If you can remember Smokey the Bear, you are probably my age or older, as most kids today
don't have a clue who he was. He was the mascot for forest fire prevention with his most
notable phrase: "Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires."

Growing up, he's the one who taught me not to play with matches, and if we start a campfire,
we should always be sure it's completely out and covered before leaving it. He was one really
smart bear. His videos showed how uncontrollable forest fires were usually started by a
simple act of carelessness that could have been prevented.  I remember him showing horrible
scenes of deer and other little animals fleeing from a raging fire. I remember the sounds of the
crackling fire and the breaking branches as the fire spread uncontrollably. Then, at the end,
he always showed the devastation of what was once a beautiful forest now reduced to
charred sticks and ash.

But, Smokey stopped short. He should also have shown what happens next.

Grief is kind of like a forest fire, except we can't prevent it. If you love someone, there will
come a time when you will grieve. Grief usually comes when you least expect it, and its
damage is as ravaging to the soul as a fire is to a forest. It's all consuming. It's an
out-of-control fire that won't stop until it seems there is nothing left to burn. Once the flames
are gone, it seems as if our life has been smothered in a heavy coat of soot and ash. The
charred remains of our hopes and dreams are but a distant memory. What once was so
beautiful and important in our life is now gone.

This is the part of grief that is the hardest. The pain is still too hot to touch. The burning in our
soul is too new and we turn our face from the scorching heat, wiping the tears from our eyes.
In our hearts, we remember the beautiful forest, but in our minds, we only see the devastation.
We believe this forest, or this life, will never be the same again, and neither will we. So where
is our hope?

A forest fire is devastation to a forest. Grief is devastation to our soul. But there IS hope. If you
have ever been to an area that was involved in a raging forest fire, there is a pattern of
recovery. First, the ground must cool, followed eventually by rain. Lots of it. The rain doesn't
wash away the ash. It soaks IN the ash, allowing it to revitalize the soil. Over a period of time,
you will begin to notice there is new growth, rising up from the ashes. It may only be a few
green sprigs at a time, but life does go on, and eventually, the forest will renew itself and the
animals will return. The forest will come back to life. It will live again.

Grief is kind of like that. First, our ground must cool. There is no comparison to the intensity of
grief at the initial loss of a loved one, to the intensity of grief much later, after some time has
passed. Sure, we will always grieve our loss, because we will ALWAYS love and miss them.
But the
intensity of our grief will change.

Our rain comes in the form of tears. These tears don't wash away our pain, but they give us
the means to revitalize our broken spirit. Tears are a necessary part of grief, just as the rain is
a necessary part of the re-growth of a national forest.

Over time, you will be able to look around you and see beyond your ashes. You will see new
growth in your life, even if only a few sprigs at a time. After my loss, I thought I would never
find joy in my life again. But now, several years later, I look into the faces of my two new
grandbabies and realize that life does go on.

Grief is always there, because you will always love the ones who are gone from your life.
Although your world has fallen apart, there is still life teeming below the ashes. It will take time,
but you will heal. A forest doesn't revitalize itself overnight. It takes time. You need time as
well. But unlike the forest, there is One who will help you every step of the way.

God truly cares for you and I believe He grieves when we grieve. Lean on Him and allow Him
to comfort you and be your strength. He will nurture your spirit so your grief can cool, allowing
that new growth to begin in you.  Eventually, you will be able to see the forest for the trees.

This is your hope. It doesn't matter which stage of your grief you are in.  Hang on to that
hope. For as your loved ones now live again in Heaven with the Lord, you will also live again
here on this earth for the time He has allotted you. Life truly DOES go on, even though
sometimes it's so hard to see beyond the ashes.
Seeing Beyond the Ashes
© Ferna Lary Mills


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