When to Zip It.

Exactly a month ago, my mother died. She had a very short struggle with an incredibly aggressive cancer, and in six weeks went from diagnosis to leaving this earth and being with her Father. It was quite a journey, and I processed a lot of it over Facebook. The day before she died, this was my post:

The newest update on my mother is not promising. She is not well. She has sharply declined every few days, and the last one was drastic. This weekend she stopped eating, drinking, and just generally responding to anything. I am so, so grateful the kids were able to see her last week before this change. By all accounts, she will probably pass sometime this week. I cannot say what is in my heart right now, except that she has been the very best mother in the world, and the best example of a strong Christian woman that I could ever hope for.

Thank you to everyone who has issued prayers, well wishes, etc. They are very happily received. One thing, if I may, that is inappropriate……it is always inappropriate to comment that someone knows “exactly” how we feel. The truth is, we say this because we have all suffered loss and pain, and we want to identify with others and let them know that we have felt some semblance of the same. That is beautiful, and part of grieving together. However, no one knows exactly how this feels for us–nor should they. We would never expect nor desire that. It is not necessary, to be a good friend, to feel like you know what we’re going through. It is more than enough to pray for us, think about us, check in on us, and if you live close by, to bring a meal or watch the kids or take our trash can down to the road while we’re gone so we don’t stress about it from another state. If you are not near, to wish you could do these things to help. If you are part of our church, to give us grace and believe that once this storm is over for us, we will be able to give back some of the time and love that you have given so freely to us. Thank you, thank you to everyone who has done this. You are good people, good friends.

And thank you for continuing to pray for my mother’s last days on this earth to be peaceful and pain-free. Soon she will be standing in the presence of God, whom she has loved more than anyone else in this life, and she will have peace and joy that we can’t even imagine.

You may ask why I felt it necessary to write something like this. The day before, my sister had posted how difficult it was to be in the middle of loss again (my father died in a car accident 7 ½ years ago, and my grandmother had just passed away two weeks before). A college-aged young woman immediately responded, “I know EXACTLY how you feel—I lost my great-grandmother a few months ago, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.” So, it’s not the same. That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t experienced pain or that hers isn’t as “real,” it just means that it’s not the same. Nor should we expect it to be.

The next day, a few hours after my mom passed, I posted that I was heartbroken. I knew she was in heaven, I knew she was at peace, but it had been a fast, hard journey and I truly was in pain. A minister friend of mine who I’m sure meant well, sent me a private message that sounded…well, quite a lot like a sermon. He postulated and pontificated about the difference between grief and despair, citing x, y, z, Scripture reference #5, sermon point #2, and ending the whole thing [basically] with a shout out that Jesus lives!

So…my response was not very meek.

Going through the second loss of a parent, in this season of my life, as I pastor others who have been through similar things or maybe have no idea how I feel, I have learned a lot about when to zip it. In my pain, I never got irritated or indignant with anyone who didn’t know quite what to say, but gave me a hug. I never minded someone crying with me. It didn’t bother me in the least when someone offered to bring us a meal or watch the kids for a bit.

You know what got under my skin and made me want to punch people in the face? The answers. The answers to questions I wasn’t asking. I wasn’t questioning God, I was just in pain. I wasn’t angry at God—I know His goodness too well—but I was really, really tired. I wasn’t at the end of my Scripture rope, panicking that in just one moment I would be lacking that one last quotation and not be able to hang on……I just wanted to receive cards, texts, and “Wow, it’s been a tough couple of months”s. I just wanted a few people to figure out when to zip it.

So, well-meaning, Scripture-quoting, Bible-loving, answer-giving ministers, like me…In those moments when we rush to find another passage or talk about the resurrection, let’s pause to ask if that’s really what hurting people always need. If we look around for Jesus, we will find Him there, already on the scene, quietly weeping with His friends.

And that’s where we should be too.

4 Comments
  1. This is so the truth! After dealing with my own loss of a spouse and the never ending “godly” comments(yes they have a place), I just wanted people understand that grief is pain! Sometimes it’s tolerable others not so much. Dealing with loss has changed my outlook for others who struggle regardless of the situation. I don’t have a website but “blog” on my Facebook a lot of nothing else to help me deal. Good luck in your healing, each ones grief is as different as a finger print. You’re doing everything right!

    1. Thank you, Karin! I am so sorry for your loss, and thank you for the wisdom that you have to pass on in this area. Blessings!

  2. So well said! Thank you for this. Early in my ministry a mentor taught me the value of the “ministry of presence” in times of grief and loss. NO WORDS help, but love does. This is such a good teaching for those who feel awkward and cover their awkwardness with platitudes. Jesus was fully God and fully man. He knows grief isn’t attached to faith.
    Keep writing! I want to keep reading what you have to say!!

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