Of all human experiences, the loss of a loved one is the most painful. Our dark days of grieving can push us into hiding. Like, King David, we long to run to a place of refuge that will shelter us from our grief. But, eventually, we must emerge from our caves and step into life after loss.
As Missy Linkletter has learned, leaving the cave is intimidating, but the Lord is there to walk out of it with us.
In July of 2017, we received the most horrific news of our lives: Our 20-year-old son, Justin, was killed in a car accident. Justin was our firstborn, our trailblazer. For better or worse, he always made sure to fill our house with roars of laughter and loud, blaring, heavy-on-the-bass music. He was his sister’s best friend and adored by his three little brothers. Justin and his Daddy could spend hours talking about politics, baseball, and theology. He loved the Lord, and his vibrant smile could light up any room.
Losing Justin has taken quite a toll on our family. It deeply pains me as a mother to watch my four living children walk through grief—if I could absorb all of their pain, I would. My daughter and my three youngest sons grieve differently. On any given day, one child might end the night in guttural cries while another balls their fists in anger, each despairing our current reality. I hug and hold, pray and cry, silently pleading with the Lord to heal their broken hearts. I have witnessed the Lord’s healing hand in each of our hearts, but, still, this was never my plan.
Grief and I are still not friends. In fact, I push her with everything that I have, only to find her walking beside my every step until finally I relent and let her run her course. I prefer to do my crying in private, which is no easy feat with six of us living under one roof. I admit that it’s a little hypocritical of me to hide my tears because I am the first one to tell my children, “Don’t swallow your tears; they are a gift, let them fall.”
I am still learning to practice what I preach.
ENTERING THE CAVE
Adjusting to life without Justin is a work in progress. For the first two years, I rarely left our home except to go to church or Bible Study, and of course, the dreaded grocery shopping. After such a loss, it’s very tempting to hide away and disengage from the rest of the world.
But last spring, the Lord pulled me from out of my cozy little hiding place as I attended an online Writer’s Conference. One of the presenters, Cynthia Cavanaugh, shared about David running to the cave of Adullam in 1 Samuel 22. King Saul had been hotly pursuing David for some time, and David ran to Gath. When one of King Saul’s men recognized David, he was terrified. To keep his cover, he pretended to be insane. After seeing David acting deranged, the king of Gath released him.
David departed and escaped to the cave of Adullam. I imagine the cave must have felt like a safe place for David, who was finally out of the crosshairs of King Saul. But 1 Samuel 22:5 says that the prophet of Gad told David, “Do not remain in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.”
David had to come out of the cave.
As Cynthia wrapped up her message, I was surprised by the tears streaming down my cheeks. I realized that since losing Justin, I had gotten comfortable in my own Adullam. It was a defining moment in my grief journey, though it wasn’t my first gentle nudge from the Lord to step out of my cave.
A CAUTIONARY TALE
Buckets of rain had been pouring from the sky for hours, and we needed to get out of the house. My family and I decided to go for an impromptu drive, and we ended up at a local fast-food establishment in another town. As my husband went to place our order, I secured a table with my boys. Outside, a tiny woman pulling a suitcase caught my attention. Her small frame was hunched over as she shuffled closer to the building. Using what seemed to be all her strength to open the door, she finally made it through and then abruptly sat down at the nearest table.
I observed her for a few minutes; her wiry gray hair was neatly slicked back into a ponytail, she was dressed in several layers of clothes with oversized black sunglasses hiding her eyes. Was she homeless? Was she hungry? What was her story? Finally, as Tim made it back to the table with our food, I excused myself; I needed to talk to this woman.
With as much nonchalance as I could muster, I approached her table. “Hi,” I said, with a big smile. “Can I get you a burger?” Never looking up, she replied, “No, thank you.”
“Well, how about a nice hot cup of coffee, or maybe I could get you some fries?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m waiting here for my cab,” she replied.
“Well, my name is Missy, and I watched you walk in from the rain. Can you believe it’s raining outside? We hardly ever get rain, do we?”
And finally, I got her talking. It turns out her name was Kathy, “with a K.” She’d moved to Arizona and was originally from somewhere out east. When I asked Kathy what brought her to the area, she said she didn’t have anywhere else to go. And then her next words tumbled out of her, “My son was murdered.”
“Kathy,” I said, “I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my son just over a year ago; he was 20 years old.”
Time seemed to pause for a moment, until Kathy finally looked up and our eyes met. She proceeded to tell me more of her story—her life was filled with bitter pain. After going through an ugly divorce, she broke her back, her son was murdered, and then her mother died three months later.
I quietly shared my hope with Kathy, and I told her that it was only because of Jesus that I could smile and talk to her that very night. My heart ached for her because I saw overwhelming sorrow and defeat when I looked into her eyes. Kathy’s story was a not so subtle warning from the Lord. Regardless of how deep my heart aches for Justin, surrendering to despair is not an option.
LIFE AFTER LOSS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CAVE
Since the conference last spring, the Lord has surprised me. After a series of events, including my husband losing his job due to COVID, I submitted my resume for a ministry position. With all that we’ve gone through the last three and a half years, I questioned if I was ready to re-enter life’s highway where it’s loud and bright—and it was a little bit scary to think about a whole new normal that doesn’t include Justin.
After much prayer and a lot of trepidation, I accepted the position as the Director of Women’s Ministries at a new church. It’s turned out to be a wonderful blessing for our entire family. And do you know what I have learned? Just as the Lord sustained me in the dark caverns of grief, so He sustains me as I learn and grow with fresh mercies to serve Him each day.
For the record, I definitely prefer this side of the cave.
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