Three and a half weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I sat sobbing in the bathroom, the heavy weight of grief having propelled by body down onto the closed toilet lid. I had slept in, and awoke to news I knew was coming but was still 100% unprepared for.
My sobs were so loud that my husband heard and came quickly to my side.
“Jenny, what’s wrong? What happened?” He had to ask repeatedly because I couldn’t talk, couldn’t get my breath, couldn’t form a word. And I was mad, in that moment. Grief collided with anger and though I couldn’t speak, I could think, and I thought, “Why don’t you KNOW? Why are you asking me? Why are you going to make me say it??”
Because I didn’t want to say it. Then it would surely be real.
Finally I choked out, “E’s gone,” and I collapsed sobbing into his arms.
E is my friend Elizabeth. I knew she was on hospice, but thought maybe she had a week left. I wasn’t prepared to wake up that day and find out she had passed from this earth and into Jesus’ arms the night before. Ovarian cancer had hastened her exit, eight years after it first entered her life. She was cancer free for over six years (oh it hurts to say it) before it came back. Five years is generally considered cured, safe.
Friends, I never for one minute believed this would be the end of E’s earthly story. I guess that’s why it was a shock even though I knew the end was near. She was only 46 years old and leaves behind a husband and three kids: 13, 11, and 11.
I will never understand.
Five days later I sat, tear-streaked face once again, in a church pew with a broken heart, at a funeral. But it wasn’t E’s. There’s another beloved Elizabeth in my life, my brother’s wife, and I adore her. Her wonderful, sweet father passed away from cancer as well, just three hours before my E did. It seems so cruel to have lost them both the same night. And so that Saturday morning when I sat sobbing on the toilet, it was for my sister-in-law’s family as well. I love them very much, and her dad, Jim’s loss is so enormous, I cannot begin to describe it. Even though we have the hope of heaven, I cannot convey to you how incredibly sad his funeral was. It is so beyond heartbreaking that he is not here for the wife, kids, and grandkids he adored.
I cried through the whole thing, but especially as my 21-year-old nephew Charles spoke and communicated to us through tears how amazing Jim was as a grandfather. While he was talking, he told a story of how he’d totally broken down when he told one of his college buddies that his grandfather was dying. “I completely lost it,” he said.
And that’s when his friend said something amazing…something that brought my grief into focus. It did not dispel it, but it gave it a purpose beyond mourning, you could say.
As Charles poured and sobbed his heart out, in his friend’s dorm room, his buddy listened carefully. And then, he said something shocking:
“Wow, I’m really happy for you.”
As Charles explained it, he looked at his friend like “HUH? What are you talking about, Bro??”
And this college kid, wise beyond his years, said something to the effect of, “If you love your grandfather enough that you are breaking down in front of me, you must have a really amazing grandfather. I’m so happy for you, that you have such a great, caring grandpa in your life that makes you feel this strongly about losing him.”
Oh, how it hurts. But dangit if I’m not happy for him, too.
Fast forward another four days (though I promise you, they did not feel fast at all), and I’m sitting in the same church, at E’s funeral. I held the program in my hands, and as I read each line, I thought, “Nope, I don’t wanna see that. I don’t want to hear that person speak. I don’t want to listen to that person sing. I want to leave. I do NOT want to be here.”
Friends, I have never in my life had to fight the urge to RUN so hard as I did in those moments. Clutching my husband’s arm, praying for the strength to stay in my seat, while glancing over my shoulder at the door. It’s not that I didn’t want to honor E’s life…it’s that I didn’t want her to be dead. I did not want to be there because I wanted E to be HERE.
Then God threw me a bone, because He loves me so much, and the first words out of the first speaker’s mouth were, “I do not want to be here today.”
I was not alone.
It was an amazing service, and that phrase was repeated many times. When one of E’s 11-year-old sons rose to speak, I thought my grief for his loss would break me in half. It hurt so much, physically, to sit and listen.
But, oh! He had such a mother. And I’m happy for him. And I know that he’d choose her again and again even if he could choose another who could stay longer with him. He’d still choose E. And I’m so happy that he and his siblings had such a wonderful mom.
I am so happy for them.
They are grieving big because they all loved big.
And so am I.
I miss my friend. I wrote her a card a few days after Christmas and I can’t even remember what I wrote. Because I think I believed in my silly, denying heart, that it wouldn’t be the last thing I wrote to her. I know I said I loved her. But I can’t remember what else. It makes me crazy that I can’t remember. I wish I could go back and make sure it was profound. That the last thing she read from me would have truly let her know how much she means to me.
I am grieving still. I will for a long time. My loss is not as huge as her family’s loss, but it feels enormous.
However, God is good, and even in the midst of it, I’m happy for me. Because friend, it IS better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I’m happy that I had a friend who loved me so well, and whom I could love in return.
So if you’re grieving today, I’m happy for you. And I pray for your heart as it heals, that the mark your loved one left on it will, in time, bring you more joy than sadness. And I pray it for me, too.