good bits out so I can use them forever. And it takes a while to digest two decades of great friendship. Missing him is just a part of loving him. And the next time someone mentions grief or shock, I’ll have a much better understanding of what they are going through. And this has helped me today.
I hope it helps someone else. Share this with anyone you want to. For now…
I don’t love peanut butter. I do love you, Tripp. I’ll see you later.