My healthy, beautiful baby boy had died in his sleep.
I found him lifeless and amidst screams of terror and a 911 call and pleas for help to come quickly and CPR attempts, I knew he was gone.
An ambulance ride and hospital waiting room later, what I already knew to be true was confirmed.
My son had died.
No explanation. No answers. Just an empty cradle. And a broken heart.
I remember every detail of November 15th as if it were just moments ago, but one of the most striking memories, even years later, is how everyone I knew put their life on hold to be with us that day and for many days following. Family and friends who had walked alongside us for years and people I barely knew all surrounding us that day, filling the living room where we sat, the most difficult and uncomfortable of circumstances, they sat there. Not afraid of the silence or the tears or of all the unknowns. Not afraid of the uncomfortable. Not afraid of the mess. Not afraid to hurt alongside us.
The last 8 years have been spent, in one way or another, navigating a new normal, one that includes this story of grief and memories such as these. I am not defined by the loss of my son, but my life did change on November 15. My son’s life and his death and all the days that followed have helped to shape me, the way I see the world, the way I see you, the way I see your pain. And the way I see hope amidst darkness.
I have learned much on this grief journey and I am certain there is still more to learn but today I want to encourage you with this thought: you are free to sit in the mess.
To the one grieving, you are free to sit in the mess; to sit in the grief; the pain. Let it wash over you. It’s ok to just be sad sometimes. It’s ok to let the tears fall. It’s ok to hurt and long for your child. It’s ok to wrestle with hard questions. It’s ok to be uncomfortable.
We live in a culture that strives for and pursues perfection. Perfect circumstances and perfect experiences. So when the uncomfortable or difficult or tragic happen we shy away from embracing that which feels messy. I love perfect and I hate messy. As a result it has taken me 8 years to give myself the freedom to mourn in an honest way. To allow myself the freedom to sit in the grief for a minute without pushing forward to the next thing so as to not have to deal with the pain. To allow myself the freedom to wrestle through hard memories that break my heart and hard questions to a God who could have stopped this.
Friend, you are free to sit in the mess. Not forever, because forever would be to grieve with no hope, and we grieve with hope–hope of a future that is not in this world (1 Thessalonians 4.13). But for now or for a moment tomorrow and for an entire day next week or on the hard birthdays and anniversaries in the years to come, feel the freedom to mourn. Hear this friend: it’s ok for you to not be ok.
And to the friend of one who is grieving, you are free to sit in the mess; to sit with her in her grief while you are grieving alongside her. It’s ok for you to not have answers or words or ever know the right thing to say. It’s ok for you to sit in silence with her. It’s ok for you to pray for her and not even know what to pray for. It’s ok for you to cry too. She doesn’t need you to have it all figured out. When she’s asking hard questions she doesn’t expect you to give her answers, she just desperately wants someone to hear her, to tell her she’s not crazy and that one day she will laugh again. You being willing and available to sit in the uncomfortable and messy right beside her is all she needs.
Psalm 77 and this sermon ministered to my heart in the days leading up to this hard anniversary. May they bring you freedom as well.
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah