It happens to all of us in this life, and our time was last week. Tragedy strikes and time stands still. A mind in shock responds the only way it knows how – by steeling itself against the blunt force of the psychological trauma.
We go numb. We stay busy. We stop eating and sleeping. We take care of the details of death.
Then as the shock wall slowly starts to crumble, we find ourselves trapped in a web of sticky emotions: anger, sadness, fear. All the usual suspects, each taking their turn pummeling the punching bag that is our soul.
When you’ve lived long and grieved often, you learn the ebbs and flows of loss, the patterns of pain – never comfortable but decidedly familiar.
Your stomach ties itself in knots; your brain buzzes with nothingness and breathing in and out feels like yeoman’s work. The minutes bleed into hours, then days, in one big blur. Your mind begs for answers, yearns for meaning that goes deeper than the anguish. Like a drowning man gasping for air in the middle of the ocean, we grasp for God when the grief is smothering.
But the only answer is deafening silence. It feels like nothing and no one could possibly pierce through the fog. But then they come. Not God, but his assistants.
They march up the driveway, laden with pans of lasagna and brownies, bent on being there.
They text encouragement, complete with copious amounts of prayer, heart, and kissy face emojis.
They send overpriced flowers they would never buy for themselves.
They hug you tight while you cry.
They pray through their own tears.
They pretend it’s normal to answer the door in your nightgown at 3pm.
These gestures alone – even all of them together – are wholly inadequate to change the circumstances or solve the problems of pain, and we all know it. Soup doesn’t dry tears. Flowers can’t unknot a stomach. Even heartfelt prayers feel like tumbleweeds blowing across a barren desert when we have suffered much.
But in ways I will never be able to explain, these little kindnesses slowly but surely morph into a healing salve. One by one, day by day, they provide the strength and sustenance a grieving soul needs.
So, bake the brownies. Send the emoji-ful texts. Hug and cry and listen and pray.
I know…you’re busy. It’s awkward. The situation is so complicated, so painful, that dropping off dinner might feel more like a slap in the face than a labor of love. Besides, it doesn’t fix anything, you’ll tell yourself.
You might be right.
I don’t know how the scent of fresh flowers heals a hurting heart, or how the taste of homemade brownies calms a muddled mind. I’ll never understand how arms wrapped tight around us evoke courage, or how simple prayers offered on our behalf when we are weak bring strength.
But as inadequate as they seem, and as inadequate as we feel to act as God’s assistants, these are the signs of life, the anchors for the soul, He has given us to console our fellow humans during the darkest days.
And then, when we are strong again, it will be our turn to pretend it’s normal to answer the door in one’s nightgown at 3pm.