Friday, March 21, 2014

Grief is a Process

This has been a really hard week.  Sunday we said good-bye to our pastor, and today is the 2 year anniversary of my Mom's death.  I've cried a zillion tears this week, and my heart is deeply hurting.

About 9 o'clock last night I got a phone call from my friend Carrie.  She called asking if she could pray with me.  She knew this week was hard.  I love that she called.  I love that instead of just saying she would pray for me, she actually called me up and did.  It really encouraged my heart, and it was a great lesson for me.  I need to actually pray more with people instead of just promising to do so.

Carrie also told me she had sent me a private message on Facebook that contained a copy of Kay Warren's status update.  The one year anniversary of the death of Rick and Kay Warren's son is approaching.  Kay wrote about how hard "well-meaning" comments had been for her. 
Status Update
By Kay Warren
As the one-year anniversary of Matthew's death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to "move on." The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.
Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us - other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”
None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.
Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB).The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.”

All I can say is wow!  She said all of this so much better than I ever could have said it.

I've have been harshly judged for how I have grieved my Mama.  Her death was a complete shock, and I'm just now beginning to come out of that shock.  I've been told I visit her grave too often.  I had someone tell me I talk about her too often, and it makes others uncomfortable.  I was told I should have closed her Facebook account a long time ago.  I've been told I need to move on, and I need to pull myself together.  I even had someone ask me why I'm still crying over her.

The list of things that have been said to me goes on, and I think people just don't think before they speak.  I think most people are well-meaning.  People think they have to say something, and they just don't understand it's okay for things to be quite.  I remember Darryl and Mary sitting on either side of me the night my mom died, and neither of them said a word.  Just having them there was such a comfort.

I had someone say to me yesterday, "So now that you are moving into year two, this year will be better for you.  It won't hurt as much."


It hurts more.  The more time that passes the more the reality hits she's not coming back.  She will never call me again.  She won't be calling me trying to work out holiday plans or asking if my laundry is caught up yet.

Grief takes time, and as much as I hate to say it, it's a process.  A process without a time limit.  Some days are better than others, and some days my heart is as raw as the day she died.  I'll never "get over it".  My heart will hurt for the remainder of my days.  I will always long for just one more chance to say to her, "I love  you".

Be patient and loving with those who are grieving.  It's not a "cookie cutter" process.  Even those who are grieving the death of the same person will grieve differently and at different rates.  That's okay.  Just love them through it.  Pray with them.  If they need to talk, listen.  If they need to be silent, just sit with them.  Don't try to fill the air with well-meaning words.  Those words often hurt without the one saying them even realizing it.  Just saying, "I love you, and I'm praying for you" is more than enough.

For those of you who have loved me the past two years, thank you.  If I were to list who you are I would surely forget to add someone.  You know who you are, and more importantly God knows who you are.

For those of you who have made hurtful, down right insensitive comments.  It's okay.  Learn from it.  We've all done it.  The key is to learn from it, and do better the next time.

I truly have forgiven every person who has said hurtful things to me.  The words still sting, but I don't harbor hard feelings toward anyone.  I just pray everyone truly realizes grief is a long, hard process, and we all learn to be more patient and loving with one another.

This coming year I plan to focus more on the positive, loving things that are said to me.  I will continue to talk about my Mama, and laugh at some of the silly, crazy things she would do.  I will cry when my heart needs to, and I will visit her grave at least once a week and sometimes more.  I will keep her memory alive, and will teach our girls all things she taught me.  I will cuddle up on the couch with the blanket she made me when I need to be close to her.  When I become proud, I will remember her saying, "Robin, the bible says proud before the fall."  I will probably still try to pick up the phone to call her.

I even have plans to attend a McKammey's concert in a few weeks.

I will always love her and cherish her.


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