I used to say someone should write a book about how to deal with people who are grieving. Why on earth would I say that? Because I’ve been in a state of mourning. I’ve watched my mother walk through it twice. One of my grandmothers buried two husbands and a son. One of my grandmothers buried a baby, Jackie Shaye who I was named after long before I was born but I saw her deal with that grief years later. The one thing I’ve learned from my mourning and watching others close to me mourn is that we all deal with it differently. Very differently.
My Gran was sick when she lost Jackie because she was wracked with guilt. I’m not sure my own mother has ever completely recovered from the death of her mother and her best friend. And Mammaw, well there was probably never a stronger person in this world to deal with everything she dealt with. Her son had a heart attack at a time when hearts could not be prepared. She was forced to watch as he slowly wasted away in his early thirties. She raised two boys alone after losing her husband in his thirties. She remarried and dealt with cancer. Honestly, I don’t know how she didn’t go stark raving mad. She didn’t. There is something true about the term Steel Magnolias. Then there was my own loss, so much less when you think about perspective. Saying goodbye to a tiny little baby we never really knew.
Recently our sweet friends lost their four month old baby very suddenly. They are still wrestling with God, trying to be strong for each other and their daughter. I am heart sick thinking of how they feel as they prepare for her funeral service at the end of the week. I know there isn’t much to say to a grieving parent. After so many, “At least you know that you have an angel in heaven…” statements I wanted to yell that I wasn’t ready for Jessa to be in heaven. I wanted to watch her grow up to be a sweet little sister to Bria, hear her say “mama” to find that first boyfriend, to choose to follow Jesus and be baptized, to have her Daddy walk her down the aisle and watch as she provided me with a slew of grandchildren to squeeze and love. So many things that she could have done and seen. When that ache is deep and the wounds are open, it’s hard to see the pain and trouble she would feel in this world and that I was being a bit selfish wanting her to experience it. The fact is, I’m still a bit selfish when I see Arleigh and Hanan huddled close on the futon in the playroom and Bria goes off to play by herself. I know it’s God’s plan but it’s certainly not mine. The meals brought to our door were such a blessing. The love that came from our friends and our church family helped get me through. And yet, there are times when people in their need to help, become a burden.
I was talking with my friend Anna. She talked about how when her son was so very sick in the hospital other mothers would come to her and in trying to comfort her, begin to unload their burden of guilt at having a healthy child. I distinctly remember being in the hospital and being desperate for people to leave me alone. I also remember Cynthia and how she wanted so desperately to comfort me. While I would like nothing more than to show up and hug Cynthia and love on her and insist that she give me a much needed hair cut to forget things for a moment… I also know that my desperation to comfort her is perhaps not what she needs at this moment. She needs to catch her breath and come to grips with her loss all while confronting it head on with a funeral service. Often in these situations in our desperation to serve, we actually turn the tables on the very people who are mourning and ask them to comfort us. It’s just not fair. If you haven’t walked your own path of mourning, sometimes it’s hard to see.
Each of the people that I have known to walk the path of mourning have done it in different ways. My friend Christine lost her mother at a very young age. I haven’t asked but I get the feeling that she poured herself into her younger siblings. My mother was so angry for such a long time. Her mother died before most of her other friend’s mothers. It still frustrates her to hear people talk about the difficulties of caring for their elderly parents because she would give anything to be allowed that privilege. My father died all too soon. I miss knowing that’s he’s there to talk me down off a ledge but he still is in some ways. He used to tell me to pick up every penny because they tell you who to trust, God. In every life changing moment, there has always been a penny somewhere lying on the ground for me to find. I was sad when he was gone. I also felt like I had to help my mother. I consoled myself by trusting that he would be far better off in heaven than if a stroke had left him with brain damage. I also understood Mom’s frustration when people complain about their parents. I didn’t deal well with losing Jessa. In fact, I can still get quite angry about the fact that I missed so much. The girls pulled me out of it as I’m sure Victoria will do for Cynthia and Lorenzo. The care and concern and love shown to us was appreciated but sometimes, it turned into comforting someone else. I am not in any way calling anyone out. I’ll be the first to admit, there were times that I was forced to comfort someone because they felt so bad for me and it kept me from thinking about my own grief for a second. It’s still not fair. There are also some people who plainly wanted to share my grief for their own attention. That is infuriating. The problem is, I don’t think those people realize it’s what they’re doing.
So, here’s my two cents. Cynthia can correct me if I’m wrong. Let the person that is grieving set the tone. Sometimes the grieving person knows what they can handle, sometimes they do not. I thought I could attend a dear friend’s baby shower a week or two after coming home from the hospital without Jessa. When confronted with the reality of the situation, I could not. The cry I had on the way home was cathartic. It helped when friends sent living things that I could plant and feel like Jessa was living on through something else. It helped when people let me know they were there. Some I chose to talk to. Some I chose not to confide in. Sentiments are sweet. My mom cherishes so many things that she got at my father’s funeral. I on the other hand get stressed. We move so often, how will I feel if it is broken or lost? What I’m saying is everyone is different. Let the person tell you what they need, don’t think you know best especially if you are not a close family member or very best friend. If the family says they can’t accept your company, don’t be offended. Be grateful that they love you enough to say not now. There were people that I didn’t feel like I could say no to. It made things very hard.
Let’s move on to social media. Unless you are expressing a sincere sympathy or your prayers, keep your mouth shut. Grieving families don’t need to worry about whether or not they hurt your feelings. In fact, I told a dear friend that I really appreciated her offer to come and sit with me, but I just couldn’t bare to cry anymore. Guess what? We’re still friends. I spoke with her this morning. I’m praying for her husband as he battles cancer. We’re still friends. Thankfully she didn’t rake me over the coals in some social media format because at that moment, I just needed space. Guess what. There is an inner circle. Don’t be offended if you aren’t part of it. There are few people that I let in. I don’t need a gaggle. I need less than a handful and I’m good. If the grieving parent needs a gaggle, they will let you know.
Why post this now? It’s fresh on my mind. There are a few people that I would love to sit down and ask them to really think about their motives and what they think they are accomplishing. There is nothing more that I would like to do than jump on an airplane and show up at a funeral service Friday. To hug Cynthia and Lorenzo and love on Victoria and tell them that it doesn’t seem like it right now, but it will get better easier even but it’s hard right now and we’re here for them. The fact is, I would most likely be in the way. Comforting the Garcias for the sake of comforting me to help me think I’ve done something is selfish. I am selfish. If I had the money to get off this rock and babysitters, I would have been there. Cynthia would love me enough to say thank you for coming, I love you. I need to be with my family. I don’t need to feel like I need to entertain you or comfort you. I wouldn’t be do anything her own Mama can’t do.
The best thing I can do for Cynthia and Lorenzo is let them know we’re here. I can let Cynthia know what helped me work through my grief. I can pray, pray, pray. If she asked, I would be there in a heartbeat.
So clearly I’m working through my own issues here. If I had made this concise, (I’m sounding like my preacher with a 5 point plan after he has essentially wrapped up a sermon) I would way pray long and hard. Use a little self examination to really think about your motives and what you expect to accomplish. Let the grieving party know you are there. Take a covered dish if you really need to feel better and then pray. If they need you, they will let you know.
Love you Garcias. If you need us, you know where we are.