This is the continuation of "Grief Giver" Part 1, a piece I wrote back in 2014. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, take a minute to scroll down the blog and read it now.
I typed this entire piece four years ago with my eyes closed. I could not even bear to see what I was writing. It was the first time I could let these memories out of my heart; I kept them tucked away for 14 years in the hope that the pain they caused would eventually disappear. And even though it has been four years since I wrote “Grief Giver,” it really does not get any easier to read much less to edit. Therefore, it is raw and real and a little messy--right where I was back then. But because it is where I was, it is still a part of my story...
The next morning at 5 am my phone rang. “Something has happened to your Mom,” the carefully planned out words of my dad rang way too loudly in my ears. And then, “You don’t need to hurry.” I did not process at the time why I didn’t need to hurry and rushed as fast as I could to the Emergency Room with husband and my six-week old baby.
As I ran inside the hospital I found my dad in a small common area with curtains hanging all around to provide privacy for patients. “Where is she?!” For the life of me I could not figure out why no one was with us...no doctors, no nurses, no rushing around, no monitors beeping. It was eerily quiet and no one was in a hurry to get me to my Mom.
I can see my eyes as if I was a bystander in that room. I can see the questioning and anxiety and pleading as they stared deep into my Dad’s eyes. And I can see them grow wide with total confusion and shock as he said, “She’s already gone, Brooks.”
Time stopped. The quiet got even quieter. My heart beat out of my chest and I could barely breathe.
Writing this, I am seeing the biggest mountain I can imagine in the world suddenly beginning to crumble. As it begins to break into pieces, it rumbles and roars as the pebbles turn into boulders and the entire mountain-which stood so strong and huge-falls to the ground just like that. Ashes. All that is left is ashes.
I can't get the image of seeing her out of my mind. I want to hurl it off a mountain. It makes my heart race and the tears come and I can't catch my breath. I saw my mom lying there not breathing. No life. No soul. No arms to reach out and hug me. No kisses. I didn't want to see her. I didn't want to go to her but I remember my dad saying I needed to tell her goodbye. The image in my head of her lifeless, sick body laying there all propped up was not peaceful like you see in a casket. It was gross. I remember my dad saying she looked more like this when he would see her at bedtime. For me, she always put on her wig and her makeup. But now she looked…..dead.
What do you do in these moments? The last moments you get to touch her? I wanted to hug her but I didn't want to touch her. I wanted to talk to her but she wasn't there. I wanted to tell her goodbye but I wanted her to come back. I tried. So hard. I did something. But that day I decided to quit. I gave up. She was gone, I was gone.
The next few days, months and years were just obligatory passings of time. I said things to God I can't even repeat. I shut down, I shut out and I crawled inside a much safer world without people to lose. I pulled up the covers and hid underneath complete isolation. I hid from my husband. I hid from my friendships, and I hid from any hope of joy because I hid from God. I felt completely empty and dead inside with nothing whatsoever to give to anyone. I was a mess and this mess spread out its giant hands and squeezed the life out of me and out of my husband who desperately longed for his wife to love him. In his pain, he gave up on me and broke the heart I was trying so hard to hide from the world. As protected as I thought I was by the walls around my heart, I was truly now left with nothing. Even more than before, I felt abandoned, betrayed and way too little and too much for anyone to ever love.
I lived like this for ten years. No friends. A broken marriage. A shell of a person. A job that let me bypass my inner turmoil and concentrate every effort on looking okay on the outside. Eventually, I went to counseling which helped me process a lot of life things...like my damaged relationships, my childhood hurts which led to my utter dependence on my Mom and the huge walls I had constructed to keep God out of my heart. My counselor sat with me as I fought to be brave enough to talk to God. He walked me through restoration with those who had betrayed me and he helped me see myself, for the first time, as a fully defined person.
But even though I had worked through so much, there was still a huge struggle being intimate with the Lord or even with people. I absolutely did not want to be hurt again. In my anger and because I knew a God I had constructed in my heart and mind, I never saw his compassion but only wrath. I blamed him for everything. I hated who I thought God was.
In His kindness, the Lord began to show me pictures of Him weeping beside my Mom’s bed as she drew her last breath. He showed me that it absolutely broke his heart to watch me and my Mom hurt so much. Not only was he weeping for my Mom that night, but He was weeping for me. He had his head in his hands as tears streamed down his face. To see this tenderness in the very one I thought took my most precious things shook me to the core. It woke me up to the reality that I had really never known his true character of goodness. He opened my eyes that day to Hope. There was Hope in my heart that God was good and that he really did love me and care about my pain. He opened my eyes to the beauty that can be found when we see His kindness right inside of that pain.
So here's my new answer to the question about how long my Mom has been gone. I’m trying this one out:
“She died 14 years ago in years, a day ago in my grief, and a million years ago in my need.”
With the loss of all my relationships came the loss of having someone to hold my heart while I truly grieved. I needed God but I felt like He hurt me. My marriage crumbled under the weight of grief and simply died for a season. And I couldn’t stand the feeling of being too much for my friends to handle, so I lost the depth of those relationships as well. I was not left with much to lean on as I battled depression and deep shame.
I now know that I need friends--friends who can go to the depths with me, friends who can and are willing to sit in pain when it calls. Friends who think I am neither too much nor not enough. Because you know what? At some point, we are all too much or not enough. That is where God comes in. He fills in all those holes our friends can’t. But he created us to be in community and to need each other. It’s okay to need a friend to hold your hand while you cry and to help you mop up the mess you create in times of messy anger. It’s okay to need your husband or wife to hold your heart oh so gently in his or her hands. God knows what kind of people we need in our lives. But if we wait for that one perfect person to complete us and fill in all our holes and make us okay, I think we will be waiting forever. No one, no matter how great they are, will be or even can be all that you need. Only God can fulfill that job requirement.
This is the void my Mom filled and why this loss has been something I cannot seem to move past. I was not too much for her and the way she loved me made me know I was somehow enough. Sure, there were sometimes when I knew she didn't like me or what I was doing but deep down I was the daughter of a mom who loved her baby with the passion I now know to be motherhood. This kind of love transcends boundaries and I will never again have that kind of love. And I am not okay with that. But somehow this circle always brings me back to my belief that God wants to be found inside this pain. He showed up in my memories, hiding in every corner. He was there in every season, in every breath, in every moment. He never left. And it is up to me to remember this-- to see Him, to find him there… to believe Him and in His love for me. I am still looking back. I have to look back to find Him where I could never find him before.
I have to look back to find Him where I could never find him before.
God longs to be our main emotional provider. He wants us to know who we are in Him so that we can know the depth of His love. He wants us to run to Him with everything: our joy, our sorrow, our pain, our longings. He wants to be our Alpha and Omega. He wants to be IT for us. But I also believe He wants us to invite others into our lives and into our pain. This takes major courage! To live with others is risky but exactly what we were created to do. We were never meant to live alone, and when we do, we dry up like a sponge with no water in sight.
So begins the letting others into my pain. So begins the belief that there is someone for whom I am not too much. Someone who can sit with me and hold me and hear me and weep with me and not be totally swallowed up by my grief. Someone who can know that only God can heal me or fill my holes but who can at the same time offer me an extension of His unconditional and fantastic love and tenderness. This kind of relationship is a beautiful rendition of God’s love song for us.
I think about what I would say to my little puddled self in those moments following The Day. What would the me I am now say to the me that was then?
I would tell her that her grief is not too much for someone, that there is someone out there that can handle all the emotions her young soul is shedding. I would tell her that it’s not okay that her Mom died and that death is horrible and awful and it hurts like hell. I would also tell her that God hates death and He hates our suffering. And when she would forget it the very next day, I would tell her again. I would listen to God first and then I would tell her things He said even though she probably wouldn’t want to hear them. I would continue to be the truth for her because she probably could not find it anywhere in her mind or heart. I would hold her and let her cry and shake and scream until she lay limp in my arms. I would stroke her hair and say, “ I know you miss her so much that you want to die too. I know you have no idea how to do life without her but somehow, someway you will. Let’s talk to God together because I know you are so angry right now that you don’t want anything to do with Him. Maybe I’ll just pray silently for you as you sit there in a warm bath.” I would tell her that the death is defining her right now but there is so much more to her than she can see or believe. I would tell her that death is a crazy bad way to learn that she is more than her mother’s daughter. I would tell her that she is so much more and that she has so much she will be able to give through her pain. I would remind her that all we ever have is faith that God is who He says he is and that He is good. I would stay. I would never leave her.
I would tell her that death is a crazy bad way to learn that she is more than her mother’s daughter.
Is there someone in your life who is grieving a loss today? Someone you can sit with and hold their heart oh so careful in your hands? Someone who you can remind that their grief is not too much for you and that even though you cry with them, you will be okay and that they don’t need to feel bad for making you sad? Someone you won’t give up on when the grieving process never seems to end and they cry again? And again? And again? Someone who you aren’t sure what to say to because you are afraid of saying the wrong thing but that you just keep trying?
We are the hands of God to hold them in their moments of despair. We are the voice of God to remind them of who He really is and how He really feels because they won’t remember this sometimes. We are the heart of God as we simply sit right smack dab in the middle of that deep dark place with them. We do not peer in from a little window on the outside but we put on our muddy boots and climb right down into that hole. We hold that little limp body up until it can stand on its own.
Grief giving is not for the weak or the faint of heart. It is hard and ugly and messy and you can expect it to bring up things in your own life you never even knew were there. There will be times when your tears may be confused with their tears and you’re not even sure if you are crying for them anymore. Your wounds may break open and ooze and somehow meld with their wounds. And that’s okay. Messy but okay. They may actually see your sadness while they are sad. That’s okay too. You are not responsible for making them okay but for just being fully with them.
I think maybe the people that God sends to comfort those who are hurting are people who feel very deeply themselves. As I sat next to a young woman today who was recounting the last conversation she had with her dying husband, I went there. I could have fully described to you, even though she gave no details, the bedspread, what her children looked like, what smells were in the air and every other detail I painted so quickly in my head. I really didn’t want to be there but it just happened. It always happens. I began to tear up and felt that huge wave of sadness begin to well up inside of me. It feels like a tsunami brewing in my heart and if I don’t quickly check out of the present moment, I can totally be swept away. This is always embarrassing when it happens-- especially when the person to whom the horrible event actually happened is not even crying. I have always hated this about myself.
But today was pivotal in that I realized maybe God has purposefully made me this way, to feel others stories like they are my own, in order to truly sit in the depths with them. To be able to literally carry a tiny piece of their burden for them. To truly weep for their shriveled hearts and maybe just maybe feel a little bit of what they feel so that they don’t feel so alone--so that they feel like maybe someone understands just a little bit of what they are going through. To validate them in their despair. This is a hard gift to carry but I beg God to use the fragile heart He has purposely given me to bring comfort to others. To be a great Grief Giver.