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Healthy Grieving: Why We Can’t Let Bitterness Take Root

The fact you are reading this blog post today is a miracle. I nearly lost my life on the road the afternoon of March 20, 1999.

I was an 18-year-old freshman in college and I was returning home from visiting a friend in Peoria, Illinois, about a two-hour drive to my hometown of Charleston. My memory is blank from what happened on that drive, but police reports indicate that near the city of Decatur I slowed my car to almost a complete stop on the two-lane east-bound highway. My car then suddenly swerved left, right in the path of a Ford F-150.

The doctors worked at a feverish pace to slow my body from losing blood. It was so bad they had to search the region for more. How much did it take? Forty pints. How much blood does the human body hold? Ten. So it was a miracle I kept breathing and made it through the night. And the next night. And the night after that. I ultimately spent a month and a half in that hospital journeying from the intensive care unit to surgeons and physical therapists until my parents finally wheeled me out. I then held my hand up and cringed under the blinding Sun.

A week or two after that I hobbled on crutches into the bank where I saw a family friend.

“Oh, it is so amazing to see you out and about. You look great!” she said. “We were praying for you so very much. This is nothing short of a miracle. All I know is God was really watching out for ya.”

She knew me as a young boy when I was shuffled into church every Sunday morning. So little did she know my faith was barely hanging on by a thread. And to make matters worse I didn’t yet understand the importance of thankfulness. So I thought, “Yea, but if God was really watching out for me then why did it happen at all?”

Of course I didn’t say this out loud. I just smiled and wished her a good day, then hobbling into the teller line. But the thought rolled around in my head some more. If God is so miraculous, why am I standing here in crutches at all? I thought. If God can do anything, why did he let my Spring semester get wiped out and why have all my friends gone home for the Summer? Why did I lose two months of my life?

I hardly regret anything in my life, even the mistakes, because they made me who I am today. But I do regret that thought and how I let it take root in my mind. It was the patch of ice that covered the downhill slope toward depression, and the culprit that took me from smiley to bitter in a couple short years.

Both Sides

The morning the news struck about my father’s passing I was at a hotel in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. An atom bomb was suddenly dropped on my world. As soon as I regained some small amount of composure I opened the nightstand and reached for a Gideon’s Bible. I flipped it open to find a passage in Job where he had just learned his crops, livestock and family were all taken away from him. His wife then questioned his devotion to a God who took all this away. His response in Chapter 2, verse 9, were the first words I read.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

As I sat with the bible in my hands I knew I had a long road of grieving ahead of me, but I also knew the essence of this verse was my ultimate destination. Peace with God, not resentment. But that didn’t mean it would be easy. The next few days I stared longer at senior citizens as they shuffled around me. I envisioned their sons and how ungrateful they must be for their precious existence. I pictured the nice vacations they would take or their play time with the grandchildren. Stuff Dad was going to miss out on.

Father’s Day may be 11 months away, but I’m already dreading it. I will surely avoid Walgreen’s or other stores where the greeting card section is impossible to miss. Facebook will be dreadful, so I’ll probably just set my account as dormant.

I have allowed myself to be angry at God for short periods because I believe it is part of healthy grieving. But I learned the hard way once before I can’t let these thoughts take root and grow, so I remind myself that God also took his son early. Oh, and that worked out pretty well for all of us.

Oversight

We must be thankful for the good things. Most importantly, my father was an exceptional gift to me and my family, which is something I know not everyone has in a dad. Plus, he left while he was on top, the happiest I’d ever seen him. I believe that would be the best way to go. He was also highly revered by our community and the accolades he received afterwards were better than I even deserved to witness, let alone hold the prestige of being his son.

We must also grieve the bad things. However, we cannot hold them as proof we are over-burdened or that there is no creator. Job had plenty to grieve, so he made God proud that he faced his long list of woes and his grievances and still held onto a thankful attitude.

So how dare me for overlooking the mad scramble by the Decatur Hospital to find 40 pints of blood or all the donations that made it possible. The world-renowned surgeons that insurance covered hardly impressed me and I didn’t fall on my knees to thank God for the dozens of visitors each day in the hospital or the resounding support of Mom and Dad. Or the physical therapists who got me walking fine within six short months.

Instead, I just crossed my arms and said, “Look at these scars, God! They’ll never go away. Thanks a lot.”

But perhaps even the scars are by design. We need them in order to be reminded of our healing. Something went wrong, but now it is fixed. And we must be thankful for that each time we see them.