Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Grief Postponed

Today's passage:  II Samuel 19:1-8
     "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:...A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;"  Ecclesiastes 3:1,4
     It has been seven years since my father's passing.  At the time, I had to put my grief on hold temporarily because there were things to be done.  As the oldest of my mother and father's children (I have an older half-sister from my father's first marriage) my brothers and sisters looked to me to handle the details of arrangements.  I had to write my father's obituary.  Can I tell you how wrenching that is? ( My mother is going to read this today and I have no doubt that she is going to cry.  I'm sorry, Mom, but it perfectly illustrates today's passage.  And I think it is probably a little therapeutic for me. ) Writing about my father's life, not so hard, writing about his death, significantly harder.  Adjusting and editing so the word length fit the required space, frustrating.  How can you encapsulate a person's life in a paragraph?  Especially a parent who deserves an entire book?  We were giving my father a military burial which meant coordinating the pastor's schedule, the funeral home's schedule, the veteran's cemetery schedule.  There were people to call, some I had not talked to for years, to notify of Dad's death.  (By the way, I would not have you to believe that my siblings did nothing--  I took the lead for the major details  They especially helped with notifications.  My sister-in-law specifically aided me in this part of the process. ) For a while there, I'm not sure I had cried one tear.  I didn't really have time.  I shed ample tears at the actual service.
     The week following, I was able to stay with my Mom and go through paperwork.  Oh my goodness, what an amount of paperwork there was to sort!  It was surprising since my father's job involved office managerial tasks almost his entire working life.  But it was evidence of his failing health in the prior few years.  I threw myself into setting up a filing system my mother could manage.  I called credit card companies, tax people, insurance groups.   And I was glad to do it.  In a funny way, it was a sort of tribute to my Dad.  He had taught me these very skills that I was using to be able to help Mom.  This little piece of himself he had left behind in me, almost as if he knew I would need to do this someday.  I had never thought about that before today, and I'm not saying my brothers or sisters do not possess some of those same skills, but at that time, I was the one who was able to do it.
     The passage today takes me back there.  Why? Because there were moments (and really only moments, because I am the type of person who wants a short grief and then back to action) when I would have loved to put the obituary writing to the side and just reminisce.  Visitors came in and out of the house all day long for that week, for which I am extremely grateful, because it was a needful thing for all of our family.  Friends would pop into the office and say hi, and as much as I wanted to sit and visit, I really couldn't.  I had only a limited time to get these tasks completed.  I had to make sure Mom had her financial house in order.  It is kind of like that for David, here.  I mean, Absalom's death has just happened.  David has barely had time to mourn this son.  The people see his grief, and begin to wonder if they made the wrong choice to fight for him.    They come back from battle rejoicing that the enemy has been defeated, but then they hear the wailing of the king and begin to think maybe they had made some kind of mistake.  Weren't they supposed to quell this rebellion?  Wasn't it a good thing the usurper was not able to wreak any more havoc?  Joab arrives from battle, quickly assesses the situation, and in true Joab style, gives King David his presentation of the cold hard facts.  And here they are.  Yes, King, your son is dead, but you better gather yourself and let these people know you appreciate how hard they fought for you, or you will not have a kingdom left, because they will go fight for someone else to replace you.
David Mourning the Death of Absalom
By Gustav Dore
Courtesy of
     There is never enough time to mourn the passing of someone we love.  There is never a timetable for grief.  Life does not stand still while we are anguished.  I can't say that I don't think Joab was a little heartless here.  His mission mentality sometimes disregarded people and only saw tasks.  It is often the case in leaders.  I'm sure if Joab could have allowed David to grieve, he would have, but the country needed a leader at this moment, and David had to be that man.  Oddly, it reminds me of our country shortly after September 11, 2001.  When our country was in crisis, we looked to our leaders to console us, to tell us what to do next.  Joab knew his uncle well enough to know that David might have grieved for weeks before uttering a word to his countrymen.  They did not have that kind of time.  The throne was still at stake.  David followed Joab's advice.  But I'm sure he did not want to.  I'm certain he would have wept on the roof of that house for much longer, and it would have been understandable.  Joab may have seemed unusually cruel here, but he was also unusually perceptive.  He doesn't seem to be a man of great feeling, and I'm guessing he would prefer to confront an enemy than confront his own emotions, or the emotions of the king.  He is a let's-keep-moving sort of guy.  So we have this bump in the road, let's figure out how to get past it and onto the next thing.  David needed that kind of man as his trusted adviser, because David felt everything, and he felt it intensely.  He relished relationships.  He saw people, not just production.  Now his vision blurred with a relationship lost, he needed his task-oriented general to jolt him into the day's realities.  Moving forward would be arduous, it would be demanding, it would be taxing.  There would be another time to wallow in his sorrow, but for this moment, his grief would need to be delayed.
     I would not change anything about how things happened after Dad's death.  I would not have asked for a reprieve from the tasks before me that week.  To be honest, I have a little of Joab in me.  Give me a problem to solve, I would rather deal with that, than my own emotions.  I felt useful, and I was glad to be of use.  Mom, I would not have wanted it any other way, I do not write any of this out of regret, only reflection.  Knowing you, you will want to make things up to me somehow around the Christmas table, invite our friends and give me a chance to really reminisce about Dad.  I've done plenty of that in the passing years.  I don't feel gypped.  I don't feel cheated.  I feel like Dad instilled a little something in all of us, and I was doing what Dad would have done, had it been you going before us.  I feel like it was my gift to you, to be able to be your sounding board, your manager.  I pray that you won't see any complaint in this post, only contemplation.

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