From my book, Never Ceasing: God’s Faithfulness in Grief
My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. Psalm 55:4,5
This is not happening…
The men from our church placed two stout spruce poles across the open grave, the silent hole in the frozen ground where they intended to put our son. They slid the casket onto the poles and retreated, leaving it there, exposed and vulnerable, suspended over the chasm in the cold January sunlight. In silence it waited, alone, for when the men would pull the poles and lower our boy into the earth.
I looked at the dirt pile opposite me. Near it was a charred chunk of wood from the three-day fire we built to thaw the winter earth. Next to the dirt pile, in the trampled snow, was a crumpled blue tarp. What was that doing there? Its ordinariness was out of place; Hans might have thrown it over his tools yesterday to keep the snow off.
I glanced at our two younger sons and then at my husband as he tried to think what to do next. How do you bury your son and your father* on the same day? I stood beside the hole, quietly clutching the folded up American flag presented to me at the memorial service. So composed.
But inside I was screaming. “No! Wait! What are you doing? Let’s talk this over. There must be another way. You cannot put my son in there!” It was like waiting for the trapdoor to spring at a hanging. As if the casket was putting out to sea, or launching into space, never to be seen again. As if they were getting ready to throw my little boy off a cliff. That is how it feels to bury a child.
The writings of other parents who have buried children have been of tremendous comfort to me. It is a rescue at sea to read your own heartache in the words of another; to wail through sloppy tears,
Yes, that’s just how it is!
Likewise, I often find my emotions voiced perfectly in the pages of Scripture. Since Hans left us for Heaven, I have spent some time each day reading in the Psalms. Circled in my Bible are many verses that have spoken to my heart as only God’s Word can. Here are a few from Psalm fifty-five:
Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. v. 6
The first three nights after the crash, I did not sleep more than a few hours total. I was in complete fight-or-flight mode, adrenaline urging me to flee, to fly, to run to where Hans is. To find him.
I knew he was Home with the Lord and that he was safe and happy. But his body, the strong, beautiful body that used to be my little boy, was with the medical examiner in Anchorage. Then he was on a plane again, as cargo!, back to Fairbanks. Then he was at the funeral home. The funeral home! These are not places you want your child to be.
One of my children is not in their bed. Why does he not come home? He always calls. Why doesn’t he call? Were those his headlights shining through the window just now? How, how, how can this be?!
On and on through the night my heart bled, making sleep impossible. Making normal breathing impossible. The terrors of death are fallen upon me. The horror was overwhelming.
But, I would like you to know something.
I would like you to know that when we become overwhelmed with pain and grief, God can bring rest. Listen, when you read or hear about someone crying out to God in anguish (I mean literally crying out) and they say that, while praying from the depths of their despair, God gave them an immediate and profound peace—believe them. For the Lord astonished me this very way when I thought I just might really lose it—I was truly coming apart, being torn apart, with grief and longing. The pain was ferocious, eviscerating, terrifying, suffocating, and out from under it, I could whisper only two words:
And then I felt it come. From the top of my head, the warmth poured down over me and shut my silently screaming mouth—so abruptly that I actually laughed. What had fallen upon me, displacing the terror as it enfolded me from head to foot like a soft blanket? Peace. The Lord was pouring peace on me. It was nearly tangible.
It was not the everything-is-fine-and-my-problems-are-all-gone kind of “peace.” It was something I have never felt before. The plug had been pulled. And as the pain drained out the bottom of my soul, a holy hush took its place, filling me from the top and then running over, quenching my hot tears in an instant. It was a peace that was clearer than contentment and softer than happiness. The storm had calmed. I was in the arms of my Father.
This wonderful calm did not last as long as I would have liked. It was a kind of temporary cease-fire which allowed the women and children to exit the field of battle. But I was still. I did not return to my wailing. I was instantly “OK”—functional, composed (for real), and able to return to whatever I needed to do.
So what happened here? Just this: I had received comfort from the God of all comfort. When I most desperately needed Him, He was there, as He always is.
As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: v. 16-18
If I step out my front door, walk around to the back of the house, then down the outhouse trail, over the little bridge that crosses the creek, and keep walking, I will eventually come to Siberia. Of course, I would never make it, but you get the idea. There is a wilderness out there and it will kill you if you are not careful.
Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest. v. 7-8
I thought about that—not that I wanted to die in the wilderness—but I thought, If I start walking and keep going until I am too tired to walk back, I will freeze to death. It is well below zero degrees today—I could be with Hans in less than an hour.
I in no way wanted to die—I have a wonderful family that I love. Plus, I hate to be cold (living in Alaska?!). But these are the kinds of things you think of when you are in a tempest of grief, a wild, shrieking storm of sorrow.
Friend, from the midst of your storm, call upon your Father God. He is there and ready to comfort you—just as He promised.
Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. v.22
*Ernst August Eduard Nolywaika 1/12/27—12/6/13. Hans and his grandfather shared a birthday but never met. I was pregnant with Hans during Ernst’s final visit from Germany. The summer before the crash, Hans cleared the place on our property where we planned on burying Opa Ernst’s ashes. He could not have imagined it would soon be his own resting place as well.