Thank you for your kind thoughts and words about the loss of my sister. I always appreciate it that you take time to read my thoughts, ponder it and use it in whatever way you can - whether it's identifying with loss and grief yourself, having a moment of gratitude for the people in your life, or just sympathizing with a pain you have never had to deal with before.
I have been asked, on occasion, what one should do or say when their friend is dealing with grief. I'll share some thoughts with you in case you ever need them.
When my sister first died, I was in a place in my life that was entirely non-conducive to grieving (which begs the question, what situation IS conducive?). I had just had a serious breakup with my boyfriend, I was living with my best friend and her family, and I had to start my first post-college job just days after the funeral. I was grappling with an intense pain and had almost no where to go to be alone with my grief. And when I was with my friends, I was surprised at the way they reacted to my grief, and the things even my best friends would say. I was surprised at the expectations they had of me just a few months after it all happened. People were frankly impatient and uncomfortable with the broken version of myself and really wanted me to sort of, well, get back to normal. They had their own ideas of how I should be, what I should do, how much or how often I should cry, and what activities I should resume and when. I just wanted solitude, and time, and for people to quit trying to make a permanently bad situation better.
Grief is not something you can fix, or even understand, or plan out. If you're going through it, you just have to go through it. And if a friend is going through it, you just have to let her. Call her to check in. Be there with a box of Kleenex and a listening ear and be prepared to feel uncomfortable at times. You may not know what to say. That's okay. Don't stress yourself out trying to make it all right. As long as your friend is not spiraling into destructive behavior (excessive drinking, suicidal thoughts, etc), then let her deal with it her way. As my spinning instructor always says, "This is YOUR ride." If you're dealing with a grieving friend, remember - this is her ride. And it may be a long one. Hang in there. She really does need you.
If you're one of the grieving ones, here's my best advice: Have patience with the living. One of the biggest tragedies of grief is the broken relationships it leaves in its wake. That's because grief is a necessarily self-absorbed process. The grieving person is going through an intense number and range of emotions. And the friends of the grieving are looking for a day when its not "all about you." Your friends and family are probably trying their best. They may say the wrong thing or rub you the wrong way. That's because it's a tough thing to be the friend of someone in such un-fixable pain. They want to make it better, and they can't. So have some patience with them, too. And keep this in mind: the hole in your heart cannot be filled by any friend, family member, or addiction. This is LOSS. The only one who can truly help you heal is God. So don't look for His mercy and grace in any person or thing on this earth. You will only be disappointed.
I ran across this page in a book that I thought I'd share with you. If your friend is grieving, this a good example of re-framing your approach to him or her. If you are the grieving one, I encourage you to give this to your friends.
What Can I Say to My Grieving Friend?
Instead of: "I know exactly how you feel." Try: "I can only imagine what you're going through."
Instead of: "At least he doesn't have to suffer anymore." Try: "He suffered through a lot, didn't he?"
Instead of: "It's God's will." Try: "One comfort I find is God's promise to never abandon us."
Instead of: "She wouldn't want you to grieve." Try: "It's hard to say good-bye, isn't it?"
Instead of: "You can't be angry with God." Try: "God understands even when we're upset."
Instead of: "At least you have other family members." [or any other "at least," for that matter] Try: "There's no way to replace the one you've lost, is there?"
Instead of: "Don't you think it's time to get on with living your life?" Try: "Everyone has to grieve in their own way, don't they?"
Instead of: "Don't talk about the funeral--it will only make you sad." Try: "We can talk about whatever you want."
Instead of: "Time heals all wounds." Try: "Time will lessen the pain, but you'll always have a part of him/her with you."
Instead of: "You've got to be strong." Try: "I want you to know you can be yourself around me"
Excerpt from the book Disrupted: Finding God in Illness & Loss by Virgil M. Fry, Houston, TX
For most of you, today is just May 22, 2008. For me, for my family, for those who love her, it's nine years. The first few years after she died I approached this day with dread, and I couldn't help but count back the hours as if they were happening again (right about now I was getting the first call...right about now I was on a plane...right about now I prayed over her body in the hospital). Every time I saw a LifeFlight helicopter in the air, every time I had to re-pack my "Lora boxes" for another move and rifle through the sympathy cards and newspapers and other paper memories, every time I heard the words "car crash" and "fatality" in the same sentence on the news, I would cry.
Time has healed a lot of that raw pain and for the most part I have moved past the tragic-ness of it. The crash, the coma, the fact that it was such an abrupt end to a life full - full - of love and joy and youth and hopes and promise. I have finally accepted my life without her. And I cling to the things I can do, hold, remember - to still feel connected to her. My daughters carry her names, her pictures are peppered around the house, I still wear her hat on bad hair days, and I carry this Bible she gave me for graduation just two weeks before she died.
Isn't that something? It was her last gift to me. A Bible that she had pored over to highlight favorite verses, organized by category. Can you tell she wanted to be a teacher?
You see that last category - "Hope; comfort; courage and strength"?
I read it at her memorial in Ohio, the day after her death. It was one of her favorites. It was her way of life, and her hope for her future after death. And its my peace and comfort now that she's gone. For years this page was bookmarked with a Kleenex tissue from the service.
I cling to memories, often reliving them as I think to the years ahead with my girls. One of my favorite "things" besides the Bible is this envelope from the card she gave me that same day.
They're some of her favorite memories as a kid, scribbled out for me to laugh at. This one is hilarious. Sometime during the elementary school years, we got to pick out the carpet for our rooms. Lora picked green. Kelly green. Why? Because she had a Cabbage Patch Kids comforter and she thought it would make a nice "grassy lawn" for them. I loved to chide her about that one.
I told you I used to make up "assignments" for her. I loved playing "Teacher." She mostly hated it, but endured it nevertheless. Actually, it was during one such assignment that she discovered a hidden talent for poetry. In fact, as a teen she wrote a beautiful poem for the family of a dying father who could not speak. Someday I'll share it with you.
Do you get the feeling I was a bit, er, bossy growing up? We loved to pretend the sidewalks were actual roads and I had an assortment of rules for the road, none of which she cared to follow.
Anyway, it all makes me laugh and cry at the same time. There's something about losing a sibling - the person who was there all your life, who could remember and commiserate or commemorate all those moments. She was my other half for eighteen years. I won't ever be over it. But I've learned to live with it.
And while I'm pausing to talk about her life and her death, I should note here that this was a big day for several families. Today nine years ago four ailing people and their families got the news that their long wait was over. They would receive an organ. Her heart, her kidney, her liver - all went to help save lives. It was a tough decision that my mom was forced to make on her own while waiting for me and my father to get to the hospital. And it was a decision we are proud of and encourage others to make as well. Lora was, above everything else, a giver. She would be ecstatic to know that such painful circumstances bore life and happiness for someone else.
I miss you, Sis. Deeply, terribly, painfully miss you.
Let's see, a Bumbo seat on the table, fire within inches of the infant...can you tell she's a second child? Maybe the recycled "3" from Evyn's last birthday gives it away. Poor second children. They always get the leftovers.
We're trying to be sugar-conscious around here so we opted for sugar-free jello in place of the usual cake. She got her first tooth yesterday. So everything is a chew-toy of sorts.
Evyn instantly got all she's-making-a-mess! on me and promptly whipped out a paper towel. She comes by it honestly. Usually sticky messes give me the icky-grody somebody-please-wipe-that-kid-up willies, too. But this time I just sat back and enjoyed the gooey mess. A kid only turns six months once.
Kind of hard to believe that its been six months since I've had a real night's sleep. But our littlest princess turned six months this week. We'll throw her a little family party with a cake and a few of her own toys wrapped up for fun (we wrapped up E's favorite tv remote for her six month party).
It's amazing how they turn into themselves sometimes overnight. Their face changes, they're suddenly aware of things, or they're capable of something they weren't before.
Her feet express as much as her face does; her left foot curls when she's thinking or observing. But now she's as aware of it as we are and she loves to grab the little piggies. She'll babble - but only when the room is mostly quiet. She'd rather observe, intently, than participate. And I still can't get over all that hair. Happy six months, little girl.
Maybe it's just her personality. Or my idle parenting philosophy. Or both. Whatever the reason, my E. loves her alone-ness just as much as she likes to spend time with me. When she was just a tot and J. was deployed, I'd bring her to my room when she woke up and shut the door and let her play while I rested for a while longer. She'd scribble on some paper. Talk to herself. Read her books. Sing. Scribble some more. She's always been able to entertain herself. And now that she's a little older, that translates into lots of story-telling--between her Barbies, between two sticks, between her feet--whatever props are available--but always for the benefit of no one but herself. She loves it if you tune in, but she's just as happy to be alone in her own world. There was a time when I worried about that a little. Am I paying enough attention to her? Does she feel loved? Should I be doing more with her? Basically, Am I screwing up my child?
I still worry about that a little, but for the most part I've come to appreciate it. After all, I was very similar growing up. I always had my nose in a book, or in a craft, or some other project, be it alphabetizing my books or rearranging my room or planning assignments - yes, assignments - for my little sister.
I think its a healthy skill to be able to be alone in our own company sometimes. To tune out the clutter and noise and busy-ness, retreat to ourselves, and just be - creative, at peace, in prayer, or contemplation - whatever we need. Solitude can take on so many forms. I think of sewing, rock climbing, thrifting, jogging, blogging, or in my daughter's case: a moment on the porch with a Cinderella figurine.
I hope she'll always be this happy by herself. She'll need to be. Right now I govern most moments of her day with routines and guidance and Hello Kitty bandaids and kisses. But there will come a time when I can't quiet the noise for her--that rattling of things and people and tasks, expectations and even heartbreak. When I can't do it for her, I hope she can do it for herself. With a little time by herself.