I gave Katrina a kiss and hug goodbye. I didn’t know when the next time I would talk to her would be. She got in her car and pulled out of my parents’ driveway. I stood there watching and shed a few tears of sadness.
I was in the Army. The next morning, I would move eight hours away to begin the remaining three and half years of a four year enlistment. Katrina and I had inconveniently begun dating one another after I graduated from bootcamp. This is despite growing up with each other and not dating before I went in. Now that I belonged to Uncle Sam, with very little freedom, we started dating. It made no sense.
We had a three-month period to date and see each other regularly while I awaited going to Airborne School. After Airborne School, I received an entire month of leave before heading to my first full-time duty station. By this time, Katrina and I had spent significant time with one another, and decided to make a commitment to each other despite the fact that I was going to live eight hours away for the next three and half years. I was sad. She was sad. That goodbye in the driveway was the beginning of our separation from one another.
I drove to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina the next morning. Tears filled my eyes along the route. I didn’t know how often I’d see her or get to talk with her—cell phones were just on the brink of becoming commonplace. My heart ached in the wake of her absence. There was a heaviness that permeated my heart. Songs on the radio made me think of her. I just wanted to be with her. And her absence hurt. But knowing a visit home was coming in a few weeks or months helped alleviate some of the heaviness. The separation wasn’t permanent.
This experience I had when separating from Katrina was real and difficult. It sometimes distracted me from my focus as a soldier. The aching resolved on the occasions I got to visit home. I didn’t get to see her every weekend, but on the weekends that it was feasible, I drove home to spend time with her. The extended periods at home were even sweeter. Simply being in her presence, and holding her in my arms, satisfied the longing in my heart. But at some point, my time at home would end, and I had to drive back to Ft. Bragg. The countdown to returning began all over again.
The difficulty with the death of Kaleb, and the longing to see my son, is that the permanence of his absence is heavy. Losing Kaleb just under two years ago brought a different level of heaviness and pain because the loss is permanent. There is no waiting a few days or weeks to reunite again. If I live to be 90 years old, I will have lived over 50 years without seeing him or hearing his voice. Knowing that is what makes the permanence so heavy. Each day it is felt.
If you are reading this as a Christian, your response to the last paragraph may be to object that I will see him again. And you are absolutely right! I will. The reality of Heaven brings comfort and expectation of a reunion that will be glorious beyond compare. But the pain of the permanence on this side of Heaven is very real. There is no sugar-coating it. His absence from our lives is heavy. Our hearts ache. We long to see him. But until Jesus returns, or we die and go to him, there is no reunion in this life.
Perhaps you feel that very ache for loved ones who have passed on to glory. Or perhaps you’re nearing that time when you may soon be with Christ but know of the heaviness others will feel in your absence.
This is where the grace of God, given day-by-day to us, sustains us in that heaviness. In the heaviness of permanence, we cling to Him. As our hearts ache, we cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” As our hearts long to hold Kaleb, Jesus provides all-sufficient grace as we wait. He keeps giving us day-at-a-time help as we hold fast to Him in our pain. So, we live in the tension of devastating heaviness from Kaleb’s loss, and the glorious promises that his absence is not forever. Only Jesus can hold us together in that tension. He is the reason for the promise. He is the keeper of the promise. He is the sustainer as we await the promise. Apart from Jesus, the heaviness would split us apart, but He strengthens us, helps us, and upholds us with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).