Kay's Blog


in Grief

From the Front Row

Last night when I spoke to the women of NorthPointe Community Church in Fresno, I told them that grief has changed me, that I’m not the same person I was before Matthew took his life 21 months ago. I shared with them how I used to sit on the front row at church where I could encourage Rick with my presence, laugh at his jokes, give him the stink eye when he said something inappropriate, and give him the “cut” sign when he preached too long... the front row has been “my place” for nearly 35 years. But when Matthew died, church became a strange and unfamiliar place – not because of our congregation, but because of ME. The worship songs fell on my broken heart like sharp knives that cut me open even further – the words of healing and hope and victory contrasted with the bitter reality of Matthew’s violent death. The crowds were frightening and overwhelming – I could barely access comfort for myself, let alone come up with up one shred of energy to comfort anyone else. I felt like everyone was staring at me, watching my every move (whether they were or not), and on more than one occasion I climbed over friends and family in a frantic scramble to get outside before my sobs turned into wails.

I eventually came back to weekly services, but with my posse of my mother, my daughter and son and their spouses, Rick’s sister, small group friends, and other close friends surrounding me in the back of the worship center, near a door. In the loving, supportive, protective cocoon of these loved ones, I explored singing again, often tightly gripping the hand of someone who loves me. Frequently I stood silently with warm tears coursing down my cheeks when the lyrics of a worship song touched an aching place deep inside. I started taking notes on the sermon outline, although it took all my effort to focus on what was being said rather than let my thoughts wander sorrowfully to our loss. I could see my former front row seat – vacant – week after week. I knew that one day I would be ready to move back to the front row, but I had no idea when that momentous day would arrive. As I told the women just last night, I’m not ready – and I don’t know when I will be.

In these 21 months Rick has never said a complaining word about my absence from my cheering section on the front row; he understands and shares my grief, and knows that only something catastrophic would keep me from “my place.” But TODAY... he hesitantly asked if I would sit in the front again, unsure of my response. Today he needed me. Today he was tired and weary and needed my physical presence in his line of sight. Today he needed to be able to catch my eye from the stage and read the love and support in my face. I was surprised that he asked... surprised that I had to make a decision... surprised that I found myself inwardly protesting. I thought it was a husband/wife decision about leaving the safe, comforting, protective cocoon of my loved ones who sit with me in the back - but I quickly realized it was really a God-follower/God issue.

Today I had a choice: trust that the God who loves me would never ask me to do something that is not ultimately for my good, or decide that what God was asking was beyond my ability to say yes. God was asking me to trust Him and His timing – to believe that even though I didn’t think I was ready to transition from hiddenness to the more exposed, vulnerable spot on front row, He knew I was. He – more than anyone else ever can or will – knows the internal journey of mourning and grief, and He can see where and when the next leaps of faith must occur for me to continue healing. 

I gazed into Rick’s face, pondering the unexpected request... and then glanced down at the bracelet I was wearing. Engraved on five connected links were the words from Philippians 4:8: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” I had my answer. No uncertainty. No more hesitation. I would leave the sweet place of safety and refuge, and joyfully step back into the spotlight  for my beloved husband, but also for my beloved Savior – totally trusting that the strength I needed to “leap” from the back of the Worship Center to the front would be given to me as I took the first step.

And so from the front row tonight, January 17, 2015 – 21 months and 12 days after Matthew died – I smiled at my husband preaching so bravely and powerfully on the stage, laughed at his jokes, and took copious notes. I raised my arms in highest praise to the God who conquered death and defeated the grave and sang hallelujah through my tears. All through Him who gives me strength.

Posted by Kay Warren with 0 Comments
in Grief

Christmas Cards

Ugh. It’s THAT time of year again  the “Hap, Happiest Season of All.” Unless, of course, you’re grieving the loss of your child. There are painful reminders every single day of what has been lost, but the avalanche of Christmas cards sent by well-meaning family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and random businesses you’ve frequented take the knife that is in your heart and give it a hard twist. Believe me – I know the intent of every card sender – I’ve sent my fair share of cards through the years – so I am certain that no one ever MEANS to wound or cause pain. But on behalf of grieving parents (and others), let me give you a few words of advice: please, please, please be sensitive and look at your card through the eyes of the person on the receiving end. 

Christmas 2013 was our first Christmas without Matthew – I could barely breathe or hold it together in the grocery store, let alone the mall. So I stayed away. The internet became my friend as I shopped late at night in front of a screen without the repetitive sentimental mall music stirring up memories of Christmases past... Christmases where all three of my children were alive. I avoided people, places, and events that were sure to intensify my pain.

But the cards came uninvited into my mailbox every day. I hadn’t thought about the cards – hadn’t pegged them as emotional triggers ahead of time, and so when I opened the first batch, a wave of shock washed over me. Photo cards of beautiful, happy, INTACT families cascaded onto my kitchen table, most with a printed greeting wishing me a “Joyous Christmas.” Some had a scribbled handwritten signature and the words ”Hope you have a great Christmas.” Some sent their standard family newsletter, full of all the accomplishments, fabulous vacations, delightful family moments, etc that had filled the past year for them. What I quickly realized in astonishment and then anger was that none mentioned our grief... no one seemed aware that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier leaving us definitely NOT having a joyous or great Christmas. And then I opened a card that said, “I can’t imagine how difficult this first Christmas without Matthew is going to be for your family; you are in my prayers.” I forgave the other overly cheerful parts of her card because at least she had the sensitivity and kindness to acknowledge our loss and to let us know we were being remembered in prayers.

I thought that perhaps this first batch of cards were atypical – that surely, most people would be like the kind friend and say SOMETHING that let us know they were aware of how excruciatingly painful Christmas was going to be – but that isn’t what happened. Each day, another batch of cards arrived with the vast majority giving no thought to the stabbing pain their lack of sensitivity was causing. It didn’t take long before plucking the mail out of the mailbox became a task I left to Rick – and the cards remained unopened in the traditional iron sleigh that has cradled our cherished Christmas cards through the years until after Christmas was past. When I finally opened them up weeks later, I tore through them with angry tears pouring down my cheeks as I separated them into three piles: ones that didn’t mention our grief at all, ones that said a quick “Praying for you” and ones that contained soothing, comforting, loving, thoughtful words of compassion and empathy. The third stack was the smallest. 

I thought that maybe I was just overly sensitive last year – so immersed in the freshness of our loss that everything was like scraping a raw, open wound. I hoped this year I’d feel differently. But I opened the first Christmas card a few days ago – a one-sided, artistically designed card on heavy paper stock... with a printed signature from a pastor I don’t even know. I threw it away. 

What I’m trying to convey is this: please THINK about the recipient before you send a greeting card this year. If you’ve taken the obligatory picture of the “happy family,” consider sending instead a plain card to a grieving family – one that doesn’t smack them in the face with a reminder of how life used to be for them. Tell them in a few words that you are aware of how painful Christmas can be and that you are praying for them – tell them you love them and that you are with them in shared sorrow. Yes, it’s inconvenient – it will take more time than your rushed signature, and it will require entering into someone else’s loss, mourning, grief, and anger at a time when the world pretends that all our “troubles will be out of sight.” 

Christmas may always have a sting... I don’t know. My friend whose little girl was murdered two years ago in December says Christmas will never be the same. This is only my second Christmas without Matthew. What I do know is I miss my son. He loved Christmas. And I love him. 

So, on behalf of grieving parents everywhere, if you aren’t willing to modify your way of sending cards for a while, please do us a favor and take us off your list.

Posted by Kay Warren with 0 Comments

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