Sometimes we’re at a loss for words and don’t know what to say to the grieving. We want to say the right words to bring comfort. Yet, often the less said the better. The one grieving is struggling to take it all in, finding their attention span is limited. While life around them continues on its merry way, unfairly it seems to the grieving, their immediate world has come to a screeching halt. Unsure of the next step, they often move forward in pain-filled autopilot mode. I well remember…
Though the steps of grief are typically similar, they’re not the same for everyone. A numbness or denial might be followed by a sense of guilt, the “if only” stage as I call it. You might feel anger at the cause of death, or that God did not answer prayers for healing. Perhaps depression sets in as you face life without your loved one. But, one day you realize acceptance and a healing sense of peace have touched your heart.
The only way to truly understand someone’s loss is to mourn and grieve with them. Awash with empathy, love comes alive when your heart awakens to sharing another’s pain, to be there for them and to feel their sorrow. May you know that God has put you there in His place to shelter and hold His beloved as an emissary of His love.
My poem below was written a month before my dad passed in April 2015. Not able to visit him several states away, a lifetime of memories came to mind as his life drew to a close. But, I also recalled the days when our 25-year-old married daughter, Jennifer, passed away in June 2003. Many people shared our grief in tangible ways as they shed tears with ours, shared joys in remembering a life well lived, and simply gave their loving support with kind words, food, and cards. Actually, it was a summer with many family losses, including my mother-in-law six weeks after Jenn.
Ed’s uncle the week before Jenn, … a cousin’s son two weeks later, and two weeks later by my step-sister’s daughter and three of her friends in a fiery crash when hit from behind.
There’s no preparing for your loss. You may realize their illness is terminal and know the end is coming as we knew with my dad and mother-in-law. You can begin to prepare yourself for the loss to come, but you cannot anticipate the depth of your feelings in the actual loss.
On the other hand, you may have no warning as it was with Jenn. Her collapse was so unexpected. Ending life support and saying our final goodbye was not easy. In sharing our grief, friends and family sat with us in the hospital, sharing memories, and writing Scripture on the board in our conference room. Their presence meant much to us, as did that of our neighbor, Mark Stevens, owner of the golf course, formerly my husband’s family farm. Seeing me on my garden bench the day after Jenn died, he sat with me and shared the quiet time just to show how much he cared. Out of respect for our sorrow, he also stopped all construction on the golf course that day.
In the days and weeks to come, emotions were up and down, and we’d often find ourselves deluged in tears. Yet, there was also joy in recalling a life well lived. I found solace in writing about her life and passing, including the growing-up years of all three of our children, recalling the fun and love they shared in an unpublished manuscript, “Watch Them.” Writing was cathartic, a healing release as I came to terms with accepting this loss and change in our family. Her life’s history was written in God’s book long before she was held in my arms at birth. The Lord took something so painful to reveal how His great love allows, and yet overcomes, our earthly sorrows. Like the tremendous sense of peace and comfort that washed over me when reading Psalm 139:13-16 on a beautiful plaque in Rochester International Airport. Likely placed in honor of the unborn, God knew how much those verses would mean to me and our family in the days and years to come.
As a Houghton College grad unafraid to share her faith, two of her Alfred University friends accepted Christ following her death. Because of Jenn’s witness to them of God’s love, they readily testified with Scripture of their faith at Alfred University’s memorial service. Despite their mocking her for not going to bars, Jenn invited them to her home to work on their Master’s psychology projects, sharing her delicious home-cooked meals and desserts. From her love for them, and for how tenderly she worked with troubled children, her friends saw her inner beauty and wanted to know more. God’s love gently shone through in Jenn’s love for them.
Crying so hard I could barely see as I typed, these words poured out of my heart like a cleansing release. “At times I am overwhelmed with thinking that God, our Great God, took the time to give us so many special reminders of His awesome presence in our lives. But, then really, it should not surprise me that He would care so much for each one of us… that we are so loved and so special to Him… that He would know our every need and handle them in such a way that would mean the most to each of us… that He would reveal His tender loving care in such a difficult and painful loss through Scripture, special visions, and through our loving family and friends. God was always here, loving us through our pain.” (“Watch Them…” by Linda A. Roorda, 2004, p.9)
There is something to be said about the bonds of friendship and love which are strengthened during life’s deepest sorrow. In that time of quiet, when the one mourning is simply unable to voice their deepest pain, there’s no need for words. But through your act of love in simply being there, your presence brings peace to the hurting. This poem, then, is a tribute to each of you who supported us, and a tribute to each of you as you support others in their grief.
In Silence You Sat
Linda A. Roorda
In silence you left like a shooting star.
You lived your life full, a blessing to all.
Where once you sat, an image lingers.
Where once your voice spoke, now silence replies.
In silence you sat holding my hand close.
You heard my sobs and shared my heart’s cry.
You did not voice your thoughts for my pain
But in this moment your silence spoke well.
The warm embrace as hands tightly held
The soul in pain, the heart sinking low,
You wrapped your love like a blanket warm
Around my heart to share my sorrow.
Your silence spoke its volumes of love
Your presence gave joy where none could be felt.
Your smile gave light and hope far beyond
A glimmer of life and meaning through pain.
As days pass by and the world moves on
Life’s little routines bring normalcy home.
But never forgot is the time you sat
In silence to hold my heart in your hand.
With tears for a season was this grief expressed
For you taught us well the lessons of life.
As memories linger from a time held dear
Where grief overwhelmed, God’s peace comforts and sustains.
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May not be reproduced without permission of author.
Initially published as “When Grief Overwhelms” in the “Faith Nurture” section of The Network, the online resource of the Christian Reformed Church of North America.