“I don’t have any place to put that,” I said to my friend Steve when he told me he had decided not to take treatment for bladder cancer. Even with treatment, he was only expected to live a few months; without it, he would die very soon.
This was just eight months after my friend Jim died. Steve had been meeting with me during those months, walking with me through my grief. And now he was telling me that he was going to die. Sadness overwhelmed me. I had no place for this news.
Steve died a week later. I was numb, walking around in a fog so dense I feared I would not find my way out.
In the three years since Steve died, two more close friends have died from cancer.
I don’t have any place inside me to put more loss, more sadness. Cumulative grief threatens to cripple me.
“Put out into the deep water…” Jesus says (Luke 5:4). Deep water? If the water of my grief gets any deeper, I fear I will drown. I am already in over my head.
I remember a friend recounting the losses of a woman she knew—first her husband and then one by one, each of her children died from some hereditary condition. “I don’t know how she goes on,” my friend had said. At the time, I could not imagine it either. How did this woman keep getting out of bed every day after losing her husband and children within a few years? How could she keep putting one foot in front of the other?
Now I wonder if my friend recounts my losses with same sense of incredulity. Is she telling others of my litany of losses and saying of me, “I don’t know how she goes on”?
I re-read chapter 5 of Luke’s gospel and noticed that Jesus got into the boat and taught the people on the shore before instructing the fishermen to “put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Jesus was in the boat. That detail had escaped my attention before, and I re-imagined the scene—not the fisherman alone putting out into the deep water, but Jesus was with them.
I am not alone in my grief; Jesus is with me
Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.
What am I to catch? I ask Jesus.
Perhaps the catch of living in this deep place of loss and sadness and grief for the past six years is a greater capacity for understanding others’ grief, a profound empathy. Perhaps the catch is that each death, each loss, is deepening the space within me to accept my lack of control and my own vulnerability.
Perhaps the catch is that my capacity to live in gratitude for what has been and in hope for what is to come is getting deeper, that grief has shaped a space deep enough to hold it all.