Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grieving These First Six Months

Today marks six months since Mama went home to Jesus. I’ve learned some things about grieving in these days.

I’ve learned, with God’s grace, I’m stronger than I thought. I’ve often wondered how I would ever go on when she passed. And yet I have. I’ve continued getting up each morning. Some days, especially early on, I didn’t get much done, through the weight of emotions, but I did get up. I did keep living.

And I was surprised I was able to buy and wrap Christmas presents even while I was planning Mama’s memorial service. I actually spoke at her service, something I never thought I’d be able to do.

I’ve learned I’m also more emotional than I knew. I can go along seeming fine, and a thought or word or picture of Mama can suddenly bring tears to my eyes. I mist and leak often. I choke up when sharing stories. I’ve learned that’s okay. It’s the new normal.

I’ve learned that genuine sympathy from others is healing. Each card that we received with a personal note in it was a comfort and read multiple times. Each meal or flower or gift given out of a caring heart made a difference.

I’ve learned it’s never too late to send a card or kind word. And that it’s worth the effort to buy the card and stamp and find the address and get the card in the mail. Because whenever it comes, even months after someone passes, it will bless a grieving heart to know they and their loved one are remembered.

I’ve learned that people who show up at memorial services help carry the burden of grief, and make it lighter and more bearable for the family. There is a tangible comfort in the presence of people who care enough to show up.

I’ve learned that when people you expected don’t show up, and/or don’t express care and concern, it can add to the pain and loss. As a friend said years ago at his mom’s funeral, “You find out who cares.” And you’re surprised by some that apparently don’t.

I’ve learned that when people share memories of your loved one it is such a gift. And that when relatives drive a thousand miles and risk ice storms to be with you, it is a priceless comfort.

I’ve learned that when you start misting up at odd times, people don’t really know what to do. But they don’t have to do anything. A sympathetic look is all that’s needed.

I’ve learned that even though I prayerfully did my best for Mama, and sought advice, I still wonder at times if I did all I could, or if I should have done some things differently. “What if…” questions sometimes taunt me. I have to remind myself that we were praying for wisdom. I have to picture Mama’s peaceful smile when she passed.

I’ve learned to remember Mama in my daily blessings. I think of her when I read the Bible she and Daddy gave me, the one her signature is barely legible in, because dementia had taken a toll. I think of her when I stir up her chocolate cake recipe or smell lilacs or see petunias.

I smile and cry when I look at old photographs. I feel her love when I notice our dresses in an old photo are made with the same fabric, and realize that she sewed the mom and daughter dresses…emblems of her mama-love.

I sense Mama’s delight in babies, as I play with my own granddaughters. I feel her smiling with me as I play with their toes, sing Jesus Loves Me, hug them close, or push them in a swing. Her legacy lives on.

I’ve learned that heaven is more real and precious to me than ever. And that knowing Mama is with Jesus in paradise, with no pain or tears, is the sweetest comfort of all. And knowing that all who trust in Jesus will be together with Him for eternity, is the greatest gift of all.

I’ve learned some things about grieving in the past six months. And on the toughest days I remember what Mama said a week before she passed, “God is here. He is bigger.”  I’ve learned these words are true. And I’m thankful.

 

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Looking for Blessings in the Shadow of Mourning

I’ve been ready to cry on and off all day. And it’s a little confusing.

Today is the birthday of one of my mama’s brothers. She had eight brothers and two sisters. Now four of her siblings are still with us on this earth. Uncle Don lives in the deep south, where Mama was raised. I haven’t seen him for probably nine years, separated as we are by over a thousand miles. We don’t talk on the phone. And though I send Christmas cards most years, he never does.

But I’ve always been so fond of him. He is such a sweet man, tall and thin and cheerful. He has such a soothing southern accent and has always been so gentle and kind. And today, I can’t think about him without choking up. And I’m trying to figure out why. I have shed tears often enough for aunts and uncles who have passed on. But he is living, and healthy as far as I know, so this is new territory for me.

I’m guessing it’s another shadow of mourning. Because I can’t picture Uncle Don without also seeing Mom, younger and full of life and smiling and laughing. She so loved her family. She would visit whenever she got the chance, even if it meant sleeping in a leaky tent to get there. And she would call them, before free long distance was ever an option.

But now Mama is gone. One aunt and uncle came to her memorial service, but the others couldn’t. And they are so far away. I wonder if I’ll see them again this side of heaven. And I guess a part of me feels like if I could hug them, I would be hugging Mama again. And I type this through tears I don’t quite understand.

I tried calling Uncle Don to say happy birthday. I thought Mama would like that. But he didn’t answer and didn’t have voice mail set up either. It’s probably just as well because I think I would have burst into tears and he would have wondered what crazy woman was on the phone with him.

Oh, this road of grieving is full of surprises. I’m thankful I’m not walking it alone. I have family and friends who care and who listen. And Jesus is with me, too. And He is the one who said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NKJV).

I find comfort in His Word and in prayer. I find comfort in spending time with His people and in reading the messages and cards people have sent me. I have comfort in knowing that Mama is with Him now and that I will see her again and for always.

I have comfort in knowing that Mama has loving siblings that miss her here on earth, and others that are keeping her company in Heaven.

And I take comfort in knowing that Jesus, too, wept. And that He never said, “Don’t mourn.” But He did say that I’ll find blessing and comfort when I do.

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Finding the Riches in Mourning

It has been a little over a month since my Mama passed on to the presence of Jesus. I continue to learn about grieving. And about how tears can flood your eyes because of the littlest memory. Or because of nothing at all. It’s an emotional time.

I was at a group last week for church. A woman I believe is older than me, talked about her mother. And I confess, I fought a little jealousy that she still had her mom. And I got a card from a friend’s mom, who is in her nineties, and still able to think clearly and give advice and help to her daughter. She wrote such an eloquent note on the card. It made me wonder what it would be like to be my age and still have a mama’s wisdom and guidance. I marveled at how rich my friend is to be so blessed.

The thought hits me sometimes that I don’t have a mom anymore. And I feel instantly sad and lonely and lost. But then I remind myself, I still do have a mother. She’s just in her true Home now. She’s healed and well and in the presence of Jesus. And I will see her again, and for eternity!

It helped me to read this part of a sermon,  “Fallen Asleep” Sermon #2659, January 29, 1882, by Charles Spurgeon, from the book We Shall See God by Randy Alcorn:

Did you ever notice, concerning Job’s children, that when God gave him twice as much substance as he had before, he gave him only the same number of children as he formerly had? The Lord gave him twice as much gold and twice as much of all sorts of property, but he only gave him the exact number of children he had before. Why did he not give the patriarch double the number of children as well as twice the number of cattle? Why, because God regarded his children who had died as being Job’s still.

They were dead to Job’s eye, but they were visible to Job’s faith. God numbered them still as part of Job’s family, and if you carefully count up how many children Job had, you will find that he had twice as many in the end as he had in the beginning. In the same way, consider your friends who are asleep in Christ as still yours — not a single one is lost.

Mama is not lost. She is still mine. I still have a mother. I always will.

And my Dad is still here on earth with me. Though I’ve mostly been concerned about him and trying to take care of him, today he called me. And he asked me how I was and how I’d slept and what was going on. When I told him I was tired, he told me to go take a nap. And as I hung up the phone, I realized…I’m rich, too.

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The Best Gift this Year

I thought we had finished opening presents. We were just hanging out and cooing over grandchildren and nibbling cookies, when my baby brother, James, and his wife Beth, handed me a card. I opened it and read Merry Christmas or something like that. They kept looking at me like I should react more. Someone said, “You have to look under that piece of wrapping paper taped there.”

I lifted the flap and saw a picture of a pregnancy ultrasound and screamed with delight! More family crowded in the dining room at the sound of my screams and the rejoicing spread! I hugged Beth and James and told them I get some credit for this baby because I’ve been praying– pretty much daily for a couple years.

And then I cried. Tears of joy. And tears of sorrow– wishing Mom was here to know she had another grandchild on the way. A grandchild that can grow up surrounded by her great-grandchildren! And then I was comforted with the thought, Mama’s legacy lives on.

A part of her is with us in each baby. In each life. And I’m confident that Mama is joining in our rejoicing from heaven. And, besides the reality of Jesus and all that Christmas means, it was the best gift this Christmas!

A few days later my sister-in-law told me that Mama was the first one to hear this exciting news. James told her right after he found out. I wonder how much of it she comprehended at the time. And I picture her delighting with her own Mama over the news now!

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Both photos are of Mom with my baby brother.

Christmas Mourning

     I’m missing Mama so much today. Having a day of tears in between trying to get some things done. It is such a strange mix to have Christmas and mourning together. But how much deeper would our grieving be if we had never had Christmas and all that it means. I can’t imagine.
     So I call Social Security and wait on hold for forty minutes to tell them Mama has passed, as I’m surrounded by boxes and gifts that need to be wrapped. And I tuck thank you notes, for meals and memorial gifts, into Christmas cards. And I open an envelope of death certificates that came in the same mail with a mix of sympathy cards and Christmas greetings.
     And I miss Mama. I think about our last week or so together. The last way that Mama really communicated to me, when she had lost her ability to speak, was holding onto my hand. A few days before she died she still had such strength. She would grip my hand so tightly it would almost hurt. Sometimes I’d have to move and pull my hand away for a minute, and it was actually difficult to do. I marveled at her strength.
    And then I missed it, that last day or so, when her hand no longer squeezed mine. I’d slip my hand under hers, so I could feel like she was touching me. And I’d hold her hand, but receive no pressure back.
     This is a tough Christmas. But I keep reminding myself of one of the last things Mama said to my daughter, “God is here. He is bigger.” I say that to myself often these days.
     And I was wondering what the last words she said to me were, that were responsive. So I just looked back at some notes… On December first I had said, “I love you, Mama.”
And Mama had answered, “I know that.”
     And I smile through tears and am thankful.
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