“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Who am I other than a suicide survivor? Like you, I am a mom who plunged headlong into the black abyss of loss some years ago which squeezed the life out of me, splattering it on the walls of my dark prison. There seemed nothing left but a carcass for the trash heap, so why was God so attentive to it? It took a while before I was able to realize that God cared about me very much. In fact, he never left my side during those days, weeks, months (Hebrews 13:5). It was years later before I realized the Master Builder was slowly rebuilding me, brick by brick.
We talk so much about wearing a mask during our grief journey that I feel impressed to unpack it a little from my viewpoint. Wearing a mask after loss is familiar language to those who grieve; we who are walking a grief journey understand it’s necessity completely, but do the rest of you? May I explain? And if I don’t do it justice, survivor moms, please straighten me out. Please understand that my heart is in the right place. I know grief personally. I know you know it personally as well. Many readers have experienced the death of their child and many of those to suicide. Everyone knows some family hit by this tragedy in this day and age.
It is easy to put on a mask after death strikes a blow. We are reluctant to have people see our swollen, red eyes. But beyond the physical we desire to hide ourselves from intense scrutiny. Do we put on the mask when we crawl out of bed and leave it on until we drop back into bed? Do we make sure it is securely in place when among family or friends or strangers? Is it worn to keep others at a safe distance or to protect ourselves with a piece of armor?
I wonder if we don a mask in an attempt to cover our broken heart? After losing a child we are like a gaping wound, raw and bleeding. We feel the stares of others and even the slightest touch makes us cringe as if someone slapped our exposed sunburned. After one unkind remark, we withdraw, hoping others will keep silent rather than speak words which, we fear, will heap even more salt on our tender wounds. Rather than wearing just a mask we may become like the Tin Man, covering our exposed souls with protective armor from head to toe.
If others would approach us in love, perhaps our reactions would be different? If they could just put themselves in our shoes for a day? I read a devotion recently which hits home to my heart. Perhaps it will have meaning for you as well:
God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16
“When it comes to love, the Greek language is incredibly descriptive. It has four different words to distinguish between four kinds of love: the love of friends, familial love, sexual love, and unconditional love. This last kind of love, agape, is the one mentioned most frequently in the New Testament. It describes a love bestowed on those who are undeserving, in spite of possibility of rejection or heartbreak. Agape is so unique that, outside of the Scriptures, it is found in only one ancient Greek text, where it describes parents’ unshakable love for their only child.
God loves you like an only child. His love can’t be earned or lost. He loves you simply because you are his. God is more than the source of agape. He is agape. His very essence, his nature, is love, given without obligation or expectation. He loves unconditionally because that is who he is.
Abide means “to dwell.” When you invite God’s Spirit to dwell in you, agape takes up residence. This gives you the ability to love others the same way God does, without condition. Whether you choose to use that ability is up to you. Unconditional love can lead to disappointment and sorrow. It led Jesus to the cross, but that choice ultimately led to a victory that could not be gained in any other way. Allow agape to help you love unconditionally. Others will catch a glimpse of God through you.” ~100 Favorite Bible Verses
Obviously, not all humans seek to understand and practice agape love. Those of us who grieve would love to be surrounded by those who practice unconditional love. We would be in a healing environment instead of dodging the poisoned arrows thrown by those who “just want to help”. Perhaps it is the grieving who teach those who do not grieve by our example. Perhaps as I seek to dwell in God and he in me, I will grow the kind of intimate relationship that helps me heal and teaches those around me just what he is like.