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Love’s Undoing

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Pamela C. Hawkins

 

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
—Psalm 77:1-3


In the dark of another comfortless night, I stare at the ceiling and softly moan to God, “Everything is undone.” There is no reply. The only sure sound in the night comes from occasional whispers between my son, Erick, and daughter-in-law, Hailee, who, once again, camp out on the couch and recliner in our den where my husband Ray now lives day and night in a rented hospital bed. Like watchmen in the vineyard, they wait for the morning (see Psalm 130:6)—so that I can try to rest, weary from the spirit-sapping vigil of the final days of Ray’s life.

“Everything is undone, God. Nothing remains of us.” Nothing of the sweet morning awakenings or first cups of coffee is anywhere to be found. There are no more greeting cards of love hidden under my pillow or Saturday-morning donut runs. Even the refrigerator is empty, almost deserted, because I cannot bring myself to take over the simple tasks of grocery shopping and cooking that brought Ray such delight for all the years of our life together. My soul refuses to let me move forward, refuses to let go of who we are—who we have been—together. “Are you hearing this, God?” I plead into the disquieting silence, “Where is your compassion?” Still, God is silent.


You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
And I say, “It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
—Psalm 77:4-10


My eyelids fly open, and I freeze—barely breathing—in some primal, instinctive state of alertness. What was that sound? I strain against the dark with every fiber of my being, ears and heart wide open to listen for the night-noise that has just startled me. Is Ray calling for me? Is he OK? Conditioned by what has become years of listening in my sleep for Ray’s voice, whether calling out for help or talking in his dreams, I suddenly remember the sound cannot be either. I begin to cave into myself, as I have so many other nights since Ray’s death, while grief once again awakens me to what is no longer true.

Ray is not here, my heart remembers. And we, my heart and I, begin to recall our love affair with the man whose memory is imprinted on my soul. “Where are you? Where are you?,” I cry out, intending my prayer for both Ray and God. “How do I do this?” There is no response—no word, no sound, no epiphany, no revelation. My spirit searches for answers, divine or earthly, but uncovers nothing other than silence, darkness, and an all-but-empty house.

Neither sleep nor comfort comes, so I get up and go sit in the dark den, where in prayer I long for this compassionless night to end and morning’s kinder light to reveal itself.


I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
—Psalm 77:11-15

 

Something nuzzles me awake, pawing at the blanket over my shoulder. Drowsily I reach out to thank Auggie the cat for waking me up before daybreak. She responds with purring as we welcome each other into predawn darkness. I raise my head off the pillow to see the clock. “Good!” I say to the silence, seeing that I have at least an hour before sunlight interrupts the darkness.

Perching on the edge of my bed, I slip on a pair of Ray’s socks before I stand on the chilled floor. The soft rubber tracks on the socks, put there to prevent a hospital patient from slipping, remind me of the many dark mornings I was awakened in a hospital room by a compassionate nurse gently talking to Ray and taking his vital signs. For a moment I smile, recalling how much Ray hated those hospital socks but wore them anyway for me because of my fear that he would fall. Now the socks—yellow, green, and purple—fill a drawer of my dresser. It took a lot of socks, hospital rooms, and midnight nurses to help me get Ray home again in the early years of his illness.

Auggie rubs against my leg, urging me to get moving so as not to miss the holy darkness of this hour I have come to cherish in these six months since Ray’s death. I walk through our house in the dark. There is a path I know by heart. I interrupt the thin silence of our home with the whir of my coffee machine, and the space is quickly infused with coffee’s comforting aroma—an aroma that gently prods my memory of how Ray used to get up in this same darkness to bring me coffee in bed. I smile and weep at the same time, a response that has become second nature through these months of grief, prompted by memories of Ray’s steadfast kindness toward me. “How does this work, God?” I muse aloud. “Everything is undone. Help me find my way.”

I carry my God-questions and coffee to the den and settle into Ray’s soft recliner. I do this every morning now, choosing dark solitude for conversations with God. It’s odd how I used to dread this time of day, not knowing what need or fear might awaken me and toss me, trembling, into the bottomless pit of the night. But now as I wait for the morning, I write my memories of Ray on the surface of the surrounding darkness. I sit and listen and pray. I wait for the morning. I wait for the morning. I wait for God’s compassion to find me.


Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
 —Psalm 77:19-20

 

Beckoned by the last hour of darkness before dawn, I pad, sock-footed, through the house. Auggie waits on the kitchen counter near the coffee machine, as familiar with our morning routine as I am. The comforting aroma of coffee again fills the air, as it has for so many years in this house, grounding me in a way I cannot explain. Like incense, it draws me to prayer.

I turn off the kitchen light, returning us to a darkness that is redeemed for me, no longer comfortless but now like a comforter wrapped around my shoulders while I wait for the morning. Somewhere along the way of this year, I stopped sitting in Ray’s recliner this time of day. It’s almost like I don’t need it as my refuge anymore but am drawn instead to the chair placed where Ray’s hospital bed once rested. This is where I now sit and pray in night’s last darkness and morning’s bidding light. This is where I wait for God every day.

“Has it really been a year, God?” I ask. And the answer is everywhere—in this house, in my family, in my heart. “Everything is different. Nothing feels the same.” Last evening’s dinner conversation with my son and daughter-in-law reappears in my mind, where we were remembering this time last year and that long last week of Ray’s life when Erick and Hailee curled up in the den to watch over him. “It felt like everything was coming undone those days,” I confessed to them, “and nothing would ever be the same.”

“But I loved that week,” Hailee gently offered. “It was a terrible week then, but now I love it.” What an odd thing to say, I thought. She tenderly went on, “I loved that week when we stayed with you and you let us help take care of Ray until the end. You let us feed him and bathe him with you. You taught us to give him his meds and make him more comfortable. You never left us out; you invited us in. It was awful, but it was wonderful too. I just couldn’t see the wonder at the time.”

“Neither could I, God, neither could I. Everything is different now.”

 

Reflection Questions:

When has grief caused unraveling for you? How did your life and communion with God change?



From “Love’s Undoing” by Pamela C. Hawkins. Published in Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, August/September/October 2016, Vol. 31, No. 4. Copyright © 2016 by The Upper Room. 

Photo by Max Saeling / Unsplash 

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