John-Paul Floyd (1988-1995)
In April of 1995, six-year old John-Paul was playing in front of his house with his brother David when both were struck by a car. David survived with bruises, but John-Paul died instantly. The boys’ father, Gregory Floyd, wrote about the family’s’ heartbreaking journey through sorrow in A Grief Unveiled (1999, Paraclete Press). A reviewer writes: “With rare candor, Floyd captures the almost indescribable moments of pain as well as the palpable moments of grace. He openly shares his struggle with the theological why’s and the personal emotions that question the goodness of God. This book is a witness to the intimate presence of God in the midst of unbearable loss, offering hope to all who struggle.” The meditations for today and tomorrow will consist of a few of Floyd’s descriptions of his grief, and, of the faith that sustained his family.
After the wake and the funeral (page 20):
It was exhausting to greet everyone. We had their grief to contend with as well as our own. And yet the outpouring of love was at the same time energizing. Scripture says that faith makes its power felt through love. There was a profound faith expressed all around us in countless gestures of love.
The funeral was the day after the two wakes. The Christian community we belong to, the People of Hope congregation, was taking care of the reception. School was canceled so the children could come to the funeral. The school choir would be singing. It was a hard day to think about. I knew I had to let it come and to keep yielding to facts that were no less awful for being true.
The man who hit the boys came with his family to the wake. People were reaching out to him. I asked him to sit with us at the funeral. We had told him we forgive him. He was in deep pain. I cannot imagine his pain.
Finally we were able to go to bed. I woke up during the night, weeping. I did not wake up and then start weeping. I simply woke up with tears streaming down my face and sobs caught in my chest. Maureen heard me and woke up. How many times could we say, “Is this really happening? This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. Is our son really dead?”
Maureen placed her hand on my head and prayed, “Lord, give Gregory patience until he sees John-Paul again.” It would prove to be the single most helpful prayer of all: patience, until I see you again, dear sweet boy.
Two months later (pages 85-86):
Two months ago we buried John-Paul. Without thinking, I measured each day in terms of its proximity to the events: Monday—the accident, Tuesday—the pronouncement of death, Wednesday and Thursday—the wakes, Friday—the funeral. Dates and appointments were fixed in relationship to the moment Johnny died.
Cecilia David, the organ transplant coordinator, called one day to ask how we were. “It’s very difficult,” I said, “but we’re trying to live one day at a time: Our faith gives us the sure hope of seeing him again, but the hope does not replace the pain.”
(We were told) that we must not try to move too quickly past our grief. Evidently many people do this. Consciously or not, whether responding to an inner fear or the expectations of what recovery looks like to the society around them, many bereaved individuals try to get “back to normal” in a way that ultimately contributes to later, deeper illnesses, whether physical or mental. To me, the thought of moving too quickly past my grief was as absurd as it was impossible. Grief is the price I must pay for love. C.S. Lewis says it well in The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—your heart will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
To love is to risk heartbreak. The depth of grief is proportionate to the depth of love, and it is different for each relationship. Grief is as unique as the individual grieving. Apart from the act of dying itself, I think it is the most solitary journey one ever makes.
My grief had not yet found a bottom on which to stand. There was, as of yet, no point from which to begin my climb upward. It is true that faith is a sure anchor. For the moment, however, the chain was still letting out. (continued…)