My wife and I love watching good movies. Occasionally we settle for a documentary or a romantic comedy at Red Box, but we usually like drama, action, espionage, and intrigue. Strong story lines supported by interesting characters keep our attention.
A tried and true template for a good movie is a story that involves an assassination. Think "Air Force One" or The Bourne series, or even the first season of my favorite TV show of all time, "24" with Kieffer Sutherland. Nothing draws me in like a story with an assassin. There is always the element of surprise in their favor. They lurk in shadows, waiting for the moment to attack. Then after they've made the kill, they retreat back into darkness and obscurity.
There is no better word I can think of to describe grief. It is an assassin.
It happened to me a few days ago. Things were good. I hadn't cried in a day or so. I was preparing to go preach at our Crossroads Summer Camp and I needed some soap to take a shower with. There was a bar of Irish Spring in the drawer, and the moment I opened it, the smell brought me back to my childhood and adolescence, because that was the soap my dad used. It was actually a bar we took from his house before he died when he moved to assisted living.
The smell of that soap was the smell of my father. Suddenly he was there with me, but it wasn't real. I had been assassinated. Laid waste, unsuspecting, helpless.
My father and I were affectionate. He held me as a boy. He hugged me as a man. His smell is unmistakable. Immediately a tsunami of emotions rushed over me. I was 8 years old sitting beside him in his truck, on the way to work with him all day at his repair shop, smelling the fresh soap on his skin and the Old Spice aftershave that he splashed on his face after he shaved.
The assassin caught me off guard. The grief had laid in stealth, hidden in a memory that was unlocked by a smell. Once uncaged, that assassin was on me in less than a second, and like the unsuspecting victim in a Holywood blockbuster, I was powerless to fend off the attack. It left me in shambles.
But I've been thinking. A real assassin is hired to kill someone, and they fail unless their victim ends up dead.
Grief is a different kind of assassin. When I come face to face with grief, I don't die. On the contrary, I am made aware of how very much alive I truly am.
I grieve because someone has died, but I am not dead at all. I am breathing. Living. Fighting. Weeping. Trying my best to move ahead in a world that feels strange and empty without my father in it.
Grief can't kill me. It only wakes me up to how utterly alive I really am; how truly aware I am...
Aware that I need human touch and affection
Aware that a deep connection with a great man was severed and I want it back
Aware that I am not tough at all but I am frail, vulnerable, and wounded
Aware that there are 1,000 things now that I wish I'd said to or done with my dad while he was alive
Aware that I am a father, and my sons will most likely go through this kind of grief one day when I die
Aware of how powerful an influence my presence, my words, and my actions are to my sons right now
So when grief comes to assassinate you, remember that it can hurt you, but it cannot kill you. It just shakes you out of your stupor and screams LIFE HASN'T STOPPED. IT'S STILL GOING ON. DON'T MISS IT!