Recently I heard about a friend who has lost a parent. Immediately, my heart was broken – for her, for her family, for the other parent. I thought about reaching out to her, but I knew that words would fall short of what I was trying to say. Words always seem to fail us at the times we need them most.
But here is what I said in my head.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s not fair. There will be a hole in your heart for the rest of your life and while it will never go away or get smaller, you will adapt and learn how to survive with it still there.
These next few days will be the whirlwind. Your phone will blow up with messages, your Facebook feed will bring tears to your eyes. People will literally come out of the woodwork and want to be with you – to bring their condolences, to cook you meals, to play with your kids. You will feel numb and exhausted. You will want them all to leave while wanting them all to stay.
There’s so much to do. The obituary must be written, friends must be notified, the funeral must be planned. What songs do you want? Who do you want to speak? What kind of program do you want? Which casket? Flowers? Bible verses? What clothes do you want your parent to wear? Don’t forget shoes.
You’ll be so busy making decisions, answering the phone, and taking care of your kids that it will almost feel like you don’t have time to grieve. But at night, when you’re putting your kids in bed and it’s dark, you may sob. Silently, so your kids can’t hear you, but with great big tears that the pillow is wet and your face is splotchy. It may feel as though an anvil is sitting on your chest and you’ll wonder how on earth you will get up in the morning and do it all again.
This may feel like the hardest part of the process, but I’m not sure it really is. You’re surrounded by people, your refrigerator is full of casseroles, and you are just putting one foot in front of the other. It is hard. But it may get harder.
When the extended family goes home, the people stop coming, and the meals slowly get eaten, you’ll still be grieving. And the quiet will come. You’ll have more time to think and it will feel unfair – and you might want to ask how the world could keep on turning without your parent. Your child may reach a new milestone – complete a project, take a first step, have a birthday – and you’ll feel joy and sadness in a way that you never thought possible. How can you be so happy for your child and so sad that your parent isn’t around to see it? I don’t know, but it happened to me.
And then time will continue to pass. The school year will finish, seasons will change, holidays will come and go. You’ll have to live through all those difficult “firsts” – the first birthday without your parent, the first Easter, the first Christmas. People may not ask as much how you are doing, they may seem to have moved on. It will feel like you’re not allowed to feel sad anymore, like it’s been enough time for you to have moved on as well.
This is, of course, completely untrue.
These have been some of my hardest moments. I’ve felt (albeit wrongly) that I’m the only one still sad, the only one still suffering. It makes you feel incredibly lonely and jealous – of those who still have two parents, of those who seem to be happy, of those who seem to have it easier than you.
This is the time to lean on those who really and truly want to be there for you. They haven’t forgotten, they want to listen, they know that you are sad and they understand. When you find these relationships, hold onto them tightly, because they are few and far between. They will remember the anniversary of your parent’s death, they will call.
This is also the time to pour your heart out to the Lord. Open your Bible, read it slowly, savor the words. Tell Him how you’re feeling – lost, lonely, anxious, sad. I come back to certain Psalms over and over again and find comfort every time.
Today is the third anniversary of my mother’s death. I keep thinking that on this day three years ago, I woke up and had a mother. And then I went to sleep that night without one.
I’ve thought about the phone call I got that morning from my aunt, telling me to get dressed and come up there as soon as I could. I think about my other aunt driving in from out of town and making it right before we lost my mother. I think about the way she looked, the way she breathed, the way it felt to take off her wedding ring. I tell you all of this not to depress you, or make you feel sorry for me, but to say – it has been three years and I am still sad. There is no timeline for grief, no logic. I have ups and downs, joy and sadness. But the Lord is my constant. He gives me new mercies every morning. His steadfast love never ceases.
There is grief in the whirlwind and in the quiet. I just wanted you to know that. I am sorry for your loss. I wish you didn’t have to go through it. But the Lord will walk with you, He will carry you when you can walk no longer. And those people that He brings into your life, while they will never replace your parent – they will remind you how to breathe, how to love, how to feel joy once again.