Hope Amid Grief

 

383299_3169039791803_563211964_n

Me and my beloved Great-Gramma, Jon-Jont, at my 80’s themed 18th Birthday Party in 2012

 

 

It has been 10 months and 27 days since my great-grandma passed away. I’ve been waiting for the day to come when I don’t think about her or the pain ends, and it has not come. Each night I sleep under a blanket she made me, Timehop brings up her picture weekly, and I drive by her house when I go to Vermont on weekends. This grief is suffocating and unrelenting. But in this grief, I am able to cling to hope.

Grief Should Not Be Ignored

“That’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.” This is one of my favorite quotes from John Green’s novel “A Fault in Our Stars.” The main character, Hazel, is dying from complications of cancer and has fallen in love with another cancer-stricken teen. People try to tiptoe around their grief, around their impending death. But that pain that they’re feeling and living demands to be felt. So does mine, so does yours.

I wrote in an earlier blog post about the frustrations of tip-toeing around grief. People fear pain, I get it, and so instead of validating the pain they attempt to offer comfort, “She lived a great life,” “at least you had someone to love you that much.” These are both true, but they make me feel as if my pain is invalid. That I should feel guilty for not “getting over it” by now, 10 months and 27 days later. If you have ever experienced a deep loss, I’m sure you feel the same way. Grief should be embraced. You should yell. And cry. And break mugs. Yes, you must pick up the pieces and continue living the next day, but pain. Must. Be. Felt. Not ignored. And this is tough.

Hope Amongst Grief

I’ve been very open about my ups, downs, and doubts with my Christian faith. I left church for about a year when I was 18 due to deep pains I had suffered at the hands of fellow Christians that made me seriously wonder if I wanted to worship the same God they claimed to worship. I never stopped believing in God but I had serious doubts. I then got involved in a home church and came back to my faith. Then, during my junior year of college, I had doubts about the goodness of God. Maybe one day I’ll share that story here. Once again, I got involved with a pretty incredible prayer group, who listened to my pain, and, get this, told me it was okay to question God and His goodness because there is no question too big for God. God proved himself faithful. But, in both of these situations, I was pretty dependent upon the Church and not God alone.

When Jon-Jont died I clung to my faith, specifically the promises of my faith, in a way I had never had to before. After Jon-Jont’s death I woke up crying and went to be crying. But it was different. Despite my grief I had hope. I miss her deeply. I miss her smile, her witty humor, her laugh, and the safety and confidence in her love that I felt when I was with her. But after her death I never wished she was back here, because if being with the Creator of the Universe, the lover of my soul, is so awesome as I believe it to be, I could never want her to come back to this broken, faded world.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”~Jesus, John 14:2-4

In the above passage, Jesus is attempting to comfort his friends before he dies. The KJV text and other’s use the word “mansion” instead of rooms. However, scholarship suggests that this does not mean a literal mansion, but was instead used to indicate the availability of room and space available where God is, commonly referred to people as “Heaven.” The chapter goes on to explain that to know Jesus is to know God, and that God’s Holy Spirit is with believers here on Earth.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5:1-8

If you believe Christ Jesus is the Son of God and his death served as the atonement for our sins, when we die our soul is with God. What exactly does this look like, I’m not sure. Since God is outside of time and space do we go there immediately? Or does it just feel like we go there immediately? I don’t know. There are so many questions. But, as Christians, we can be confident that if we know Christ we will be with him, in a perfect place. And this gives us hope.

These deep pains we feel, this brokenness, this weight of sin and evil that we carry around, will dissolve. When I get to where I’m going, I’ll be honest, will I even seek out Jon-Jont? I kind of hope not. Here me out! I hope being with the Creator of the universe is so perfect, so complete, that I don’t see out anything other than Him. Will we recognize each other? Yes. Will we rejoice together? Yes. But reconnecting with loved ones will not be our main focus when we’re with God. In an odd way, the hope that this grief that I’m feeling will be so resolved, and I will be so completely satisfied, that I won’t seek out my love ones, but instead will bask in the glory and worship of God, brings me hope. Because this is what Jon-Jont is doing now. And, if she is doing this, how could I want her to come back here? To this broken place, where age was rotting her body and Alzheimer’s stealing her mind? I can’t. Instead, I can look forward with hope and expectation to the place where “everything sad becomes untrue.” 

Advertisements

What Not to Say to the Grieving: And What to Say Instead

prom jonjontMe and Jonjont family jonjont.jpg 228215_2068368035697_5221072_n 1909782_1097983016678_5650121_n

Hello, friends!

I’m writing with a heavy heart. Earlier this week one of the individuals I love most in the entire world died. I know it’s more socially acceptable to use terms such as “passed away,” because death seems like such a dirty, painful world. However, death, the dirty word that connotes suffering, pain, and the finality of separation is appropriate to describe how I feel.

My great-grandmother, known by us great-grandkids as Jon-Jont, was a remarkable woman. She was incredibly kind and encapsulated a true servant’s heart. She wasn’t a super hero, and by the world’s standards she did not do anything remarkable. However, she was ALWAYS willing to help others, even in the smallest ways. This theme, her willing to help everyone every way she could, was evident at her funeral yesterday: friends shared of the small things she had done for them that left an eternal impact.

Most importantly, she loved her family. Four generations of our family (her, her children, her grandchildren, and great grandchildren) all lived on a hill in our small town in Southern Vermont on land she and her husband gave to their children. She babysat all of us, and, as a result, I am closer to my second cousins than many of my friends are to their siblings.

She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and various health problems for the past few years, and hadn’t remembered my name in well over a year. However, the night she died, a miracle happened! She remembered my name, told me she knew Jesus, recited the 23rd Psalm from memory and had me pray with her. I have no doubt she is with Jesus. I  also have no doubt that being with God is so incredible  that she would have no desire to be back on this broken Earth.

All of that said, throughout this week I have been observing the ways various individuals have attempted to comfort me and my family, and support us through this difficult time. I want to share my thoughts with you. All of us will walk with a friend of family member through the painful journey of loss and grief, and I hope this can be an encouragement to you.

*Please note, I’m just going to be as raw and honest as possible.

First, why are you attempting to comfort someone?

It can be easy to want to post and say “I’m sorry for your loss” in a comment on a status announcing the death of loved one to make ourselves feel better. I get it, we feel socially obligated, or see all of our friends posting their condolences and want to do the same. However, if you’re about to offer condolences solely to make yourself feel better or less guilty, shut your mouth or don’t hit enter. If we begin to make grief about ourselves, and about the grieving, we are TOTALLY missing the point.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

We are told to weep with those who weep. I get it, grief is uncomfortable. Death is uncomfortable. When someone dies we are reminded of our own mortality and that one day we, and everyone we love, will die. Reading that sentence may have made you uncomfortable. When we comfort those who mourn we enter into their pain. It’s important to remember that we are there to help carry them through this extremelly difficult time, not to fulfill some social obligation.

I didn’t post about Jon-Jont’s death until the day after she died. I didn’t want to deal with superficial condolences. I didn’t want to read individuals write, “Let me know if you need anything,” when I knew they would not be willing to answer the phone at 3 a.m. and be silent as I cried.

all together

The last time Abby, Liv, Hannah and I were all together 2 years ago. Now we’re physically spread out throughout the country, but still close in heart.

me and sam

Sam is one of my oldest best friends, and has been there for me for every major loss in my life.

Instead, I reached out to my closest friends. Although, my four closest friends reached out to me before I even had time to try and contact them. My friend, Hannah, invited me to stay at her house the night Jon-Jont died. We shared a bed so she could be with me when I was crying at 3 a.m. and she went out of her way to make sure I was okay. My friend, Liv, called me from California and kept checking on me through texts and phone calls through the week. My friend, Abby, prayed with me on the phone and my best friend from high school, Sam, found a way to contact me from Central America where she was working for the week. I knew these girls would be willing to inconvenience themselves for me, and walk with me through the pain. I wanted to grieve with them.

Don’t Just Offer Words, Offer Actions

10354155_533380246798770_1944871473963154354_n

Jon-Jont’s family has been on our land for eight generations.

It’s easy to comment on a Facebook post. As I said above, it’s even trendy. Researchers have found that one of the most powerful things about Facebook is its ability to cause users to feel “left out.” Therefore, if you see a bunch of your friends posting on a status, you may feel obligated to.

Instead, go out of your way to contact the mourner directly. I am so thankful for the individual emails I received. Individuals taking the extra minute (literally, that’s it) to contact me privately and personally meant the world. Some of the kindest things my family and I received were cards in the mail from individuals out of town and phone calls. Some of these friends we had not spoken to in years. I bet they wondered if it would be weird for them to send a card or call. Please know, these phone calls and cards meant the most to us because they meant that you thought of us and put effort into contacting us. This meant so much. They did not type out a sentence because a status appeared on their news feed, but actually thought of us, filled out a card, and took it to the post office. The cost of the stamp and the card inside, even with just their name signed, meant the world to us, and it will mean the world to those you are comforting. Even better, bake a meal and bring it over. I guarantee you will feel more awkward than your friends. In the unlikely event that your presence is inconveniencing them they will let you know and accept the food (again, your comforting is about helping them, not you!) and the effort you put in will help them feel loved and supported.

Don’t Tip-Toe Around Death, But Do Be Sensitive

11223736_10208021860971227_6590120763080845736_o

Family pictures 2015

We know our love one died. We know they’re not coming back. Too many people tip-toe around the this fact because they’re afraid of upsetting the mourning individual. I have spoken with several individuals who said they didn’t want to”bring it up” and therefore didn’t want to mention it. You can be sensitive and still acknowledge the fact that your loved one is going through a deep loss.

Grief is Lonely and Lasting

1175603_323155314487932_1739517718_n

Grief is lonely. We live in a society that teaches us to be superficial, always happy, and that grief is only a few days. After all, many employers only give a few days off after the death of a spouse or child. Grieving is a process, and it’s important to to keep checking in with your friend. You won’t annoy them, they will appreciate that you care. One week, two weeks, a month, a year after the death, just send your loved one a quick note or text that you’re thinking of them, and ask if there’s anything you can do if you sincerely mean it. They will often feel “strange” that they are still grieving, as they wrongly believe they must be “over” the death within a few days. Your quick note or conversation will validate their hurt and help them to feel loved.

Don’t Say “It Could Have Been Worse” Instead, Validate the Grief

Please, validate grief. Saying things like, “She lived a good life” or “It could have been worse” are honestly not comforting. Again, we live in a society where grief is feared. Say things like, “I know you must be hurting” or “I know you must miss her.” If the mourner mentions she had a good life, agree with her, but you bringing this up causes the mourner to feel like she should not be sad.

13263869_10209948687740692_4904749441718414582_n

Since Jon-Jont didn’t get to see me graduate, I brought my cap and gown to the hospital to show her. She died later this day. It was a special moment.

I believe Jon-Jont died well. Honestly, she died the best way an individual could. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and had no idea who I was for the past 2 years. However, right before she passed she remembered who I was. She told me she loved me, we recited the 23rd Psalm together, and we prayed together. As I left the room she told me she would see me soon.

I am thankful of the hope we share in Christ, and I know that one day I will be rejoicing with her in the presence of Jesus.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Cor. 1:3-4

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

I continue to covet your prayers. Let’s continue to comfort each other!

Lots of love,

xoxo
❤ Krista