Last month I had my first close experience with grief.
Grief is a natural part of life, and most everyone goes through some form of it at some point. It is often dramatized on TV or in movies. However, in truth and honesty, it is far from glamorous.
Now, I didn’t lose anyone who I, personally, was close to. But I did walk alongside a friend of mine, who I will call Jamie, as she lost her mom. After a tumultuous battle with cancer, Jamie’s mother passed on August 24th 2022 due to an infection.
Now, I really haven’t known Jamie for that long. We only met for the first time in May, and haven’t spent very much time talking and getting to know one another yet. However, she still chose to reach out to me for support in this difficult time.
When she texted me the news on August 24th at 7:24pm, it felt like a sock in the gut. Jamie and her family had been expecting her mother to pass within the few days around that date. This wasn’t a sudden death. But the awful, chilling finality of knowing that she was gone until the day Jamie and her family will reunite with her in heaven…
Nobody can ever quite be prepared for that.
I was still at youth group when I got the text, and I remember milling around a few minutes more before deciding to give up the act and go to my car to be alone. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I let the tears flow as the truth hit me fully. I couldn’t quite understand what was happening. I’m sure Jamie couldn’t either.
After a few minutes, I drove myself home. Usually, I like to belt my favorite songs whenever I drive. That night, I couldn’t. It seemed irreverent to do so. I drove home in silence.
When I got home, I asked some friends to pray for Jamie and spent some time reflecting. I wondered to myself, what can I do to help? I didn’t quite know.
I found myself remembering Jamie’s sister, and how she always stands in the front row during worship in Sunday service. She sings with a visible conviction that can only come from a life of refining. I remembered her faith. And I also remembered Jamie’s struggles; the inevitable confusion that comes as one grows up and begins to come of age. The sort that a mom’s wisdom helps smooth out.
I still can’t understand yet.
And that’s okay.
Here’s some of my journal entries through my time of first walking alongside Jamie.
8/21: “Lord, my heart aches for Jamie and her family. Lord, hold them close tonight as they face having to say goodbye to their loved one. Help me be unafraid to support and love them. Jesus, bring rest to their heart and assurance that brighter days will come.”
8/24: “Lord, tonight You recieved Jamie’s mom into Your kingdom with shouts of joy. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a hurting family left behind. Help the family as they begin grieving. Guide me in supporting Jamie. My heart aches for them. I know there will be brighter days, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but I know that the light, for them, must be so far that they can’t quite glimpse it yet. Help them never give up so that one day they will glimpse it and forge on towards it with the hope of seeing their loved one again in heaven.”
*The next day*
8/25: “Today I’ve been a bit off. I think it’s because this death has been my first close experience with grief; and I don’t quite know what to do with it. I’m not sinking my arms in shoulder deep to help Jamie because I don’t know how. Seeing something on TV or in movies is completely different than watching someone experience it in real life. It has sucked the life out of me today.
Help me take initiative to help Jamie even though I don’t quite know what to say or do. Help me reckon with these stretching circumstances. I did ask You to kick me off my own high horse, after all; and helping this family may very well be the start. Thank You for the reminder that wisdom and knowledge on anything, from relationships to grief, is not a safety net. With the messiness of humanity, I don’t want fear to stand in the way of me doing or being anything.
Thank You for listening to me and loving me even as I am working through confusion. I know You will hold and carry me the whole way; Jamie also.”
Grief is a messy thing. Everyone deals with it differently. But one of the things I’ve learned is that when one experiences a loss, grief is necessary.
“[There is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”
Ecclesiastes 3:4, 6
There is a time and a season for everything on earth, and that is something that is very important to remember when walking alongside someone who is grieving. They are not okay, and that’s fine – there is a time for sadness and pain and mourning. We must make space for that.
There is an overwhelming pressure in today’s church to pursue positivity. To stay joyful because of what God has given us. It almost, at times, gives off the impression that to be sad and to mourn what we’ve lost in this world because of its fallenness and our human condition is to be ungrateful and unappreciative of God’s kindness and love.
But that’s not true.
There is a time for mourning. A time for grief. In fact, if we all grieved more often, I think we would appreciate joy so much more. So don’t negate grief! It is a part of life. What matters is how we respond to it.
I’ve learned through this experience that helping someone that is experiencing grief isn’t easy. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ antidote to someone’s bereavement. Everyone works through grief differently. But what’s important is to dive in.
I have to admit, even typing that sentence pokes a shard of conviction into my heart, because I don’t think I’ve been doing that myself. I’ve been a bit hesitant. But maybe that’s what Jamie needed at that moment. What I’m feeling comes from a cultural stigma over what it means to ‘dive in.’
Perhaps for a certain person in your life, diving in means giving them space. Letting them breathe. Keeping the casserole in the freezer. For another person, it may mean coming over no matter what they say and holding their hand as they cry or talk. Diving in is different for every situation.
And again, it’s okay if you don’t get it right. Everyone is on a different journey. The Lord will lead everyone in a different direction, as everyone is different; the ways in which people cope with their grief is just as varied.
No matter what you sense a certain person in your life experiencing grief might need, what’s important is to ‘dive-in’, as I said; which most often means to be available. If you’ve ever experienced grief personally, use remembering your time of mourning to build your compassion for your friend or family member. If you haven’t, you can always ask others for advice. I did that, and it helped me know better how to support Jamie.
Another thing to remember is that grief is ongoing. It doesn’t seize after a month. Nor two months. Nor 6 months. Nor a year, or 10 years. The pain may ease some, but your friend will still need your support. While I’ve found that those who are grieving detest pity-parties, knowing that someone is thinking of you and hasn’t forgotten your struggle must be invaluable.
The moral of the story is this: Grief is hard, but don’t give up. Remember that both you and those around you will have brighter days and darker days. Life is like an ocean – there are rough sections and calm sections, cold spots and warm spots. All are necessary, and all are beautiful in their own right. Keep sailing, even when there is no land in sight and you don’t quite know what to do.
I promise, you’ll reach the sand one day.