First Friday: Not Just Another Checklist

Grief

Good grief.

April has been a loo loo.

Between the loss we felt collectively as a country for the people of Boston and Waco, the loss we felt as a community for Rick and Kay Warren and the personal loss we felt daily for our friends, family and ourselves, one could not help but feel bombarded with grief.

So much so, there were quite a few days I wanted to pull the covers over my head, sleep through April and wake up today with some bright, cheery message of new beginnings.

But April has been a loo loo, I’m afraid.

And I would be remiss to ignore its profound effect on my heart.

You see, a year ago, almost to this day, I wrote of my own loss.  I wove a lovely tale of pink and blue.  And I spoke as if I believed that a singular moment would bring an end to my sadness.

I was wrong.

The truth is that I miss my sweet, almost April baby every single day.  The celebration I wrote of was merely the beginning of a lifelong dance of grief and hope and a longing for heaven. And I, much like the little boy tangled up in the balloons, was too caught up in my sadness to see it plainly.

But when the fog of grief lifts, much like the smoke of an explosion, you begin to see the carnage. 

The limbs you’ve lost.  The devastation around you.  And the people who have stuck with you.

You finally begin to process what in the hoot just happened. And for the first time in weeks or months or even years, you have clarity. A clarity that sometimes is scarier than the madness and the carnage and the confusion.

You take one day at a time.  You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other.  And you remind yourself to breathe.

It’s as if with each step, each breath, each day you untangle your heart from the fog’s grip and open your eyes to the reality of your grief.  You finally admit to yourself that life has changed.  And you have a choice, to sink into embitterment or lean into the grace you know is waiting.

The crazy thing is I have walked with those I love through loss.  I have experienced my own grief in the middle of their madness.  And I have cried many tears.

Tears over students lost to suicide and illness and accidents.  Tears over babies lost to miscarriage and stillbirth.  Tears over parents and grandparents, over sisters and brothers, over sons and daughters.

But it was not until this loss, I realized how little I knew about grief.  How it can turn you inside out and upside down and you can’t help but walk away changed.  How the presence of one person can make all the difference in your healing.  And how the absence of another can profoundly hurt.

Now a year ago, I would have told you that I could fill a book on things not to say to people who’ve lost someone.  I assure you it would have been rather ugly.  But that is part of the fog, you see.

You travel to a place where you feel like you are the only one who has ever been in the pit of grief and you alone know how to universally fix it. We’re funny like that. Part of me wonders if God gave us this phase of grief just to keep us fighting through each day.

I say all this because of what follows.  I am not an expert on grief. Nor do I pretend to be one.

But through my own journey, I have learned this pointedly, “I, Sara Cormany, need to be more purposeful about loving others who’ve experienced loss.”

Because trust me on this one, it matters.

And because it matters, I can openly share the lessons I’ve learned about loving those in the midst of grief.  Now please resist the temptation to embrace this as yet another checklist for the fridge.  Because heaven knows, we have enough lists to last us a lifetime.

Simply consider and weigh each one carefully against what you know about Jesus, His passionate love for those who hurt and the reminder of Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens in love.

Lesson #1:  Remember dates.

Imagine if a year from now, the world simply forgot to recognize the loss experienced during the bombings of the Boston Marathon.  Madness, you say?  Indeed.  For those who have lost someone, the birthdays, the due dates, the death dates and all the blooming holidays in-between are just plain hard.  The world moves on and you are left looking at that empty chair or car seat or bedroom. And it hurts. It just unimaginably hurts.  Now some days, you wish the world would remember and other days you wish you could sink privately into your sadness.  But I’ll admit, I would rather have someone remember with me than not, just for the days I feel alone in my grief.  It’s the moment where someone says, “Your loss is important to me just because I love you.”  It’s the reminder that after the dust clears, you still have people who are walking with you from now until Home.

Lesson # 2: No one wins a medal for the biggest griever.

Now I say this with all the love I have in me, “Don’t make someone else’s grief about your own.” It makes not a hoot of sense that I would sit down with some sweet girl who has recently had a pregnancy loss and say, “Well now, I know you’ve just lost a baby but let me tell you, having had a stroke and then sepsis and nearly dying just makes my loss way harder than yours!” The mere thought is absolutely asinine.  But unfortunately, without even knowing it, we seem to play that card with our “I understand” phraseology. If we really believe that we are uniquely fashioned by God and created for a specific eternal purpose, than it seems to me that even when I go through loss similar to another’s, I still don’t totally get it. And that’s okay.  I don’t have to understand. I just need to show up, open my ears and more often than not, quiet my mouth.

Lesson #3: Don’t knock the praise.

If you would have told me before 2011, “Sara, you are going to have a stroke, lose a baby, nearly die from complications and then be in la la land for the better part of a year. But hey, you are going to fall madly in love with Jesus in a way you’ve never known!”  I more than likely would have boot scooted you right out my front door. But here’s the crazy, absolute truth, I did.  I fell in love with Jesus all over again.  I had nothing left physically, mentally or emotionally but I had Him.  His arms, His peace and even His inexplicable joy. When I confessed my love for Him, it wasn’t just sunshiney, blow-smoke-up-your-nose lipservice.  It was a holy offering that truthfully claimed He is all that people told me He would be when I came to the very end of my being. Hence, the lesson.  Don’t knock the praise, don’t roll your eyes and don’t imagine it’s because it is some pre-scripted mumbo jumbo.  Respect the road that was journeyed and keep your cynicism away from what is absolutely holy.

Lesson #4: Be ready to get uncomfortable.

It seems to me there is a spectrum of grief.  On one side, you have the shout-it-from-the-rooftops kind, the kind that blogs, talks and pours out grief through every pore.  On the other side, you have the go-into-the bedroom, lock-the-door and lose-it-kind-of-grief.  We all fall on one side or the other or somewhere in-between.  And we tend to accept that our kind of grief is what is acceptable or respectable in its wake.  But remember, this is not about what makes you comfortable.  Sometimes the reality of grief is just plain ugly.  But those experiencing it don’t have a choice in facing in it.  You do.  Love chooses what is uncomfortable.  Love says, “I don’t get it.  But you need this.  So I’ll love you in the silence.  Or I’ll love you in the shouting.  Shoot, I’ll even pull a David and tear my clothes with you if that is what you need to heal.”  Love bears the burden.

Lesson #5: Curb the complaining.

This one breaks my heart.  Not because I am disgusted with others but because it opens an unlovely place in my own being.  Before my journey, I looked at “do everything without complaining or arguing” as just a general suggestion.  I mean, shoot.  A girl has got to be able to vent, right?  But then I found loss and faced a pretty ugly truth.  When you are in the middle of grief, you have to go through things that take the very breath from you.  Mine were holding baby clothes, surprise encounters with pregnant bellies and anytime I saw a precious newborn.  I could not avoid any of it.  They are part of life and in many ways, a part of healing.  But the unloading, complaining, verbal barfing about late nights, no sleep and crying would literally reduce me to a sobbing pile of mess on my kitchen floor.  I would have given all of it to hold my baby just once.  The problem is what we  once “unloaded” to a few close friends around our kitchen table, we now broadcast in a firestorm of social media complaining…the flu, our teenagers, our parents, our wait at the doctor’s office…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.  You name it, we complain about it.  Our disobedience is now available for everyone to see.   We have moved out of an era where we could be discerning about the words we speak toward someone experiencing loss to an open forum that slams unsuspecting, precious brothers and sisters at their most vulnerable. A truth that makes me want to lay face-down on the floor and whisper a thousand “I’m sorries” for the hurt I have unknowingly caused. Saying no to complaint is not just a matter of choice, it is a matter of obedience.  If we are to love the grieving, we have to knock off the viral storm of complaint. Period.

Lesson #6: Pray without stopping.

The reality is, sometimes all we can do is pray.  It may feel like nothing but it is actually everything.  Words uttered in prayer are the only ones that will lay a broken someone before the foot of a King’s throne.  Prayer is better than any sympathy card or Facebook post or e-mail we will ever pen. In the thick of loss, we may be the first responders or the doctors or the therapists.  We might use our hands to stabilize the bleeding.  We might use our experience to help someone learn how to walk again.  Or we may even have to do some good, old-fashioned pants kicking toward the promise of Hope.  (I think my sweet husband gets credit for being all three.) But at some point, we all will need to step back from our role and pray.  It is not, as I once believed, our last resort in the midst of pain.  It is our first and most effective response.

While all of this may have overwhelmed even me, I assure you that His grace is sufficient for all our mess-ups, misguided good intentions and inattention. It is absolutely what I love about this journey.  The goal is not perfection, the goal is growth.

I love that ten years from now I can love people better than I do today.  I love that I can ask for forgiveness.  I love that Jesus can use me even in spite of my blindness.

But that is part and parcel of the beauty amidst the ashes.

Grief opens a place in our hearts that we never knew could hurt so profoundly but it also opens this same place to a love we never imagined possible.

Be it the love we have for the one lost or the love we experience from all those who help carry our hurt or the love of a Savior who understands it all.

Grief beckons us to jump in, dig through the ashes and bear the hurt of others.

So Jesus, make us bold, make us brave and make us purposeful.

Today. Tomorrow.  And all the way Home.

Sara Cormany guest posts on the first Friday of each month. Sara is mommy to six-year-old Grace, four-year-old Drew and one-year-old Sophie.  When she is not wiping noses, changing diapers or chasing her kids, she is a sometimes writer and a sometimes teacher to teenagers.  But her most cherished role is that of one who is perfectly held by Jesus. She loves watching Him take the broken, the messy and the seemingly mundane of her everyday and turn it into something beautiful.