One Year: How Finding Community Can Help Us Survive Grief

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I walk with families every week who are saying goodbye to their baby or child. I’m personally no stranger to loss having lost three of my own children and my mother at a young age. While all losses are unique, there are some aspects of grief that we all share.

The first is acknowledgement:

We all need someone to meet us where we are in our pain…to recognize the hurt and just sit with us in it. We need acknowledgment and validation…not advice, not a quick fix. Because when we lose someone so precious and valuable to us, there is no quick fix. Every single life touches another, touches our world, in ways that ripple out to impact all of us. So every life is worth the missing ache that settles into each grieving heart when death separates us from those we love.

The second is that we need to know those we love are remembered.

One way we know they live on, besides knowing that their lives continue in heaven, is to keep their memory alive in our hearts. We need to tell their stories. We need to laugh and cry and remember every precious gift that changed the course of our lives, because they lived.

While grief can feel like our constant, unwelcome companion this side of heaven, this earth filled with so many goodbyes..fresh, raw grief brings with it an exceptional level of pain. This past spring, two teenage brothers from our small community were killed in a car accident coming back from a routine dentist appointment. They were the only children of their parents, beloved children…grandchildren…friends, talented athletes, excellent students…filled with kindness, joy, and abundant life. I stood with the students that day as they heard the words that stole their youth…their invincibility…their innocence. I held them and prayed. Among them was my son, one of the best friends of the 17 year old driver of the car, Xavier.

I never thought I would advocate on my son’s behalf to get permission to tattoo his untarnished body, but as I reflect on the last year, that day keeps coming to mind. I stood with him in the waiting area as the death metal singer screamed through the speakers. We handed them the artwork based on a wooden memorial built by our friend Josh, which stands outside of the school since the day of their funeral. I was surprised at the emotion, tears filling my eyes and pouring down my cheeks as the instrument permanently scarred his skin, drops of blood speckling his shoulder. It was such a raw picture of the way that his heart had been wounded and permanently scarred the day his friends died. And, I understood why he needed to have an outward reminder. I understood the depth of the brokenness and pain. I understood that boys and men need to physically do when they are hurting…and this act was something he could do. There is little comfort in feeling helpless.

What I have witnessed in the months since their tragic passing has solidified all that I believe about the hope and beauty that can be woven into the deepest, darkest places of brokenness and despair. You see, we were created with an infinite capacity to hope and to survive. I have watched our community literally walk with our dear friends, Brent and Michelle in their grief. I speak often about the analogy of carrying a heavy bucket. The weight is cumbersome and you grow weary under the burden of it. But, if a person comes alongside to help hold the bucket as they walk with you a little while, the weight doesn’t change; the bucket it still just as heavy…but the burden is less for the time it is shared. Grief is the same. The bible instructs us to bear one another’s burdens and that is exactly what I have witnessed in the ladies who take the time to literally walk with Michelle, meeting her wherever she is and the men who work alongside Brent. So many prayers lifted on their behalf. So many lives changed by the lives of their two amazing boys.

As we pray for Brent and Michelle and all who miss Xavier and Aidan today, I think of them spending this last year in heaven. We carry you with us in our hearts, sweet boys. We miss you and love you and every single person is better for having known you. I’m sure you get to see the good stuff from heaven and that you already know how incredible your parents are…how they continue to think of others, even in their pain. Your mother remains fierce in her love for you and your father continues to model the same incredible work ethic he taught you. Even in unspeakable pain, I have watched your mom keep stepping toward God, holding on to Him, as she tries to find a way to live without you. She often says she doesn’t know how you came to be so wonderful. But, we all see in both of your parents how you came to be so amazing…that the best of them shone in you. You both knew that already. But, I’ve just learned it in the last year. Like James always says, “God sent you here to teach us all how to live.” We will keep trying to remember that. And, we will always remember you.

I could go on and on about the beauty I have witnessed as my community has walked with Xavier and Aidan’s parents and one another through our extreme grief. But for this now, I just want to focus on a couple pieces of this journey. One…we need each other.  We are all rushing through this life, forgetting to focus on those we love, to soak in the precious and fleeting moments we get in this short time here. May we soak them in as we remember those who mean the most to us. At the end of a life, all that matters…all that is left is love. And, the other…is that what gets us through the hardest pain in this life is to find the courage (or pray for the courage) to keep stepping toward God…even in the midst of the pain. Even when we don’t remember how to keep breathing. He gives the grace we need for every moment…one breath at a time. One step at a time. We keep going. We keep telling their stories. We keep remembering. We live our best life…because they lived. We carry them with us…and they cheer us on from heaven.

 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37

 

 

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