Grief & Love -
Hi y'all. It's October again. And with October comes a load of memories and (supposedly in most parts of America) Autumn and with Autumn comes joy and sorrow and reminders of grief and so many other things that I just feel bursting about to share.
Before I jump right in to what I want to say, I'm warning you to hold on and read this post first, if you haven't already (or even if you have). So many things that this post is about I've already written about there. So that is a pre-story, if you will. :) Or part 1, and this is part 2, that will echo part 1.
You are probably wondering what on earth has possessed me to be so serious and all, and for those of you who know October and why it is sad, maybe you won't be surprised, but it is just a well-known fact in my family that the first week or two of October is hard. It's hard for our dear friends who lost their son, and because we love them so much, it is hard for us too. And maybe it is because the summers have put on these stunningly gorgeous sunset displays every night this week, or maybe it is because I watched an excellent movie on grief last night and cried my eyes out, or maybe it is just because I'm so inspired by writing, and I mean, really writing...that I'm finally able to put this long-thought-of post into words and try to express it all here.
I'm praying I don't stumble and mess it all up, but if I do, please give me grace, because this IS my place.
This post is about Grief, and this post is about Love. And it is about who I am because of those two.
(And all of these photos are from October 2011 in North Carolina)
I was first hit hard by grief when I was thirteen years old. My beloved Sunday School teacher died of ALS, and I was devastated. I had only been a Christian for all of 2 years (or a little less), and this was the last thing that made sense. God didn't make sense, and when I say I was devastated, I mean it. It was in his class that the love for the Bible grew in my heart and took on life, it was through his teaching that I wanted to be more than what I knew about myself, it was in his class and those years that I came to Christ. He never raised his voice in class, and spoke with humility and joy. When he died of ALS, I was stunned, shocked, brokenhearted. Just writing about it makes me tear up. He died the day after 9-11, and his funeral was soon after.
I grieved in a way I didn't know was possible. It poured down rain the day of his funeral, I can still "look around" in my memories at the huge circle of us from our church, and see faces. I can still feel the rain dripping down my back from the umbrella. I didn't care about the rain. My Daddy was taking me away much too soon from the crowd, and I broke away at the sight of my two best friends - Whitney and Dargan. Classmates, friends, devastated hearts in young kids....the three of us made a ring of hugs and sobbed our hearts out. I remember once looking up to see adults watching us with tears in their eyes. We could easily express what they were holding back. Tears. Pain. Loss.
My Grandmother died 10 months later, and my Grandfather 10 months after her. Both equally hard losses. I was devastated all over again, heart-broken all over again, cried for nights into my pillow.
and then, it seemed....life calmed down. No one else was dying, no one else was sick. Yes, we had some traumatic losses, an "honorary" grandmother of ours died in a heart-wrenching accident, but for the most part it seemed like life......just went on. My family went on. After awhile, I stopped trying to explain grief to people, because I grieved so hard and held on so much and most of my friends and family did not grieve that way. I'm not saying they were not sad, but it was just different.
I had become accustomed to holding myself back from my family because I felt so misunderstood. Oh, my poor parents. They tried and tried. It wasn't for years that it would come out how much losing my teacher had affected me. I couldn't sing It Is Well for years without bawling, and there is a special song that I haven't sung or listened to since then. It is just so painful to think back upon.
Then adding losing my grandparents on top of that....I had tried so hard not to cry too often, until one night after watching a sad movie at my friend's house, I cried for a solid half hour, just because one scene reminded me of my grandfather. At a party a few years later, I cried for about an hour because someone at that party had just received news that their grandfather had died, and I knew just what that felt like. Everyone there was assuming I knew him personally, and when they discovered I didn't, were of course, concerned. It just all was too real to me. So raw.
And before you all think my parents were insensitive or didn't try hard enough to reach me, let me stop you, because they tried. They didn't always understand, but they did try. But this was all before I could even explain how I grieved, I just knew how I did grieve. Man, I could write a book on the misconceptions of grief and what Biblical grief really looks like! Seriously! :)
My Mother is an amazing woman. She calls you on the phone to catch up and is on her feet in the kitchen all day preparing a meal for someone when they've suffered a loss. She is there to drop everything and drive you to the airport or the hospital or to stay a few days with you near the hospital so you are not alone. She is loyal and faithful and kind.
But she doesn't grieve like me.
My Daddy is a very compassionate man. He cries at movies, is so tenderhearted, and writes amazing sympathy cards with words that flow just right when words so often get stuck in sorrow. He goes to funerals and shakes hands and shares stories that make people laugh, and he cares, deeply, faithfully.
He grieves more like me, but not just like me.
And so, it seemed to me for years....that I was alone in my grief.
(Mom, Dad, please don't cry, it's okay. Promise. This is all part of the story.)
And before this all gets so incredibly long, and before I give you an exhausting list of everyone I've ever lost, and every grief I've ever known (which would be way too much even for me), then let me just get around to October of 2009 when our world shattered right along with our dear friends.
With the news of the loss of their son, our world was shattered and our hearts along with it. We took them dinner and Mom and I stood in their kitchen, and we hugged, and we sobbed and we grieved. It was heartbreakingly sad, incredibly hard and completely unreal. Their loss was huge.
And with that October, in 2009, the world once more tumbled into an array of funerals. Just a few months later, Melody left this world for our true Home, and it seemed 2010 was spent trying to recover, with the stunning loss of our "honorary" grandfather in early June, and the loss of our dog a few weeks after my birthday. 2011 brought cancer. 2 of my best friends lost their siblings, 1 friend of mine, and my friends lost their mother (Mrs. Sproul), all to cancer, and all before Christmas. I spent the New Year of 2012 praying for no more grief, 6 months later I was standing on a hillside, saying goodbye to a little boy named Avery, and that was the start of a very terrible summer.
I had 5 funerals in 4 months, the last of them my Grandmother's. There was Avery in early June, early July our friends lost their full-term baby, so another baby funeral, a few weeks later, our friends lost their son, Lane, in a car accident, then in early October, Shannon Sproul passed away, and just days after that, my Grandmother in Ohio died.
By the time my Grandmother's funeral rolled around ..... I was numb. I was more than numb. I had fallen quiet in the place that I grieved most. Funerals is what I knew, oh I knew how it all worked. I was very quiet.
And so - it is October again. Tonight it will be 1 year that sweet Shannon left these Shadowlands for her heavenly Home, her Lord, and her Mama. Today it was 16 months since Avery left this world for his heavenly Home and his sweet 2 siblings. Next Monday it will be a year that my Grandmother went to see her Savior. Next Tuesday it will be 4 years for our dear friends' son and brother went to Heaven.
You can see why October can be hard here. You can see why grieving is so talked about here. And it's SO HARD because every year I feel like I have no claim to write about any of it. Because almost all of these people I've loved, even though I have loved them from my own heart, my grief is second-hand to their real families. So every little bit, I think "Oh. I really need to pull back and let it go.", and I try just for a moment to convince myself not to let it be such a huge deal all the time. And then I sit down and cry. Like I am doing right now.
Because this is what this whole, long review comes down to: When my friends grieve .... I grieve.
No ifs, ands, or buts. I've never lost a sibling, I've never lost a parent, and I've never lost a best friend. But I have lost, and I have grieved, and I have mourned, and all of them deeply.
I feel keenly loss, sorrow, pain, grief. It is who I am, how God made me to be. I may not have claim to first-hand sorrow, but I have been brought much into second-hand sorrow by the loving hand of God. I have known much grief, have suffered much pain, have desired more of Heaven than I ever thought possible. I have cried more tears and gone to more funerals than I can wrap my mind around.
Those of you who are way older than me, I'm sure you are shaking your heads and thinking how young and inexperienced I am in such sad things, but let me tell you - I am not. I am perhaps, young, and yes, not as wise as you, but I am not inexperienced in sorrow. For my age, at least, I am more experienced than most of my peers.
And here, my friends, is where grief and love come together for me.
This quote sums me up quite well, by Jane Austen ~
"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.
I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature."
I love hard. It is why loss is devastating and breakups are worth crying over for months. I love hard and grieve hard, and those of you who are my friends, you know I love to spend time with you, just to be with you, "Just to be sure of you." like Piglet says to Pooh. I love to care for you, I love to know you. I really have no notion or intention of loving people by halves.
When my friend Laurie left their house in a rush for a devastating funeral in NC, my Mom and I went over to her house and tidied up the house. I was so desperate to do something helpful that I cleaned her entire fridge from top to bottom. I'm not sure she wanted that, but it was all I could do for her.
When Avery was sick, I desperately wanted to drive up to see him in the hospital. My parents couldn't get away, and didn't want me driving up (understandably) by myself to TN. In the panic and stricken hurt of that night, though, I came close about 15 times to disobeying them. I stopped myself short each time I started to pack things up, planning to just get in the car and drive as long as I could, to get there to maybe hold his hand, or just pray in that waiting room, anything to be nearer to him than I was in FL.
The morning after Shannon went to Heaven, I had just dropped off my Mom at the airport, and I called Mrs. Stiemann to ask if there was anything I could do, and if at all possible, if I could come hug Darby and Delaney. She texted Darby, and Darby said I could come help shop for clothes at Target. So there at Target in Sanford we met up. I walked into Target and we hugged and smiled, because who is having a meltdown in Target...not us. We bought Starbucks, tried on sunglasses and laughed until our sides ached, because laughter in the midst of intense sorrow tends to take over unexpectedly and we both knew better than to stifle it down, and bought mascara and nail polish and then they bought funeral dresses. Incredibly surreal. But I was aching to be tangibly close, and thankfully, I was able to.
When the Foster's good friend Anne died of cancer some weeks ago, I asked Becs if I could go to the funeral. I had prayed for Anne for 2 years, and only met her once, but I so much wanted to go to be with them, to be with my friend in her sadness. I went and I hugged and I wept, and I ended up working the drink table, just to help out in any way I could.
When anniversaries roll around, I want to be there, I want to hug and cry and remember. I want to write cards and share and console. I want to honor and listen and be a friend. I want to do dishes and buy groceries and show up with a bouquet of flowers because it was the only thing that seemed right. I want to get on a plane and fly out for the funeral because it is so important and be there when your beloved dies and do anything for you that I possibly can, or hug you as many times as you need it.
"Red lights are flashing on a highway. I wonder if we're gonna ever get home.
I wonder if we're gonna ever get home tonight....
But if you break down, I'll drive out and find you.
If you forget my love, I'll try to remind you, and stay by you when it don't come easy.
When it don't come easy." ~ Patty Griffin
And oh, I don't want this to sound at all like I am bragging about how to love in a way that brings praise. Because let me tell you, this is not the way to do it....I have been told more times than probably any other trait (except childlikeness) that I cannot grieve the way I do. I listened to them for far too long before I realized they were wrong. Without even realizing it, they were wrong. I have been criticized up and down for being too sad in the wrong moments, for being too down, for remembering too many anniversaries. Let me tell you how to do it if you want people to notice and critique you: Love hard.
People aren't used to it, only like it in movies, get tired of it in real life, don't want to understand it.
I have one sentence that debunks this entire theory, and it is from the Bible. Here it is:
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." ~ Romans 12:15
Y'all all know I have no problem with rejoicing at all, whatsoever. ;) So why is it so hard for so many to understand why I also so easily weep with those who are weeping? It is easy for me to slip into mourning with others, perhaps because I have mourned much. Tears have never made me uncomfortable. I would hug perfect strangers if they needed it. Weeping with those who weep is an incredible GIFT to the one who is sad. It shows empathy, compassion, care. It shows them they are not alone. It shows them that in that moment, you are dwelling with them in their hurt, and shouldering the load of pain and walking alongside them where they are. It is love in liquid form, from a tender heart.
In the valley, when it is hardest to see joy and to know sweetness, I want to be there to comfort as I have been comforted. It is true my family and I are still learning to walk in grief together, but I have never known my Heavenly Father to ever leave me less than comforted. His grace has met me at every grave, at every pain, in every sorrow. He has led me through grief with mercy and kindness.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings,
so also you will partake of the consolation." ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, 7
Love speaks Truth, from one broken-hearted grieving friend to another. This is what we know. What we do not always see, but what we know. That as we partake of this bitter cup, it will one day be sweet. That as we grieve and weep and remember and mourn now, one day these things will be no more. That death only separates us for a little while, and then never again. We shall be at Home forever with the Lord.
So this is my plea to you - be tangible love to others when they are grieving. If it means taking care of their kids for an afternoon...if it means buying groceries....if it means calling and leaving a voicemail every now and then...if it means stepping out of your comfort zone and letting the silence be instead of trying to give an answer....if it means showing up at their door just to give them a real hug... if it means praying the night away... if it means saying you are sad their loved one has gone away.... if it is Love, if it is Compassion, if it is Comfort - show it to one another. If it means weeping with them ... weep. Do not let them suffer and mourn alone. Grief feels incredibly lonely enough as it is.
And everyone who read this very long post, thank you for wanting to know more of me. This was all so incredibly hard to write out, I cried my way off and on through the whole thing. It is such a sensitive thing, because I want to write and honor and remember people I have loved, but I never ever want their families to feel as though I am trying to be as important in my grief as they are in theirs. Second hand grief is a helpless, hard grief, because not only do you mourn your loss, you mourn their loss, and the fact that you can do absolutely nothing to lessen that pain.
But it has been an incredible, amazing, stunning, astounding JOY to watch so many of these families walk in trust in the One Who called their precious ones Home to Him. Mourning and rejoicing go gloriously hand in hand in Biblical grief. I know the Lord has been glorified, and that has always been the prayer. For years and years "Oh, Lord, be glorified in this.". What a testament to His faithfulness.
"God would sooner cease to be than cease to be faithful." ~ C.H.Spurgeon
On the topic of love, and loving deeply, I leave you with this.
In the grand words of Pooh (with the exception of the word "blessed" subbed in for "lucky" -
"How blessed I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." ~ A.A. Milne
And just know that because I have loved much, I have been blessed much. I have been loved much, so it is easy to love much in return. My family has graciously, kindly, sweetly, tangibly, encouragingly, comfortingly loved me every day of my life. And God's love towards me is so high that I cannot even dream of the depths of it. Every morning I get up to new mercies and every funeral I go to, I know a deeper grace from God. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever known - to be known and loved by an infinite God, and to know that He prepares our true Home for us and readies us for it every single day.
And on that note, I bid you all a good night, and a most blessed October.
With much love always,
~ Jean Marie ~