The gift of learning how to grieve

My mom died on the day of Kara’s passing, just 1 year later. I woke up the morning of March 22nd and knew that day would be the day Mom went to be with Jesus. For 4 days my dad, brother, sister, and I had sat vigil. She was alert and talking. In pain, but able to know which one of us was with her. She spoke to angels and she spoke to people on the other side of the veil. If I had heavenly eyes, I’m sure I would have seen the room filled with people we all loved, people who meant a lot to her. I lose my breath when I think of the way she rubbed my hand right up til the end, like she had always done.

She let her husband and children in that sacred space between Earth and Heaven. She did not ask us to leave when we wept at her bedside, she did not get annoyed when we peppered her with questions. Do you need more water? Do you see Jesus yet? Do you want to lay on your other side? Her friends near and far came to say goodbye. We sat, we sang hymns, we read scripture and prayed. We wept with her and we wept behind closed doors. She let us all into that space; it was her final gift to us. Her final act of mothering. Teaching us what it looks like to have faith til our last breath.

Before the sun rose on the 22nd she said to my dad, They are all here now. Three angels, too; they are knee high. Her great cloud of witnesses had gathered to take her to her everlasting Home. And three small angels to boot! I like to think they were small because whenever an angel appears in the Bible, their first words are, Don’t be afraid! Angels probably are frightening, but small angels? Maybe God sends those angels to the dying. Even though I heard that with my own two ears and saw my mom raise her hands in worship while her eyes were closed, I still have doubts. Oh me of little faith. My brain cannot seem to believe Mom’s story is over.

I get knots in my stomach when I think about seeing my mom pass into another life. The vacancy that quietly claimed her body was shocking, and it filled the room. It’s striking how the soul gives life to a body. It did not look like she was sleeping; she was gone.

When I woke up on Kara’s anniversary, thinking that Mom would die that day, I felt a tenderness from God. I had prayed that God would spare my mom from dying the same year as Kara, assuming it would be easier if they died in different years; I was wrong. I think no matter when my mom died, the grief would overwhelm me. But one gift of that year was that I learned how to grieve. Grieving Kara’s death alongside a tribe of women who are vulnerable and gracious and honest, hearing from them, seeing their pain and the way they dealt with it, was a good lesson for me. Having this year gave me time to see my own patterns, how grief jumps out, and how that pain plays out in my life. Even in death, Kara keeps teaching.

And that’s a gift I can give my children: the gift of learning how to grieve. The brokenness of this world will give us many opportunities to grieve. And not just grieve death—grieve broken friendships, divorce, mass shootings, death of dreams.

I want to be able to help my children navigate their emotions and understand the way grief plays out in their own hearts. To teach them how to take their grief to the Lord.

We don’t do this perfectly. There are times when my own grief is so heavy that I can’t seem to enter into my children’s grief with them; my husband gladly steps in at those times. I have to know my limits and my own processing.

We do talk about death a lot. We talk about Heaven, we talk about our sadness, we talk about if Mimi and Papa Joe are still married now that Mimi is in Heaven. And perhaps theologically wonky, we still pray for Mimi at dinner—our 5-year old consistently prays that Mimi is having a good time with Jesus.

We even talk about days when I don’t have a lot to give them because I’m sad. I ask them for extra grace those days and perhaps extra obedience because I’m very sad. They see me sad, they see me cry. We hold them when they cry late at night when their thoughts lead to Mimi. We don’t say everything is going to be alright because pain is pain and it won’t be alright until we all get to Heaven.

We also talk about the sad things we see in our everyday life. Homeless families, couples yelling in the streets, gunshots we hear, sadness we feel when people fail us. Trash and litter, squirrels eating our garden, unmet expectations. How do we as parents lean in to these conversations? We must mourn alongside our children, pointing to a better way, a hopeful way. We work with our children on how to bring that future place of glory into this place of brokenness.

We face brokenness in this world head on. We grieve that this is not the way it should be. We remind our children, like we often have to remind ourselves, one day all wrongs will be made right. All sadness will come untrue. Our grieving will become dancing.

Sharon Morginsky is a mom of four young kids and is a church planter’s wife in a very diverse and transitional part of the city of Denver. She has her Masters in Social Work and has a deep passion for racial reconciliation and healing of economic disparity. In her free time she enjoys being a doula, gardening, hiking, and writing, and is currently learning how to play the ukulele.