Gifts for the Griever

by Lauraine Snelling

“How are you doing — really?” my pastor-friend asked. “It’s been three years since your daughter died, hasn’t it?”

I nodded. It would have been easy to say, “Oh, I’m fine,” but I had promised to be honest with him when he admitted needing help in his ministry to the grieving.

So I said, with tears welling up as they still do so easily, “It’s getting easier . . . most of the time.”

Success and sadness

Our family had moved out of state, and I was back to visit the church where we had reared our three children. The congregation had cheered Marie on and prayed for her healing when the cancer first struck her at age 15. We then enjoyed five fantastic years, praising God for healing her and helping her grow into a beautiful young woman. We even had a five-year anniversary party when the doctors said, “Still clear. You’re free.”

Five months later, the monster was back, raging through Marie’s system, seeming to feed on all the protocols the doctors tried. Another five months later, she died.

Gifts

Since then, I have experienced the most agonizing pain a mother can endure: the loss of her child. But I have been helped through that pain by four simple yet profound things — gifts, really — that I now share.

  • Please don’t be afraid of my tears. If you are, then I will be only more afraid of them. I can’t always control their arrival, but they aren’t the end of the world. Let me cry. Cry with me. The tears don’t last forever, and maybe we’ll both feel better.
  • At the same time, reach out and touch me. We all need hugs every day, but I, in my grief, need them more than ever. If I cling to you, don’t be embarrassed. You are God loving me through your hands and arms. Together we can be wrapped in a heavenly hug, and who knows what kind of hope and healing will arise?
  • Take the time to talk with me. Ask me how I am. Don’t let me get by with “fine,” because I’m not. Some days are definitely better than others, but the smallest word or thought or sight can bring the memories — and thus the pain — crashing back. Talking today will make talking tomorrow easier. And if I water the conversation with tears, don’t worry. They will dry up. We can even blow our noses and laugh together, because love and laughter lead us on down the road to wholeness.
  • They say that time heals all things. It won’t, however, if I let bitterness and anger take root. Anger is part of the grieving process, so I will be angry at times, even — or especially — at God. He didn’t take care of Marie “my way.” So don’t act shocked or offended if I am bold enough to share these frightening feelings with you.

Gentle pain

Through the passing of the years, the pain comes more gently. The bad memories, like an out-of-focus picture, are now soft around the edges. The hole that Marie’s death left in me no longer seems like a black hole in space, but more like a well with a bottom.

I had no idea how long the grieving process lasts until an elderly friend told me that she still feels the sorrow and pain of her own daughter’s dying twenty years ago. I guess mothers never lose their loneliness for that child.

So if you want to help me get through this trauma, take some time — that most valuable of commodities — to talk with me. Touch me and let our tears water a special bond that can grow between us. Like the new shoots of spring, healing will come — for all of us.

When Death Visits a Home