March 1st is a day I’ll never forget. It was on this day in 2013 that my sweet, courageous and loving mom breathed her last breath here on earth. In that moment, everything I’d ever known drastically changed and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.
It had been a long five weeks in hospice with so much uncertainty about when that final moment would finally come. During that time I had said goodbye to my mom many times, so I really thought I was prepared for the loss that was waiting for me.
But despite whether you have time to say goodbye or zero time at all, I don’t think you can ever really be prepared. Death is just so final, and the loss that comes along with it is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.
Just for a little context, my mom went through a twelve-year battle with cancer that began when I was in middle school. Although watching my mom fight for her life was difficult for me, I had this deep faith that told me everything would be ok in the end. And it always was. Three different times the cancer came back, and I just knew each time that everything was going to work out in the end. But when we received the news the cancer was back in 2012 it felt different and I think my entire family began holding our breaths, as we knew her body was tired and we would need a miracle. I prayed many prayers that God wouldn’t take my mom from me and that He would step in and do what only He could.
That however wasn’t how the story went and ultimately I didn’t get the ending I hadhoped for. Instead my mom went on to be with Jesus and I was left with a void, I’m learning will never be filled, and the harsh reality that life would never be the same again.
Very early on in the grieving process someone gave me the advice to just do the next thing and that was very helpful in those first days and months after my mom passed.
Sometimes the next thing was just to get out of bed or to take a shower. In the beginning I couldn’t think past the next thing.
I just had to do one thing at a time and let that be ok. This was helpful because it took all the pressure off. I did not have to perform or be anything but right where I was. I made it through those days one thing at a time.
I never knew this about myself, but what I wanted most was to be around people. I hated being alone and wanted someone close enough to be touching me basically at all times. My friends and family were amazing and they stepped into these spaces with such ease. I don’t think I was alone very often at all and I found great comfort in that. In fact, looking back I see God’s faithfulness over and over again in the way that He used the people around me. Every time I felt like I could not handle one more thing there was always someone there to help pick me up both literally and figuratively.
Those first days were extremely hard but what I think became even harder was a year or so down the road. Once the dust settled a little more it became more clear to me that I was stuck somewhere between wishing things could just go back to normal and knowing that could never happen.
Life looked so different and I was having such a hard time coming to terms with that. I don’t remember anyone directly telling me it was time to move on but I began to feel this pressure to be at a certain point in my healing and I was over and over again missing this mark.
This unrealistic expectation on myself also started to bring so much shame.
I’ve spent a lot of time processing why the 2-3 year mark after my mom passed was so hard for me. At first it didn’t make sense because I felt like I had made it through the initial hurdle. Like I had somehow survived the worst already. But it got extremely dark for a while and I think there were several reasons why.
First of all, I wasn’t honest with myself or anyone else around me. Like I mentioned earlier, I began to believe I should be further along in my healing. So it became less and less likely that I would actually be honest to those around me about how I was truly feeling. And man, pretending to be ok when you are not is so exhausting.
Truth was, I felt extremely let down by God but I was too afraid to admit that to anyone, including myself.
Sadly I knew all the right things to say, but that meant everything I was truly feeling just got buried deeper and deeper. Going through such loss, I started to wonder if God actually was good and I had so many unanswered questions.
I was convinced that if I was a “good enough” Christian, I wouldn’t even have any questions or doubts. But that’s not how I was actually feeling, which brought such inner turmoil.
I see so clearly now that my thinking was totally off then but at the time I felt so abandoned and disappointed. God had not answered my prayers and that was really hard for me. I wish I had been brave enough back then to at least let one person truly see me and how I was really feeling. I know that the darkness, which turned into full-blown depression, did not have to last for as long as it did. I’m not saying that season would not have been hard because I know it still would have been.
It wasn’t until I started being honest that I started to experience some healing and I started to relearn who God really was.
As I’ve asked Him all my questions, one of the things God has reassured me of over and over again is that He never broke any promises by not healing my mom. The promise was never that we wouldn’t go through the hard, in fact in John 16:33, He says we will, but His promise to us is that despite the hard, He would be with us always. And as I look back over the years since my mom passed I know that to be true in a deeper way than I had ever experienced before.
It was not an easy journey out of the darkness by any means. I wish I had more time to fill you in. But I will say it all started with telling the truth. I had to admit to myself, my community around me and most importantly to God where I actually was. No sugar coating it and no throwing Christian phrases around. But actually opening up and showing people all my ugliness. The great thing is that I began to see pretty quickly that the people around me didd’t see my truth as weak.
I was so convinced I was less of a Christian, whatever that even means, because I was still struggling. That’s not even close to being true.
The beautiful thing I learned along the way about Jesus is we don’t have to clean ourselves up or have it all together. We truly can come to Him exactly as we are and in fact I think He even prefers that. He lovingly over time answered each of my questions and began to show me the ways He was walking beside me even when it felt like He was a million miles away.
My faith got stronger and this new depth and intimacy developed, which has been so helpful in all areas of my life. I still miss my mom like crazy but I take great comfort knowing that God has used and will continue to use every ounce of my pain. This is nothing I say lightly, but I really do believe with all of me that God doesn’t cause or create the pain. But if we let Him, He will use it.
To anyone experiencing loss, I wish I had the right words for you but the truth is no words can touch that kind of loss.
Only our Heavenly Father can do that. And I’ve personally felt Him do it over and over again so I know over time your situation will be no different. I wish with everything in me you didn’t have to walk this road but I can say with confidence that even when it makes no sense, God is always good and He’s always working things for our good. He’s always been faithful and He will always be faithful so even in the midst of our greatest losses we can hang on to that hope.
And finally, I saw this quote on a friend’s social media and it really resonated with me so I figured I would end with it because it summed up so much truth about loss:
Grief never ends…but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith…it is the price of love.