This past weekend was Oktoberfest in my hometown. As the day wrapped up, I ran into a woman I had not seen in years. Her family was in 4-H the same time I was and my dad farmed near their home. She had been the accompanist for many of the musicals and school concerts I had participated in throughout my teenage years and I was delighted to get a chance to say hello.
She asked about my children and I said what I usually say, “We have six, but our 5th child, Emily, died a year and a half ago.” (yes, it sounds a bit rehearsed because sometimes you just need something rehearsed to lean on)
And then she said something that took my breath away and immediately brought the tears to the surface…
“I know what that is like.”
I had forgotten.
I had forgotten that her middle son…fair-haired, smart, quiet, wonderful Todd…had died of cancer as a second grader.
And in that second between her words and my regaining my composure, I remembered.
I remembered her son’s life and I remembered her son’s death and I said…
“Yes, you do.”
There is a bond between those who have lost children that supercedes other relationships.
And then there is another kind of bond. It is with the people who dare to step foot into that pit of grief with you…the ones who meet you where you live…the ones who go the extra mile and get dirty. Those people, be they friends or family or strangers, they are the ones who never expect anything from you, never try to make your grief less than what it is, and never make not knowing what to say an excuse for saying nothing at all.
Recently, Molly Piper wrote a post entitled, “Make a Decision to Love: Educate Yourself” that speaks to the need of loving those who grieve by learning more about their grief. Molly recounts her feelings upon reading the inscription of a book given to her by a friend,
I could hardly read his words through the thick tears in my eyes. All I could say over and over, through my sobbing was, “He read the book. He read the book!”
What was a single guy with no children doing reading a book about stillbirth? I’ll tell you what he was doing. He was loving me in one of the most profound ways I’ve experienced from a friend since Felicity died.
Molly’s friend got dirty. He stepped outside his comfort zone and he stepped into the pit with her. No, he doesn’t truly understand what she feels, but he cares enough about her as a grieving mother to want to.
Grief ain’t pretty. It doesn’t sit nicely on the mantle, it doesn’t tie up neatly with the words The End, and it doesn’t shove everything black to the back of the closet after a year. It startles at certain sounds and smells, it keeps company with guilt and fear, and it remembers when everyone else forgets. And honestly, no one wants to go near it.
But a few will.
Like the woman who checks your daughter’s grave to make sure the weeds are trimmed back from the marker, or the man who says your child’s name with heartfelt emotion as he looks you straight in the eye. It’s the doctor who cries with you and the nurse who changes shifts to come to the funeral. It’s the strangers who piece together a quilt for you and the friends who continue to check in on you long after everyone has returned to their normal lives.
These people are precious…
because for a moment in time, they grieve with you, and as they hold your heartache in their arms they don’t even see just how dirty this grief is…
because they love you…
grief and all.