Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of my parents’ deaths. As that date approaches (looms?), several things stand out to me about those days of intense grief, specifically how others responded to the news. I was 20 and a junior in college; college is a tough time to lose your parents for many reasons, but one is that your peers, although technically adults, don’t have much life experience and really don’t know how to respond. They say and do, well, clumsy things… One of the most clumsy things said to me was a gal who told me she understood how I felt losing my mother and father because her boyfriend had just broken up with her. I imagine she later thought about that and felt really lame, but plenty of adults said things that were hurtful, too, like, I guess God needed another angel (for the record, when you die, you don’t become an angel—there is no place in the Bible that says that) or They’re in a better place. I couldn’t imagine a better place for a mother to be than with her five children, especially as I comforted my 12- and 14-year-old siblings.
But there are many beautiful things that stand out about that time, like how my closest school friends, Caroline, Jackie, and Tiffany, worked so hard to make sure I didn’t have to walk to class alone or sit alone in the cafeteria. There was something really difficult about being by myself in public, and they knew that and tried their best to be present with me. My RD had a knack for knowing the loneliest times (usually the weekends when my roommates were home with their families) and would drop by with his toddler just to say hello. His wife would offer specific practical help, like doing my laundry. My buddy Tim would stop by on his way home from class almost every day just to check in and make sure I was all right.
My sisters and I often marveled at how the grownups knew to do so many things to do at the house, like answering the phone and designating a specific notepad for jotting down messages. One friend offered to make telephone calls to close family and friends to spare us the heartbreak. Mr. and Mrs. Kenney kept us in supply of paper supplies—toilet paper, paper napkins, paper cups—knowing how many people would be in and out of the house and how quickly we would run out of all of that. And God bless the brilliant people who gifted us with gift cards to restaurants instead of casseroles (that was a new thing back then, and it was much appreciated!).
So I suppose this is why, when I was meeting a friend for coffee a couple of months back, she found me in a puddle of tears after I had finished the Introduction (IntroDUCtion, people!!) of Nancy Guthrie’s book, What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts). In those few pages, I found a safe place where others understood the insensitive comments I have fielded over the last 20 years, the invisible hurts and griefs I’ve endured because of my parents’ absences, and the ache in my heart for people to understand that all I’ve wanted was to not feel so alone in my sorrow. But more than that, I found a place that understands my own desire to love others well, my own fears when I’ve encountered grieving people, and the awkwardness I’ve felt when others have shared their grief with me.
Very shortly after my parents died, my friend Tiffany’s beloved grandpa died. I was clumsy and awkward and disappointing. For almost 20 years I have felt regret at how poorly I navigated that season of grief with Tiffany. I should have been an expert, and yet, I felt just as helpless as anyone else. Since then, I’ve walked many losses with many friends, feeling just as clumsy and helpless and awkward each time, despite my deep desire to love and comfort well. I wish I had this book. I’ve been waiting 20 years for this book.
Crossway has gifted us with three copies of What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) for a giveaway. Thank you, Crossway! I am incredibly excited about this! If I could, I would buy each of you a copy. Anyway, to enter, all you have to do is leave a comment. That’s it. Just leave a comment. It could be a story of your own grief or why you’re interested in this book or why you think it’s a helpful resource. Or just leave your name—that’s enough, too. We’ll leave it open through June 30 before randomly selecting the three winners.