Tonight I was reflecting on the prophet Samuel at the beginning of 1 Samuel 16. God asks Samuel how long he intends to grieve for Saul. If you only pick up in the middle of Samuel, it's easy to forget that Saul is still alive at this point. He's just departed so greatly from God's vision (and Samuel's) for him, that God is asking Samuel to get out his anointing kit and go get another king for Israel.
Grieving someone who is still living is hard and painful.
In this Lenten season, I told myself I wanted to focus on forgiveness with regard to a specific situation in my life. In 2009, I had a couple very traumatic life events and someone to whom I was very close abruptly left my life without explanation or goodbye. I haven't heard from or seen this person since.
I've been picking at the scab over this emotional wound. Playing over the events in my mind, wondering what I could have changed, what I should have anticipated, what was my fault, what wasn't.
This wasn't an acquaintance. This was a very, very close friend. Someone with whom I had laughed, made plans, traveled, stayed up late, had adventures, trusted with secrets. This person was the only non-medical person present with me at the birth of my son and the first non-medical person to hold him. Five days later, the person left my life... apparently forever.
How long should I grieve this friendship, this bond, the plans that will never come to fruition? Do I cut off the branch, believing it will never bear fruit again?
This grief is complicated by additional longing for other people. Additional grieving of living persons. Following a significant church decision last year, several people left our congregation. While I support the decision, I cannot deny that the loss of the members has grieved me. Deeply.
It's not the lower numbers or giving. I miss the laughter that used to echo the halls, the hands that were always there to set up table, the loud amen that let me know a sermon point had hit home.
We still talk about the people who have left. Airing their stories. Pushing their names out of our mouths and remembering the life we shared together. And I don't think I am the only one who grieves, who misses friends and neighbors.
When people die, we may well struggle to make our peace with them and with death. The grieving goes on beyond what we expect and, often, beyond what we imagined we could handle. When we are grieving the living, it's hard to know what to say or how to frame our feelings.
I once heard it said, regarding grief, that your need to discuss it goes on beyond other people's ability to listen to it.
I've found that to be very true.
I think of Samuel, pouring oil over young David's head at God's command. As his hands performed the task, I think his mind probably went back to the last time he'd done the very same thing. He thought of Saul and there was the familiar accompanying twinge.
I miss you.