Grieving for those we’ve never known

In the amazing, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”, Don Miller describes how he grew up with out a dad.  He eventually decided to investigate, to try and find his father.  Eventually, he gets information that leads him to believe that his father has passed away.  He writes, “… to be honest, I missed him.  I grieved the death of my father, I suppose.  And it’s an odd thing to grieve somebody you never knew.”

I had to stop reading then.  This just hit me somewhere so deep I don’t have a name for it.  I wasn’t effected for any sort of obvious reason.  My dad is alive, has always been part of my life, and I have a great relationship with him.  It was something else.

Without quite knowing why, I thought about how my wife and I lost a child while the child was still in the womb.  She was just out of the first trimester.   This child would have been our second.  We were so ill equipped to be parenting a second child at that point: I was unemployed.  Our marriage was a bit of a mess.  We were still new to the whole parenting thing.  We were young, which isn’t a problem, and we were immature, which is a problem.

And yet: I grieved.

I grieved for a being, who by in reasonable definition, I didn’t know.  I still grieve a little bit today.  I wonder what it would be like to be the dad of four children instead of 3.  I have this real sense of loss.  Whenever the thought or subject comes up– in conversation or just in my brain– I gasp a little bit.

Miller is right.  It’s an odd thing to grieve the loss of somebody you never knew.  But it’s built into us.  It’s hard for me to imagine growing up with out a dad.  But even if I did… if I was in his shoes, I’d feel the same way.  I’d grieve.

There is some element of grief and loss that is personal.  My grandmother used to make me laugh.  I miss her ridiculous and vulgar sense of humor.   We don’t have these connections with a person we never met.  We don’t know what we are missing.  In this sense, it is odd to grieve over a person we’ve never met.

I think that isn’t the whole story though.  I think that there is something more to grief than just the personal.  This is why we grieve for those we’ve never really known, despite the oddness.

I think that we are constructed to be in certain relationships.  We are made to be sons and daughters.  We are made to be brothers and sisters.  Many of us are made to be parents.   We have these holes inside of us that can only be filled by these relationships.

I wonder if when Don Miller felt grief over the dad he never met, if it’s coming from this universal element of grief.  I wonder if when I think of the child we lost, if it’s the idea that I could have been a dad to somebody else and I lost that oppurtunity.

I guess I’m supposed to wrap up with some pithy and optimistic thought… but I just don’t have it in me, right now.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “Grieving for those we’ve never known”

  1. Wow, just wow, I never looked at it that way. You know somewhat the situation between me and my family, the part few people know about is when I was 7 years old my mother had a miscarraige and she saw yhe baby after she passed him she always told me that He was a boy and that he looked just like me I always felt a sadness when I thought about him and I always cried on July 20th (the day he died) and always felt an emptyness when Christmas came around (he was due on December 25th) and in fact I have a t-shirt with a big #83 on it that I wear every anniversary of his death (in 1983).
    The reason your post spoke to me is that I always felt like the “odd number” in my family (there were 7 of us) and given what happend between me and my family 5 years ago (being disowned by all of them for any readers that don’t know) I always felt like we would have been close if he survived and I also felt like I would have had him on my side when I went through everything!
    Thanks for putting words to how I felt, there is a void in my life and now I know I’m not wierd for feeling like there is!
    God bless you for this post I guess I know I need to read this book now!


  2. i like how you’ve identified undeniable truth through common elements.

    Our experiences and the related emotions are like paint applied to canvas; each stroke of the brush is unique yet strikingly similar to the ones painted by people who share our grief. The colors vary and the techniques just as different, but the constant is the canvas, the brush and the paint itself.

    There are so many places to go after this post…


  3. Wow guys. Thanks a lot for sharing your responses. This is kind of why I blog, looking to put a voice to things that sometimes go unvoiced. It’s an awesome thing to know that these things I hope are universal really are universal… or atleast shared among three knuckleheads like us.


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