This past week has been hard. It has been physically hard, emotionally hard, and spiritually hard. The sheer willpower it has taken to get up instead of laying in bed sleeping should impress everyone.
There is a lot to do when someone passes. The service alone takes time, money, and tons of effort. Thankfully, one of the benefits of having a enormous family is that there are lots of people to lighten the load. Aside from the service, we also had things around my parents house that needed to be done. We managed to get them finished and I felt like we did a good job.
There have been a few things I’ve tried to make a mental note of as the week has passed.
1. Just think before speaking. Yes, it seems obvious. Everyone always thinks it’s obvious. But, I know for a fact, that I am as guilty as the next person and this is a much more difficult task than we often admit. This is important in every situation, but especially in a situation of people grieving. If I manage to hold it together during our conversation – I count this as a win. There is nothing wrong with crying, but at a certain point I want to feel that I have some sort of control over my body and emotions. For someone to say to me “Wow, I can’t believe you can just stand there and talk. I’d be crying if I went through something like that” is odd. Or saying “I can’t believe you’re at a basketball game. Shouldn’t you be at home? Your mom just died.” is probably not great either. I am the sort of person who will answer back, but I know not everyone is. I want distraction from the tears, a little peace after the storm of emotion, and to be completely honest – REAL LIFE MOVES ON. The world doesn’t stop because I am grieving. I have to keep going. Just a reminder that everyone deals with grieving differently.
2. The simple things really matter. Having someone come to care for the basic needs of our family while we grieved and sat by my mother’s bedside was amazing. It was an unexpected gift that truly blessed our whole family. Between the aunt who came and helped with the 24-hour care, the cousin who fed us during the last week of Mom’s life, and the friend who just stopped by with basics like paper plates, napkins and cups – we were so blessed. People ask what they can do, but the truth is that I couldn’t make my mind work in a rational way. None of us thought much about eating or dishes or anything like that. But, once it was taken care of we realized OH! That was exactly what we needed. So, thanks. Thanks to everyone who helped with that and who realized we couldn’t even mentally get to the point of asking for exactly what we needed.
3. People can be so thoughtful and I should learn from their example. I have seldom sent condolence cards. I don’t think I’ve ever dropped flowers by to a friend who had someone pass away. I usually ‘give them space’ and attend the memorial service. The people who sent cards, sent a quick Facebook message, or just dropped by for a second to say “I’m thinking of you and praying for you” really made a difference. I need to be better about this because it really mattered to me that people cared and showed it.
4. Those things that seem hokey or cliche are much different when it’s YOU who are grieving. I’ve attended several funeral services at my parents’ church. I have seen the same screen with different pictures of people I’ve known all my life. But, there is something so different when you see your own family up on that screen. The words spoken, the songs shared, and the hugs given just become less of a ritual and just become more real.
5. Death is never avoided. People die every.single.day. Americans try to avoid that reality and we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to try to reverse that truth. But, the fact is that we all will eventually die. I would have never said I wanted to be there when my mother passed. I would never have said I would sit and watch her die for several days. And, honestly I didn’t WANT to do those things. But, whether I did them or not – death would not have been avoided. The only thing I would have escaped were the last few days I had to spend on this earth with my mom. It was HARD. We cried A LOT. It HURT. But, we laughed a lot too. We shared memories, we hugged, and we had really good deep theological discussions really late at night/early in the morning that we probably would have never taken the time to sit and have. I know Mom wanted us all there and she used her final words to ask for three things: She wanted us all to come kiss her, she wanted us to pray with her, and she wanted us to read the Bible to her. What a testimony this woman was – even in her last days. My life is richer for spending the last week of her life with her. I would never have chosen to do it, but now I am so very glad I did.