On November 14, 2007, my good friend and colleague at Lipscomb University Mike Matheny died after his three year struggle with a brain tumor. Mike–the same age as me, 50–is a dear friend to me. We talked often about our great loves–the Psalms and baseball. He is a Yankee fan, I am a Cubs fan. But we are both fans of the lament Psalms, both prayed those laments, and we both taught Psalms at Lipscomb. I miss him terribly and I imagine he stands with the saints around the throne of God in both praise (“worthy”) and lament (“how long”).
Mike’s suffering and death was a traumatic trigger for me. The last time I visited Mike it was as if I was with my son Joshua in his last days. Mike and Joshua were both in hospice, incapacitated, and nonverbal. My time with Mike was a psychological reversion to the trauma of Joshua’s death which was then a reversion to Sheila’s death. It was as if I was at Joshua’s bedside as well as Mike’s..as if I was again being carried out of Sheila’s funeral.
In the wake of that reversion, I shut down emotionally. Even my funeral sermon at Mike’s service was relatively devoid of emotion. I did not want to feel that pain. It was a pain with which I was all too familiar and my way of dealing with it was to withdraw and numb my feelings. Not feeling the pain was, it seemed to me, better than feeling the pain. Of course, I did not realize what I was doing or what I was doing to myself. Only in the past couple of months have I seen the effects of unresolved grief in my life and relationships.
I thought I had resolved it and even believed I was relatively healthy, but I was actually deceiving myself. I was playing the “hero” which is a role I have been given (and willingly assumed) most of my life. The hero, of course, cannot let himself be embarrased by tears or uncontrolled grief. He must hide it with laughter and avoid intense conversations about it. “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains” (Proverbs 14:13). The hero must be strong and model how to handle life’s tragedies. But I am no hero. To the contrary, instead of living through my grief, I avoided it. I tried to jump over my grief and leap–like superman–over tall buildings in a single bound.
I am now grateful that my leap has actually become a crash, and the crash has become a moment of divine grace. Hitting the wall of unresolved trauma has given me the opportunity to truly experience my grief; to revisit, relive and reconstruct the meaning of my grief. To re-enter the world of lament and truly feel what I feel has become a journey of authentic healing. And for this I am grateful and grateful for the people God has put into my life that support me, show me grace and model redemptive love.
“Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.” Lamentations 3:32.
I am ready to lay aside my talk of grief for a time…I’m in danger of “oversharing” if not already past that point…but I will return to the subject again in the future…it is part of my journey, a part of me.