You probably already know of the tragic losses my family experienced in August. We headed to Kansas City mid-August to get Kristen's lung surgery out of the way before cold and flu season hit. We were so careful with her exposure to others, knowing that an infection in her right lung would eliminate the possibility of thoracoscopically (minimally invasively) removing the pulmonary sequestration that she was born with. The excess lung tissue needed to be removed, and we certainly didn't want the doctors to have to open up her chest to do it. Despite a picture-perfect operation, an equipment malfunction caused a vein to tear. The very last step in an extremely long journey didn't go as we planned, and we lost our baby girl on August 17th. Just four days later, my mother had a heart attack and died. The waves of grief continue to sweep over me from two different storms.
I've asked many different "Why?" questions over these last months. One that's been on my mind recently is, "Why are we, even as Christians, so inadequately prepared to deal with death?" Since the Fall, physical death has been a part of life on this earth. For something that will affect all of us at one time or another, why are we so ill-equipped to face it? I don't have an answer, but I do have some suggestions on ways to help someone who's experienced the loss of a loved one.
First of all, don't be afraid to say the loved one's name. Just the mention of the person's name may bring tears, but it's okay. For me, to hear someone else speak of Kristen means that she hasn't been forgotten. I certainly will never forget, but to think that others will makes the hurt sting that much more.
Secondly, don't ignore the situation. There are some who are very careful to not say anything at all about the loss of Kristen or my mom. It’s likely that they've never experienced the loss of someone close and simply don't know what to say, or they think that bringing it up will cause more pain. Even if you've never experienced death up close, you can be a source of help. Acknowledge the loss...give a hug, make a phone call, send a note, write an e-mail, send a text message! A simple “I'm sorry, I don't know what to say”or “I'm thinking of you” or “I'm still praying for you” truly means so much.
People often feel helpless in situations where someone they know has lost a loved one. You can help in some very tangible ways-- bringing a meal over, shopping for groceries, cleaning house, etc. We've experienced an outpouring of all these things, and more, and they have been so helpful and very much appreciated. Knowing that my family’s basic needs were being taken care of allowed me the time I needed to at least begin to sort out the events that have unfolded in our lives. No one on earth can provide the one thing I want most--to have Kristen back in my arms, but all that is unfulfilled here will one day be redeemed in heaven.
Be careful about offering statements like, “I know just how you feel.” Will and I lost the same daughter; my brother and I lost the same mother, but each of us had different relationships with Kristen and my mom. There is, however, a kind of kinship among those who have experienced loss firsthand. Those who have been there do understand, but only God truly knows what we feel. Those who are grieving the sudden loss of a loved one have likely been shaken to their core. They probably will not seem like themselves, but give them some latitude to find their legs again. Giving unsolicited advice can come across the wrong way. Being told, “You’ll feel better if you keep busy,” will likely not be any kind of help or a comfort to someone who’s wondering how they’re going to make it through the next minute or hour or day.
Understand that grief is not like the flu...you don't get over it. It's a miry, mucky mess that a person who has lost a loved one just has to go through. There are no shortcuts or detours. You can't make the journey for someone else. Everyone's journey is as unique as they are. You can--and should--pray that God gives that person the grace to make it through each day until they get to the other side. Be there to support them in whatever they might need from you. They will be grateful.
Despite the tragedies we’ve experienced this year, we have been blessed with so much…the addition of a beautiful daughter to our family, three months of memories with Kristen to cherish, watching Emily and Grace grow into the young ladies God created them to be, feeling the love of our church family and so many loved ones who have rallied around us (and continue to do so) during this very difficult season of our lives. God is very present and working here! We may never understand His plan this side of heaven, but we can rest in His promises. Yes, we grieve, we ache, we cry, but we do them all with HOPE.
Deuteronomy 31:8None of us can change what has happened in the past. All of us, however, can change what happens next. If your relationship with God is not what you know in your heart it should be…if who you are is not the person you know that God created you to be, then change. Seek the One who created you. Seek the One who loved you enough to die for your sins. Seek Him. The first part of Isaiah 40:26 says, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens.” That’s what Kristen did so often, and I pray that we all will take her cue.
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
May you have a blessed Christmas,
Kim (on behalf of Will, Emily, Grace…and Kristen)