Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Power of Walking Alongside

I have a super-star pen pal named Ginny. She has three little girls like me. Her youngest is Audrey’s age. Though we go to church together and I teach Sunday school with her mother and father-in-law, we hardly ever see each other. I always thought we would have a lot in common, but she and I live at opposite ends of town. We’ve never been to lunch or swapped life stories. But, that hasn’t stopped Ginny from powerfully using her God-given gift of encouragement to bless my life.

When Audrey died, Ginny began writing me notes. And, two and a half years later, she hasn’t stopped. The notes are often short and sweet. They come at expected times—like birthdays and holidays. And, they come at unexpected times, too. They let me know she is thinking of me. They tell me she hasn’t forgotten my pain. They reassure me of God’s truth and inspire me to hold on to eternal things. They identify with me as a mother of little girls. They are simply amazing.

Ginny’s most recent note came after our church honored this year’s high school graduates. She said she had watched the proceedings and grieved for me, wondering if I was thinking about how I wouldn’t be able to see Audrey up there someday. I honestly hadn’t. But, I might have on a different day. I thought it was cool of her to venture a guess.

Maybe some others look at me on certain occasions like graduation and feel pity for me. Maybe some of them count their blessings and think about how glad they are not to be me. I would. Maybe some pray for me. But, not many near-strangers are willing to walk a minute in my shoes, if only in their hearts and minds, and then write to tell me so.

I have a super-star old-friend-turned-neighbor named Viki. This woman would jump in front of a bus for me. I know it. We finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes I think we share a brain. She has offered every practical help to me in the last 18 months that any human could offer, including keeping my kids for a week while my husband and I went away to Hawaii. Five days a week, while we walk on the treadmill together, she listens for an hour as I ramble on about whatever is in my head, even if it is repetitious, self-serving, or boring. Just a week ago, when I saw a chubby, blond two-year-old in a swimsuit who reminded me of Audrey, she held me in public while I cried. And, she cried, too. She has cried with me at least a hundred times.

Bryan and I have a super-star couple we can always count on named Aaron and Kristie. They are relatively new friends. Their twins were in Audrey’s Sunday school class when she was killed. The twins were only two at the time, but at five, they still talk about her. Aaron and Kristie decided at the time of our tragedy to be our friends, and they have pursued us and have found their way deep into our hearts. They are there to celebrate life and play with us and do everyday things with us. We laugh together. But, they are also unafraid to think about what we must be feeling and to walk with us in our pain. They brought us dinner on Audrey’s birthday this year when we just didn’t feel like having a party, entertaining people, and pretending to be happy. They initiate conversations about Audrey with us and let us tell the same five stories over and over again.

When they came home from Disney World in April, Aaron told us about meeting a dad who lost his son to war. He was wearing a hat that read, “My son gave all.” Aaron told us how he thanked the man for his son’s service to our country and proceeded to ask the man about his son. He credited us for teaching him how much people want to talk about their children, especially ones they’ve lost. Hearing stories like that make me feel like there is some purpose in our suffering.

If there is one thing God has given to Bryan and I, it is friends—good ones. My list could and should go on and on. But, my point—I really am getting to one—is that there is great healing power in walking alongside people for the long-haul. There is value in responding to a crisis when it happens. I could never thank people enough for what they did at the time of Audrey’s death. The body of Christ worked perfectly to meet our needs. But, just as many days have passed now since Audrey’s death as passed in her short life. And, newsflash: I’m still grieving. We still benefit from folks who minister to us in our loss.

Loss is a curious thing. It blindsides you in the present tense. I’m still trying to get over what happened in the past, sure. But, I’m also trying to deal with all the ways my past affects my present. And, not many people think about that. Who knows that eating lunch with my mom randomly made me think about the fact that I’ll never have grandchildren from Audrey? Who knows that I cried through Mary Claire’s dance recital because it made me sad I’d never get to see Audrey in a tutu? A select few who choose to ask.

As time passes, then, how do we practically continue to help those who have suffered loss? I have some ideas:

o Talk about the loss—whatever it is. Be specific.

o Write down the date of the loss. Don’t ever forget it. Remember the anniversary of a death, a miscarriage, a missed due date, a divorce, or a failed adoption. Trust me, the person who is grieving will.

o If the loss is a death

1. Talk about the person who died. Encourage others to do the same. Reminisce. Talk about what you miss. Anticipate Heaven together. Talk about what you will do when you see that person again.

2. If the loss is a death and you have ever grieved the person who died or thought about that person when the family wasn’t around, tell them. It is nice to know that the person you loved meant something to others, too.

3. If the loss is a death, ask to see pictures or videos of the person who
died. If you have any pictures or videos of the person, then by all means, copy them and pass them to the family. I guarantee they are sad they will never have current pictures, but ones that are simply “new-to-them” will be a great comfort.

o Encourage with God’s Word. It is the only thing that comforts. But, be aware that people who are grieving doubt and lose their faith temporarily and often. Let them know they are not alone and it is ok to feel that way.

o Ask the person who is grieving how the loss is affecting her at the present time. There will be a different answer to that question every day for the rest of this life.

o Venture a guess as to what the grieving person may be feeling or thinking. In my opinion, it is much better than ignoring her pain because you are not sure what to say. I frequently give an “E” for effort!
o Be sparing and discerning with advice.

o Pray for the grieving person and let her know when you do. Tell her what you prayed.

o Send notes, flowers, and gifts randomly. Any regular old day is a good day.

o Lather, rinse, repeat. Never ever give up!

I am grateful for Ginny’s notes, Viki’s tears, and Aaron and Kristie’s willingness to say Audrey’s name freely and often. They have been powerful communicators of God’s love in our life. More than that, they have taught me how to respond to others who are hurting. In fact, Ginny’s grandma is dying…with a lot of grace, I might add. I am in awe of her. I really need to go write and tell Ginny I think so.


Craig Weeks said...

What did I learn? That those who've lost someone *want* to talk about them. I'll try to remember that and act on it when the opportunity presents itself.

Victoria Tackett said...

I love you Sarah!! It is an honor to walk alongside you and your family yesterday, today, tomorrow and for many years to come! God carved out a special place in my heart for you many years ago. Our friendship of the heart is precious to me, and in the midst of your pain you have been faithful to encourage and walk alongside me through my own struggles and pain.

Cried more tears with you just reading as you wrote from your heart! God will continue to use this gift He has given you to bless and encourage all who read it.

I can't wait to cry those "Happy Tears" with you when we see Audrey in Heaven! That will be an Amazing Day!!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your words of wisdom, Sarah. You're a blessing! I'm looking forward to seeing you soon.
- Marian

Unknown said...

Beautifully said and yes, I agree that those who have experienced loss have not experienced forgetfulness and do need to talk. I gain so much from your blogs.