I had a conversation (via text) with a good friend the other week. I’d been on her mind and she asked how I was doing. I skirted around the question briefly only because I felt something in particular but couldn’t quite name it (which is common for me). But I eventually found the words and they went something like this:
You know what I’m feeling today? It’s that we’re on the verge of spring and I’m so very glad. Yet at the same time, I almost start feeling nauseous because he should be here, too. It’s the bittersweet. It’s becoming very distasteful – like it’s too much.
I’m tired of the bittersweet flavor of my days. Give me the bitter and I will grieve. Give me the sweet and I will hope. But the combination of both is too strong at times. I don’t like the taste. I’m tired of drinking it.
I experienced a stronger sense of this months ago at a friend’s wedding (which ended up being just a week or so before Jeremy’s death). We had hoped Jeremy would be well enough to attend but he was far from it. I ended up going by myself, thinking nothing of my aloneness as I went (why wouldn’t I go to the wedding?). But the minute I walked through the doors my eyes filled with tears, streaming down my face the entire time (and that’s a rarity).
It was the same building, the same sanctuary, the same vows. Jeremy and I had shared in the same joy as we stood at the altar promising to be one another’s. I was happy for them–thrilled and excited. I was overjoyed that they were beginning to travel one of the best roads in life. But the reality of my life that particular day stood out to me as well. I was reliving memories of vows made to one who at that exact moment was laying in a hospital bed, hardly breathing, unable to speak or look at me. And the significance of those vows–in sickness and in health–were being (and had been) lived out. And I began to think about the two at the altar claiming each other’s lives and I wondered what was in store for them. How deep would their sorrows be and how deep their delights? But it’s worth it, right? Because the joy, the depth of intimacy and walking the road with the one you love is so much better than walking it alone.
That day, the taste of bittersweet and the tears that were born out of it were too much. As soon as I had greeted the bride and groom I made straight for the door–making eye contact with no one else–because the taste had gotten the best of me. I drove directly to the hospital and held Jeremy’s hand in mine. And I felt death creeping in, the possibility of the severing of our oneness in this life.
Sometimes we walk alone.
It happened again in the fall–this time at a funeral rather than a wedding. An aged woman, who was a dear friend of Jeremy’s, had passed away. I was again, in that same building and the same sanctuary. And tears wet my face for the same reason. Bittersweet. She and Jeremy are tasting the joys of heaven. This woman’s desires, through years of pain and longing to be out of this world, had been fulfilled, completely. But then I see her husband who was bound in a wheelchair, ill and aged himself and I think, here we are left to bear this grief. Maybe I was tempted to compare for a split second: look at all the years they got to spend together–she lived 60 years longer than Jeremy. While she had prayed for the last decade to die, Jeremy had prayed for the last decade to live. There is a tinge of bitter, when I compare ages or when I see her husband now alone in his old age. But there is still a sweetness to knowing she and Jeremy are experiencing everything perfectly that they were made for.
…In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16)
I do not taste the bittersweet in such particular ways these days; it’s maybe more of just an underlying flavor.
And it’s Holy Week, which has the potential to either intensify or diminish the flavor. There must have been so many different things the disciples were feeling and experiencing back then, things that Christ must have been feeling and experiencing. Although I most often feel the undercurrent of a hundred different things on my mind and heart, I am struck these days at how I feel almost nothing at all–it’s like I’m not quite sure how to enter into and experience this “Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday” kind of week. I’ve always felt that Easter (and maybe the entire surrounding season) hasn’t mattered enough to me, ever. It’s never left the impression that I think it ought to. I considered the other day that the numbness and weariness I’m feeling is possibly because this year seems more like Easter Saturday–the death has happened. The life that was here which gave shape and form to my life is gone (though hardly a comparison).
But what I know now that the disciples didn’t know then, is that the resurrection happened, too. And the resurrection of Christ wrote a completely different ending to the story (an ending that changes our ending) which ought to change everything; it ought to change the way we love and the way we grieve.
A year ago Jeremy was to remain home and not travel north to Roseau. Spring planting was beginning and doctors were concerned about him breathing in the different dust particles and such that fills the air during that time (the things one must consider…). Jeremy encouraged the boys and me to make the trip anyway. The boys were looking forward to being at Grandma and Grandpa’s and Jeremy had some tasks that he wanted to accomplish without us around. Those tasks were bittersweet: videos to the boys and me and letters to the boys that will one day let them drink in deep of his love for them. But the taste of those gifts these days is still sometimes too much.
Sometimes tasting the gift of the cross and resurrection is too much as well. I still can’t seem to unpack Holy Week; not so much because of Jeremy’s death, but because of Christ’s. I have tasted bitterness but I can’t grasp the flavor of the bitterness He tasted. I have loved, but not like He loves us. The intensity of bittersweet that was His to drink is so far beyond what any of us could ever stomach.
There is one thing, though, that my heart has settled on as I’ve contemplated this week: because of the resurrection I rarely question God’s intentions. If the disciples couldn’t see and understand the grand story He was writing–the great sacrifice on His part, and all that He was saving them from–it’s likely I won’t either. Not until that Kingdom that He lived, died, and rose for is mine to behold as well.
Looking forward to that. But grateful to be doing life here, even still (just ready for a new flavor, maybe).