On May 12, 2018, I arrived at the hospital to spend my son’s last day with him. He was in hospice care after 10 years of recurring osteosarcoma. Now with an inoperable tumor taking his life before my eyes, David was preparing to breathe his last.
As the end neared, I tried to take in as much of him as I could. Watching him, listening to his labored breathing. Kissing his head, tasting his skin, and breathing his scent, just as I had the day he was born. Hunger and thirst are fitting ways to describe my insatiable need to keep something of my son alive.
The Bible speaks of the soul in terms of hunger and thirst:
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night. (Psalm 42:1-3)
Even today, more than two years later, my soul longs—hungers, thirsts—for my son in the flesh. Muscle memory appears unexpectedly when significant dates approach. Muscle memory serves a punch to the gut when an aroma or a word or a photo triggers that emptiness deep down that can only be described as hunger. It’s that place, the gut, where belly laughs come from, and where lurching sobs leave us exhausted.
I’ve tried to fill that emptiness with other things, like my job. But when that was taken from me eight months after David’s death, I turned to alcohol, which only masked the hollow feeling in my gut. Now, after two weeks with no self-prescribed sedative, I’m left with the raw longing for my son.
Now, I’m determined to pay attention to the hunger for him in the pit of my stomach. To live into it. To feast on David’s absence as the presence it is. The presence he is. My hunger will never be sated. I don’t want to ever be satisfied.
The grief of our nation and our churches is palpable today. We’ve lost so much through the pandemic and economic downturn. Death has dominated the headlines for months. It lurks at every door, it seems. It’s important to pay attention to the grief we’re experiencing. What do you hunger for? For what do you thirst? What if everything that has been lost never returns? Loved ones, friends, careers, pensions, normalcy.
The crises of our time have been apocalyptic in the truest sense—they have uncovered the inequities in our societal norms. They have revealed millions of people who have been grieving for generations, hungering and thirsting for equity and justice. In this moment, we have a chance for solidarity, paying attention to one another’s grief, and determining never to be satisfied until all hunger has been assuaged.
My son and every hope I imbued his life with are still with me. Unrequited hope is still hope.