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Follow up: Don't Tell Me to Move On

Follow up to Don't Tell Me To Move On: 

I’ve wanted so badly to respond to the millions of you (3.2 million have seen it and more than 10,000 have written back) who have shared it, forwarded it, re-posted it, printed it, and handed it out to others, and written exquisitely kind and tender words of empathy to me and my family. However, I’ve simply been astonished by the volume of response and have been hesitant to interrupt the beauty of what was happening by posting something else. I don’t know how to interpret the volume of response other than to say it confirms what I suspected: Grief is a long, arduous, slow process and it deserves to be respected and supported, not minimized and condemned. Your responses both comfort me tremendously – clearly, I’m not alone – and break my heart; so many of you have said, “This is my story too; you’ve put into words what I feel.” You’ve told me about your sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, best friends, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and co-workers and how their deaths created such a well of pain and grief in your hearts; how the grief remains fresh and raw, and how much you wish “comforters” had been more sensitive to your grief. I can’t even begin to tell you what a privilege it is to “hold” your grief... I feel as though I’ve been given a sacred trust and I’m honored. I ache for your losses and send you my deepest compassion and prayers for God’s gentle touch to soothe, mend, and heal your hearts.

The thousands of responses have impacted me. I’m walking through life differently. Instead of plowing through the grocery store as fast as I can, I now walk the aisles praying for those who pass by me intent on their shopping. I can’t help but wonder what invisible sorrow accompanies them; who are they grieving for? Who are they desperately missing? I get fanciful and wonder what if we all wore armbands that way people do occasionally on sports teams – but what if these armbands were colored to match a grief. Blue for a baby or child who died. Yellow for a spouse. Green for a loved one lost through suicide. Red for a sibling. Purple for a best friend. I wonder if we wouldn’t all be wearing an armband of one color or the other... it would make it so much easier! We wouldn’t have to wonder whether or not someone was mourning – it would be right there on their arm for all to see – and I wonder if it wouldn’t make us all much more patient and considerate of each other because we wouldn’t be able to ignore the pain so plainly visible. Of course that isn’t ever going to happen, but its food for thought.

Another thought I’ve been contemplating the past two weeks is the way so many of you expressed the ways that your loss has negatively affected your life... how nothing has been the same... how you’re not at all the same person you used to be... how challenging it is to continue in daily life. Since I feel the same way at the one-year mark (April 5), I can’t help but get a little anxious about the future. I’ve started searching the Bible for verses that can encourage me to believe that my life isn’t ruined by our tragedy. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m spending a lot of time meditating on the book of Ezekiel. The Israelites were taken captive in Babylonia – the land was laid waste, their cities were decimated and plundered, the inhabitants enslaved. But in Ezekiel 36, God promises to make the land rich and productive again, to free the people, and to rebuild all that was demolished and ruined.

Yes, God, please. Please rebuild the “ruins” in our lives. Even though we often feel helpless in the ruins, YOU are not helpless among our ruins. Please bring freedom, productivity, and restoration once again. Show us how to LIVE even though some of those dearest to us are no longer here. We want to flourish again. Please.

Posted by Kay Warren with 0 Comments

Don't Tell Me to Move On

As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time... maybe forever.

Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive – so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.

Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”

None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions, and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.

Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Proverbs 17:17 LB).The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers... and they never say “Move on.”

Posted by Kay Warren with 0 Comments