It just keeps happening. Death keeps stalking. People continue to lose the people they love. Just this week:
A husband and two teenage sons have to say goodbye to the wife and mom they adore. Parents lose a precious daughter who is off at camp for summer fun. Nine families in Charleston are reeling from the sudden, violent death of husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.
What do we say to them? You probably think that I would know the right things to say to those who are in the midst of fresh grief. I truly don’t. Because the truth is that there are no right words. Words are awkward and bumbling. Like pieces of a wrong puzzle that we are trying to make fit.
You can have the best of intentions but the words can come out so wrong and turn into unintended arrows. So when it comes to words of advice or perspective, use them sparingly.
Use less words and give real hugs. Remind me of things about my loved one that you appreciated or how he made you laugh or ways he was a friend to you. Continue to awaken my heart to the life he lived so well and all the reasons he was treasured.
Most of all just show up. We know the services are hard for you to attend, but your presence is so welcome. So necessary. We are having to be brave. So. very. brave. Knowing you are there, filling those rooms and sitting behind us in those services is an unspoken but tremendous source of strength.
There is strength in numbers.
I remember the crowds of people who came to our services for John. Though I didn’t get to greet everyone, I was profoundly blessed by their actual presence. They didn’t realize that they were actually helping us carry our burden of loss.
Death feels like a huge, heavy, rough hewn cross is placed on your back. Whether you’ve sensed its shadow lowering down on you or if it has just dropped down suddenly out of a blue sky, it is heavy, awkward, unwieldy. You and your family are trying to figure out how to carry it together.
The people who surrounded us with their presence at the services felt like scores of helpers who were each shouldering part of our burden. Sharing the weight until we could get our bearings. Until our ankles and knees could get balanced.
Their presence also declared John’s life was valuable and precious and missed. Our children could tangibly see how much their dad’s life meant to many. As a family we will carry those images in our minds forever. People’s physical presence was a precious gift to us, whether we got to talk to them personally or not. Their presence had been felt.
After the services, people’s care continued to show up at our dinner table through the food they made, in our mailbox through cards and letters with stories about John, in our yard with their helping hands, in gifts sent to encourage or give us an opportunity to do something fun (gift cards to restaurants, movies, activities).
So, I can’t tell you what to say, but I will tell you that your presence is more significant than you’ll ever understand. And in the weeks ahead, your care is appreciated through your tangible expressions of love and solidarity with our loss.
The impossible happens over time. Like recovering from surgery, the raw pain of grief heals. With the Lord’s tender help, we do get used to carrying the cross of grief and loss that we have been given. I realized a few weeks after John died that we weren’t just standing still anymore getting used to the load. We were actually beginning to move forward and Christ was carrying the heaviest end of our cross.
I would tell people that it felt like I had an iv of grace that continually dripped. I still feel that way. God’s grace just keeps on coming. This journey is still dusty and barren and hot and hard, but everyday there is a gift of grace. God expresses His love to me somewhere, somehow. It has become a game. Where will grace meet me today? Where will He surprise me in way that only He can?
So, to all of those who are new to living without the person you loved so deeply, God is your best company as you walk through this shadow of the valley of death. He knows the way.
All I know is that God’s grace will always show up and you will be able to keep moving forward…some days just an inch, other days a mile. Either way it is always fueled by Him and there are parts of this unexpected, unwanted journey that will delight and surprise you. You. are. loved.
Praying for grace and comfort for so many,