Grief is a funny thing. We all experience it differently, respond to it differently, and let it impact us differently. Sometimes we let grief do its work and then we are done; sometimes the grief sneaks up on us; and sometimes the grief never fades, a constant companion. This week my grandmother passed away. We knew this call would come soon. I had taken my girls to see her months ago for a goodbye. She had been in Hospice and had stopped eating. But in the flurry of living – of clothes strewn about, water sloshing around, story-telling, cleaning, and brushing, the news of death was jarring. For a moment I thought I would wait – share the news with the girls at a more appropriate time. But then I remembered there is no appropriate time. Death happens when it happens, and its companion, grief, comes as it will.
My initial work was helping my girls navigate their grief. Upon receiving the news, my younger’s eyes got wide, and she was quick to assert that we needed to leave so that we could “take ‘Mee-maw’ to the hospital and take care of her.” I tried to explain that it was too late, but she insisted that if we rushed, we could help her. Once her disappointed face registered reality, she proclaimed, “Well, I’m not going to die!” Then began a conversation about mortality and eternal life. And a new level of grief began.
Meanwhile, the older child seemed to hold her thoughts and emotions at bay, being equally distracted by her sister’s reactions. We talked about it briefly as I tucked her in, and she seemed okay. The next morning, after I had dropped her off at camp and was heading back to my car, she ran back up to me and gave me a big hug and started crying. “I’m sad about what happened yesterday.” I honestly wasn’t sure what she was talking about until she explained her delayed reaction to Mee-maw’s death. Time stood still as we grieved together. A minute later, she was drying her face with the back of her hand and running to catch up with friends.
My own grief finally caught up with me as I watched an emotional movie later that night. The truth is, my grandmother was a complicated woman. She was the matriarch of the family who sometimes ruled with an iron first – even if you were only aware of her power subconsciously. She was intimidatingly smart, held a wealth of knowledge in her mind, and could talk to any stranger. I loved and respected her, and also saw her many flaws and the ways she hurt people. She was not really a loving, doting grandmother, but a woman who held everyone to high standards and pushed us to be our best. I was often afraid of the woman who insisted on the title “Grandmother Andrews.” But in these last years, I loved seeing her humanity as a new generation of greatgrandchildren called her “Mee-maw.”
As I wade through grief this week, I welcome your prayers. Even pastors need pastoring sometimes. But also know that I am praying for you and the ways in which grief continues to be your companion: for the grandparents, parents, spouses, and friends lost; for the marriages, jobs, and pregnancies lost; for the possibilities, dreams, and loves lost. You especially have my prayers as grief reminds us all of our own mortality. As you hold me, I also hold you in the promise of eternal life, a new reality in Christ Jesus. May that grounding strengthen each of us as we stand together in the already and the not yet.
Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants. Remember us, Lord, in mercy; nourish us with patience; comfort us with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance up us; and give us peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 467, amended)