The church is in the center of a small town, the kind that’s a combination of boarded up windows and cute boutiques selling soaps with ribbons around them or antiques repainted turquoise.
The foyer smells like hymnals and old coffee, the conversation is at a level just above a murmur, the sentiments shared sound like, “I’m sorry for your loss” and “He was a good man.” The funeral service is sweet, the music country, the eulogies short and tearful. Then we all eat casseroles with cream-of-something in them because that’s how southerners comfort each other.
Later, as we’re all standing around making awkward small talk, someone says they wish they could stop the widow from feeling this loss. Someone else says gently, “She has to do her own grieving.”
This strikes me as true in my bones. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy,” said wise Solomon (Proverbs 14:10 NLT). It’s a hard truth because we want to take on or take away each other’s sorrow. We want to say, “Here, give me that pain, and I’ll feel it for you.” We want to offer, “I’ll shed those tears in your place.” But we all have to skin our own knees, make our own mistakes, and put people in the ground that we love then walk back into our ordinary lives.
When we refuse to embrace that we each must do our own grieving, we end up desperately trying to make each other feel better. We start spouting off spiritual cliches, becoming rescuers in unhealthy ways, or carrying around the weight of the world until it almost snaps our souls in half. One of the toughest parts of being human is coming to understand we can’t protect each other from pain all the time. But this doesn’t mean we can’t do anything at all.
We can still show up and be present in the pain. We can say, “I see you. I hear you. I know this is hard.”
We can let people express their emotions in our presence. We can bear witness to the tears, anger, or longing without judgment or hurry.
We can ask, “How can I love you well right now?” and listen, really listen, to the answer. Then do whatever that is, whether it’s mowing the lawn or making someone laugh, calling once a week or giving space, hugging with both arms or bringing a pan of warm brownies.
We can be patient and remember healing is a process not an event. We can stay in it for the long haul because hearts don’t keep track of time; it takes as long as it’s takes.
I was at a funeral that day but all of this applies to any type of loss — a dream, relationship, opportunity, hope, job, anything we’re attached to and must let go. To be human is to release what we long for over and over again. To be human is also to take hold of the people we love and say, “We are in this together. I cannot do this for you, but I will do it with you. You are not alone.”
At the end of the reception I walk outside into a blue-sky day. “How can the world just go on?” my husband asks. I don’t know, but somehow it does. And, inexplicably, so do we.
We keep walking each other Home.
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