The accident set off a silent scream of pain inside my soul. That scream was so loud that I could hardly hear another sound, not for a long time, and I could not imagine that I would hear any sound but that scream of pain for the rest of my life. ~ Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss
Sittser wrote this book three years after his wife, young daughter and mother were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. The book was recommended to me by our pastor after our friends lost their son suddenly last July to help me understand a fraction of what they were going through. I was sorrowfully adrift at that time, not knowing how to help them. Little did I know how much this book would also help me with my own losses.
Sittser’s passages are at times raw, honest, dark and bleak, and, at others, hopeful, quiet, and even joyful. He tries several things to escape dealing with the pain of his loss – anger, bargaining, indulging, and denial. As he would soon learn, however
… the pain of loss is unrelenting. It stalks and chases until it catches us. It is as persistent as wind on the prairies, as constant as cold in the Antarctic, as erosive as a spring flood. It will not be denied and there is no escape from it. … Pain will have its day because loss is undeniably, devastatingly real.
He speaks of living in the tension of ambivalence
in those of us who believe in the resurrection. We doubt, yet we try to believe; we suffer, yet long for real healing; we inch hesitantly toward death, yet see death as the door to the resurrection.
This illustrates, he says, the duality of life.
Or, as one Puritan put it:
Now life will be a little less sweet, death a little less bitter.
Sittser says that love and loss are inexorably linked; that one cannot exist without the other. This reminds me of a passage by CS Lewis:
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 all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers . . . of love is Hell. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Sittser chronicles his journey from raw suffering, dark depression, grief and pain to a life that was transformed by grace.
If you let it, your sorrow will increase your capacity to live life, and to experience joy, not after the darkness, but even in the midst of it.
More than a memoir, this is a beautiful handbook for both those who have both suffered loss and those who walk alongside them.