My mom died a month ago, suddenly, in her sleep, just died. Did I mention it was a shock?
When something shocking happens, it sends us reeling in a way few other things can. In Baz Luhrmann’s famous graduation speech – Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen,) he says a line that has stuck with me and comes back to me at times like this:
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm
on some idle Tuesday.
I’ve been blindsided on a few idle Tuesday’s as I’m sure you have. It might be an unexpected death, losing your job, getting a bad diagnosis from the doctor, or being betrayed by a friend. It “knocks the wind out of you,” “pulls the rug out from under you” or otherwise “smacks you upside the head.” We spend a lot of time trying to find words to describe these experiences.
How do we handle it?
How can others help?
When Mom died, David and I spent the week following trying to find words for how we felt. I might say, “I feel like I’ve been beat with baseball bats,” or he’d say, “I’m totally fried.” Last week I had an experience that gave me the perfect metaphor for the shock I had experienced.
I was walking around a lake in Chicago, it was a beautiful day and I was noting how the forest around me had taken a beating during their rough winter. The ground was littered with broken branches. Ahead of me, the only other person in sight was a man on a backhoe removing some of the branches from a path. He was working away and since I was a lone woman in the middle of nowhere, I was doing a threat assessment. How fast could I run if he turned out to be a bad guy?
Suddenly, his backhoe hit something, there was a loud “bang” and as I looked up, a spray of some kind of liquid covered his entire torso, including a direct hit to his face. Then, it wasn’t about me anymore, it was about him. I ran up to see if he needed help. I thought maybe he’d just been scalded with boiling water from an overheated engine or something.
He was sputtering and wiping what turned out to be oil, from his face. He looked confused and was just trying to breathe and figure out if he was okay. My presence seemed to help comfort him and he found a hanky and wiped his eyes and face. We talked about what had happened, I described what I had seen and he was able to find a broken hose that had caused the trouble. I left him to it and later, on the way home from my walk, he was driving back in the opposite direction and waved.
It hit me then, that is exactly how I felt when mom died. I was working hard; David and I were loading the car for a trip to visit a student in Chico when I got the call. Suddenly I was stopped in my tracks by a blast of the unexpected. I was confused, sputtering, trying to breathe, and wondering if I would be okay. Many people rushed to us, offering Kleenex and casseroles. And life has forever moved in a different direction.
Yep, that’s how it felt for me; I’m wondering what words have been helpful in defining your grief?
And also, how did others help you?
A friend asked me today, “Where did you see God when all this was happening?” My answer was, through people. One friend came right over and sat with me while I filled out papers at the mortuary. Friends brought food, flowers and wine. One asked what we needed from the store. I said “Milk,” and she brought it right over. We were barraged by lovely cards, Facebook messages and offers of help. My kids were amazing, giving constant love and support. And for the memorial, I sent out an email to my friends asking them to bring food and never thought about it again. I never even went down into the church’s kitchen area until it was time to eat. Everything had been set up and the tables were laden with food. Yep, my friends were the hands and feet of God to us during our hardest time, and I feel rich indeed.
Now I feel better equipped to respond to others who get blindsided on an idle Tuesday. But everyone’s grief experience is different.
What have you found to be helpful?