The Grace of Grieving in Community

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
— John 1:16

I am struggling to express how our Kara celebration was on her birthday. Some of the words I’ve used when asked are: lovely, perfect, sad, weird, heart-warming, encouraging, raw. Or, as I told Jason, “It just sucked, but it was good to be with others in the midst of the suckiness.” Not my most articulate/poetic moment…

Jill and I have texted back and forth—we can’t decide if it was a sweet, healing time or if it was just plain sad. Probably both. And as Justine said, the pain is still so raw that it was enough to just be in each other’s presence without any expectation.

When Alisha and I walked into Justine’s kitchen, our friends were already gathered, drinking sangria and laughing. That sight would make anybody’s heart sing. But then Jill turned to me and I could see that she had been crying. That, if possible, she had out-cried me that day. But still, being together with our puffy eyes and glasses of wine, Ali’s gorgeous cupcakes on the table and tulips all around…there was something almost magical about it. God’s grace abounded in that room.

Thinking I was already cried out for the day, I sat in the circle while we FaceTimed a couple gals into the conversation. Then Justine started the music—a playlist of a bunch of Kara’s favorite songs. Now, here is my disclaimer, and some of you may unfriend me after this confession, but Kara and I do not share the same taste in most music. When Justine and I were talking playlists, I could actually only come up with an artist or two. But hearing the Kara music—that first song! I don’t even know what it was, but the tears came.

Stories were told, hearts were shared, the time was sweet. Being with community in the midst of mourning is soothing and healing. Knowing you are not alone in the rawness of your pain, that you have community to help carry the hurt, provides hope. Seeing and hearing others process their grief encourages the heart.

We did a lot of laughing as well as crying that evening, sharing memories and sadnesses. It felt so good to laugh with friends through the tears. Ah, the grace of laughter! Somewhere between laughing and crying, I was struck that life had indeed continued without our Kara, that we had all managed to move forward, one foot in front of the other. That we were actually finding new normals, something I didn’t think possible for my own heart/life/family.

Typing this now, I think, Why didn’t we FaceTime Mickey in? What about Jonna? Anna?! The list goes on and on. But I know the answer deep inside: getting through that day and that evening was enough in and of itself. We were brave to gather in Kara’s name, and maybe we didn’t have room in our minds for anything else besides simply being there. We just needed to show up. Just showing up was enough. Just showing up made the difference to each others’ hearts, and that was a gift of grace for our brokenness.

I think next year’s celebration will be different. Maybe we’ll remember to FaceTime more people in. Maybe I will be able to talk more without falling apart. Maybe I’ll roll my eyes at the music instead of sobbing at the sound of the first chord. But maybe I’ll just show up; maybe that will be enough. Maybe it will be enough to trust that God’s grace shows up every time.

Where have you seen God’s grace in your life lately? Have you noticed it in the big things? The little, mundane things? What friends have helped you carry your burdens? Is there a friend whose heart could use some encouragement from you right now?