Jesse asked me how I slept, so I told him:
“I had the most awful dream. It was one of those terribly real ones full of nothing out of the ordinary, until the moment at which you were suddenly very ill with brain cancer. Like I always do when a bad dream happens, I forced myself out of the dream in order to compose myself, wipe my tears, and take in my reality as a way of settling my reeling mind and wildly racing heart. But I woke up, instead, to your scar and the reality that no dream matches the terror of being awake.”
This is life in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Wakefulness and sleeplessness tug against each other in competition for the title of worst thing to have to survive. That’s the trouble with life sometimes, isn’t it? Like it or not, it insists on being lived, day in and day out, when it’s simple and when it’s complex, good and bad, easy and excruciating. Oxygen floats about, lungs willingly taking in the lingering elixir of life. Hold your breath in in defiance and, eventually, you will pass out and the rhythm of reflexive breathing will, undoubtedly, take over for you. And so life trudges onward with you in tow. Such is the grieving life.
If you are currently thinking I should take a sleeping pill, cut out caffeine, try meditating, play soothing music, a weighted blanket, etcetera, I regret to inform you that none of these things have worked for nearly three years now. Ask any person surviving the aftermath and they will tell you a similar story. But do you know what? That’s okay. It is okay to sit in your grief sometimes, to breathe in the weight of your circumstances and catch them in your mouth and try not to breathe out again. It is not wrong to despair, just as it is also not wrong to have no adequate words to speak to the heaving souls around you. Sometimes, it is enough for you to just be wakeful through the night of someone else’s Gethsemane.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Matthew 26:36-46
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me”. I always get choked up when I get to that part. In his debilitating grief, Jesus Christ, God Himself, asked for his people to be near-not to interfere or speak-just to be awake and present and watchful while he cried out to God in anguish. Three times he seeks them out to see that He is not alone. When the time comes, he does not tell them to stay behind and let him face his suffering alone. He says, “Let us go!”. Let US.
In due time, the grief-stricken beside you will rise up and begin to walk again, the stumbly, weak-legged walk of an infant with arms outstretched in attempt to catch themselves in case they fall. When they stand, be near to scoop them up should they find themselves too weak-legged to carry on, then sit with them in the shaky waiting of recovery. As their words sputter out in tearful repose, be near. Just be near. Grieve the what isn’ts and what will never bes alongside them. Do not leave them behind, and do not force them to run at your pace. Do not fall asleep in your watchfulness. Do not be afraid to sit silently beside the sorrowful and bear the weight of it all with your presence. Words are so often not necessary. Circumstances cannot always be made to feel right. Do not underestimate the power of being present.
To the people of Santa Fe who are grieving fresh and startling, incomprehensible losses today, faced with innumerable tomorrows now to be spent toggling between the equal terrors of wakefulness and sleeplessness, we see you. As one who has been living life in the aftermath from a very different source of trauma, I want to tell you something I know it is so so hard to grasp right now…You will see hope born of this despair. The two exist together, one answering the question of the other. What is hope without despair? What is despair without hope? One cries out in pain while the other sings into the hurt a song of joy, the song growing louder as the cries increase, the two mingling together in a powerful song of mourning. The greater the despair, the more poignant the hope born of it. I know this to be so deeply true of a life lived in the wake of trauma. You will hope again some day. You will. In the meantime, we will strive to be wakeful, watching, praying you through each grueling day and tumultuous night, sitting ever near, grieving with and for you in this Gethsemane. We are with you, dear mourners. We are with you.