November 4, 2011

Autumn Grief

Posted in Suffering at 6:34 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The morning that my father died
(It was entirely too early)
On that long and silent ride
Clouds descended, dense and pearly.

Fog that over all things hovered
Sanctified the autumn grief
For earth decaying, death uncovered;
When flowers wane, bereft of leaf.

Then the bare trees shiver
In the moaning of the wind
That stirs their leaf stacks to deliver
Mocking presents back to them.

The morning that my father died
(It was completely premature)
The fog rolled in and also cried
For the loss we all endure.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

This is one of the few strictly personal pieces that I’ll post here, but I think the overall concept shows an Anglican outlook on the realities of life and death. My father was only 51 when he passed away on 4 November 1979, and for all those years when I was not an Anglican, I hid and denied my grief. I was told two weeks after his death that I just needed to get over it and stop crying because my Daddy was in heaven and was much better off. It was not until years later that I came to understand the necessity of going through the grieving process. It is neither ungrateful nor selfish for us to show that we miss the presence of someone we love. Granted, as Christians, we have the hope of abundant life here and life beyond the grave, so our grief is mingled with the hope of better days to come and the assurance of God’s presence with us as we deal with our pain and loss. But deal with it we must, and if we pretend that it doesn’t hurt, we miss the opportunity to be truly human. If nothing else will convince you, remember that our Lord Jesus Christ wept beside Lazarus’ grave. St. Paul’s message in I Thessalonians 13 is often misunderstood. He does not prohibit grief; he encourages us to grieve through the eyes of hope. It is no testimony to our faith for us to deny loss and pretend that we feel nothing. Our faith is demonstrated by surviving, thriving, and continuing to serve the Lord in the face of great suffering and loss. We say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

That cold, sad morning when we drove back to my parents’ house after there was no more reason to remain at the hospital, I welcomed the thick fog that had already covered the dark suburban road, but I hardly knew why the fog seemed like a dear friend. Years later I realized that somewhere deep inside I had accepted it as a sign that the Holy Spirit was hovering over our grief to comfort us.

I completed the first version of this poem on 31 October 2007, and I revised it again this week. I had ended the first stanza abruptly, and I was concerned that the word “pearly” sounded trite and would be dismissed as “merely a rhyme.” Because of Revelation 21:21, heaven is known for its pearly gates, so I was hoping to evoke with that one word the idea that fog is a visible symbol of the “mystic sweet communion of those whose rest is won” that we sing about in “The Church’s One Foundation.”

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