I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13, NIV
by Kelly O’Dell Stanley
Those weeks before my dad died were a blur, a photo montage, like quick takes from a movie. Hourly care schedules, changing almost daily. Trading nights with my sister, sleeping (but not sleeping) on the futon in his room, alert to every movement my dad made in his sleep. Jumping up, once I finally started to doze, to comfort Dad that his dreams/hallucinations weren’t real. Sitting in the dark, holding his hand, trying not to let him see the tears.
The constant mental countdown to his next dose of oxycodone. The other mental countdown until morning, keeping track of how many hours I was unable to sleep. Meeting the hospice people, juggling the changes to his meds, listening to the oxygen machine drone on, taking his blood pressure and dutifully recording it in our book.
The mornings when I’d go over to have coffee and Dad would drift in and out of sleep, the Today Show playing way too loudly because he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids. His sweet personality showing in the way he’d compliment everyone who came in to care for him—even if it made him wince in pain. He even praised the oncologist, the one who told him he didn’t have much time, for his good bedside manner and his clarity in explaining things.
It was a time of constant motion during which my absolute physical exhaustion seemed to be at a level appropriate for the emotional turmoil I felt.
My mom died six years earlier, also from cancer, and I just didn’t think I had it in me to get through losing my dad, too. When Mom went, it felt like divine cruelty. But when Dad died, it was different. Every situation—every loss—is different, but I knew something this time that I hadn’t known before. I understood how big the pain would be, how it overtakes everything else, how it cuts you to the very core and cannot be resisted.
So this time I didn’t try to fight it. I absorbed it. I didn’t brace myself against its impact, but instead, let it wash over me. Through me. Fill me. I knew it would become a part of who I am forevermore so I didn’t bother to resist. I’d learned that grief is not something to “get over.” It is not something that goes away. It seeps in, changing the color and tone and very foundation of who I am, forevermore.
Yes, I’m changed by the loss of my dad, and that loss will come to partially define me. But more so, I’m defined by being his child in the first place. When Dad passed, it felt like compassion, not cruelty. I felt a kind of exhilaration that I never expected, a joy, and the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
Not having Dad here is hard—and yes, that’s an understatement. But sometimes it doesn’t feel as much like a loss as an addition to who I am. I wasn’t losing something, but adding something. I get to carry forward the traits of my dad that he planted in my genetic code. I get to live in a world that knew him, that respected and honored him, and share him with others who miss him too. I get to pick up where he let off. I get to take him forward with me as I move forward, which I inevitably will do—because there really isn’t a choice.
Because I’ve discovered that even in my grief, even in the face of my pain, there is joy to be found. Contentment. The soothing balm of faith. Glimpses of beauty even in times of sadness. Joy isn’t only found in the sunshiny moments, in the happiness and cheerfulness of things going right. Even more beautiful is that which comes in the face of mourning, in the shadows of sorrow. Because when we can find joy in those ordinary and less-than-ideal moments, there is no doubt where it comes from. When we can see joy then, we know without a shadow of doubt that God is present.
And that is enough to make my heart rejoice.
Dear Lord, You are a compassionate God and You mourn when we mourn. But You also promise to turn our mourning into gladness. To give us comfort and joy to replace our sorrow. To be with us in every moment. Your very presence brings with it unexplainable, unspeakable joy. We praise You for this and ask You to be with those who are learning to live with a loss. Let them find beauty—let them see You—even in their pain. Because Your compassion is boundless and Your love is without end. Amen.
1: In what ways are you navigating the waters of grief in this season? Remember, we don’t only grieve the loss of a loved one. This life on earth brings us many circumstances over which to grieve – death of a dream, children growing up or not walking with the Lord, divorce, illness, loss of income, faded friendship. It is important to recognize grief, so that we can let it wash over us, instead of subconsciously steeping in it.
2: Like Kelly mentioned, “carrying forward” her father’s traits, what joy can you glean from the things that grieve you? Thank God for the goodness of each experience.
3: Recognizing God’s presence brings us His peace. In what ways does His peace make you more joyful?
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How can we share peace and joy with others who are hurting? Share some practical ideas in the comments below.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she’s also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She offers free prayer prompt calendars at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.