By: Ann-Marie Ferry
A few years back my husband and I decided to take the dull winter months of the Midwest to read to each other in the evenings. I am a lifelong fan of C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters are among my favorites. My husband, Jon, is an avid reader and is well read on Lewis. That winter it was one of Lewis’ lesser known works which sparked our interest. Every evening of that dreary winter, we wrapped ourselves in a soft, knit blanket and entered the world of Till We Have Faces.
The Fearful Veil of Grief
Till We Have Faces is a retelling of Greek mythology seen through the eyes of a royal family, particularly a princess, Princess Orual. Unlike our present-day fairytales, the princess is ugly and jealous. Once Orual becomes queen, she begins to veil herself, never allowing another person to see her face again. The Queen, Orual, says this about her veil:
“My second strength lay in my veil. I could never have believed, till I had proof of it, what it would do for me. From the very first…as soon as my face was invisible, people began to discover all manner of beauties in my voice…And as years passed and there were fewer in the city (and none beyond it) who remembered my face, the wildest stories got about as to what that veil hid. No one believed it was anything so common as the face of an ugly woman. Some said…that it was frightful beyond endurance, a pig’s, bear’s, cat’s, or elephant’s face. The best story was that I had no face at all; if you stripped off my veil, you’d find emptiness…The upshot of all this nonsense was that I became something very mysterious and awful.” – C.S. Lewis, “Till We Have Faces”
I have often thought that Orual’s face is much like grief and her veil like the pressure that society or we ourselves place to conceal that grief.
Consider the faces of grief. We often judge them like the very faces we wear. When we veil the faces of our grief, they take on a fearfully legendary property. Orual’s concealment came with a fate I wish on no one – the fate of a person who is not known. Under that veil was a face and that face was not nearly as lovely, nearly as dreadful, or nearly as terrifying as speculated. No. Not at all. Our grief likewise is not nearly as terrifying as others may believe, as we believe.
Uncovering the Veil
One way that we can hold a mirror to our grief is to write about it. Journaling can be a wonderful and private way to express all the emotions and pain of our sorrows. It can allow us to see and better know the faces of our grief, however confusing.
These are my private thoughts from years gone by, a handful of the faces of my early days of grief.
The Face of Emptiness: Journal Entry: 06-01-2013 My heart is broken. I have cried so much these two weeks that my tears have run out. My heart aches inside and every good thing I have is a reminder of his loss. My heart aches when I see my flat and empty stomach that used to hold my sweet baby.
The Face of Bittersweet Memories: Journal Entry: 6-16-2013 I loved my baby from day one. He kicked and rolled around inside of me starting at 14 weeks. I had almost 10 weeks of knowing him and his sweet personality. I loved him. I love my baby.
The Face of Longing: Journal Entry: 6-24-2013 I want to have another child eventually but more than anything my heart longs for my child that was lost.
The Face of Endurance: Journal Entry: 7-4-2013 When will the pain be a memory?
The Face of Guilt: Journal Entry: 7-10-2013 Why is my body broken?
The Face of Agitation: Prayer Entry: 7-30-2013 Lord, My heart is full of hate. I have become bitter against those who have said rude and hurtful things to me in my grief. You are patient and loving with me. Help me to do the same with others. Soften my heart and spirit. Amen
The Face of Demoralization: Journal Entry: 8-19-2013 I am an emotional wreck. I am frustrated. I don’t like people acting as though I should be “fine”, and I also don’t like people pitying me. Some people treat me like I might go crazy at any moment, even though I have never given them cause to think that. It’s just because they think that’s what they would do in my situation. I don’t know what to do with people. I want people to cut me some slack because this is hard.
The Face of Turmoil: Journal Entry: 9-16-2013I am weary. I am tired. I just want some normalcy. I want to be free of anger. I don’t want to cry when I see a baby. I feel so alone. It feels as if no one understands. I feel like I am burdening people if I mention Kuyper in conversation. I feel as if this grief will never end. I have good days and weeks, just to be knocked back down again.
The Face of Weariness: Journal Entry: 10-3-2013 When will this pain and hurt lessen?
The Face of Need: Prayer Entry: 7-7-2014 God, I have lost sight of you in my grief. I am sad; I am scared; I am angry. I have lost sight of you in my pain and see little beyond these four walls. I cannot dig myself out. I cannot make joy and goodness appear in my heart. I need you to call me and draw me to yourself. Draw me near to you. You say that you are the compassionate and suffering Savior. I do not know why I pull away. Amen
The Face of Perspective: Journal Entry: 10-30-16 Today felt so miraculous. During the sermon I was reminded of how God worked through my heart and never left me during Kuyper’s death and the following months. After communion, the congregation was lead in singing two songs. I couldn’t believe which two we sang: It Is Well with My Soul and Before the Throne of God Above. The words to It Is Well with My Soul are what I recited to myself over and over as I delivered Kuyper and Before the Throne of God Above was Kuyper’s song. I sang it to him every night of his pregnancy. God was with me today, reminding me of my baby in heaven.
Not Frightening, Just Faces
Even now years later my heart still hurts. I still miss my boy. It is different though. The pain is not as sharp in my side. The weight is not as heavy on my chest. Most days are good days. Normalcy, although a different kind, returned long ago. Our still baby boy is a beautiful part of our family’s story and a beautiful part of the future we long for in heaven. Keep looking at the faces of your grief. Do not hide them away under a veil of secrecy from yourself or others. Maybe like me, you will find a place to draw them in a journal or notebook. Draw them with words on paper or with your mouth as you recite them to someone close. Yes, the faces of grief are different and changing, unique as the snow that falls during the midwestern winter. Yet nothing in it is uncommon about them. Nothing in it is to be feared. It is when we hide our grief or likewise are forced by others to hide our grief that the expressionless veil takes on a fearful awe. Expressions show that we are alive and growing. Faces are not to be feared. Faces of grief are expressions of life, the life of those that must continue on after a death.
About Ann-Marie Ferry
Ann-Marie is a nurse based in the Midwest. Her and her husband have been married for close to a decade. She has three spunky girls and one sweet little boy in heaven. After nine months of hyperemesis, hemorrhage, and pre-term labor, her first pregnancy resulted in a full-term baby girl. Kuyper, her second child, was stillborn during his second trimester in 2013. Her third pregnancy concluded six weeks early resulting in a NICU stay. Although, still complicated and high risk, she would describe her fourth and final pregnancy as a redeeming experience.
Ann-Marie can be found blogging at ann-marieferry.com and on Instagram @ann_marieferry.