Grief School: Lesson #2 – It’s a Thing

It was just a fourteen-year-old Jeep. Yet, when it sold last week, you would have thought I was selling a kidney for the emotion that was stirred up.

Miles of wandering like a nomad when Hurricane Katrina left us homeless.

Miles of traveling back home to take care of a beloved Aunt who became ill unexpectedly.

Miles of horseback riding lessons.

Miles of soccer games.

Miles of tennis lessons.

Miles of hauling tack trunks and saddles.

Miles of road trips.

Miles of who knows what when that old Jeep was turned over to my older daughter at age 16.

Over 153,000 miles of my life was wrapped up in that Old Jeep. What’s the big deal? I’ve sold and traded vehicles without so much as the bat of a lash. Why was this time so different?

Here’s something you need to know about profound loss. At the moment of loss – odd, unexpected attachments form instantly. Sometimes, you don’t even know that they’ve formed until something threatens that invisible bond – like selling an Old Jeep.

Anything and everything that represents a link to a lost loved one can take on deep (and seemingly illogical) significance. It’s all part of the paradox of loss.

Ziploc bags, vacuum sealers and freezers become strange bedfellows to the bereaved as we desperately cling to a scent that lingers on a favorite tee. A snack left unfinished. Half-empty (or half-full depending on your view) bottles of shampoo, perfume, and wine. 

What do old toothbrushes, deodorant sticks, dirty clothes, old shoes, a garage door opener and a stretched-out hairband have in common? A loved one who is now gone was the last person to touch them.

The towels left on the bathroom floor that might have been “the last straw” one day become the first in a string of precious memories the next. A source of irritation one day; a desperate connection to loved one the next.

So, what can we learn from these strange, unpredictable, and incredibly strong attachments? 

Ask – Don’t Assume

In our eagerness to help in the wake of loss – it is easy to make an innocent mistake. Don’t assume that the shoes in the entryway need to be “picked up” in anticipation of a houseful of visitors. Don’t assume that the open bag of Gardetto’s needs to go in the trash. Don’t assume that making a bed or washing towels three weeks after the funeral will be greeted with gratitude.

But do ask first. Some people prefer to have things picked up quickly. Others will want things to remain unchanged indefinitely. You won’t know until you ask. And chances are – they won’t either.

I get it. We don’t want to “bother” the bereaved. Who needs to make yet another decision when already blindsided with decisions that never should be made? We want to make things as right as we can for them. We want to make things “easy.”

Trust me on this one. Sometimes, we don’t even know that something might matter until we are faced with it. Finding out after the fact that something was moved, changed, “fixed,” or thrown out can be traumatic. That glass of water next to the recliner might be part of the last scene that someone shared with a loved one. Those shoes in the entryway might fool a broken heart into thinking that a loved one is coming home just long enough for the heart and mind to come into sync. That pile of laundry will carry the scent of a loved one much longer than you’d ever imagine. A sibling, a parent, or a spouse might find great comfort curling up in the bed that a loved one left unmade.

Some attachments make sense. Others don’t. And, the bereaved will be the first to admit that the intense attachments to seemingly meaningless items don’t make sense. It doesn’t have to make sense. Cancer doesn’t make sense. Trucks with jacked up tires and drivers who ignore the safety of others doesn’t make sense. Suicide doesn’t make sense. Drugs don’t make sense. Our reactions when these circumstances invade our lives doesn’t have to make sense.

One of the greatest gifts you can give the grieving – treading lightly and going slowly.  Give the bereaved time to process along the way so that well-intentioned acts don’t become additional trauma to a battered heart.

One note to my fellow bereaved – it isn’t the end of the world, if your spouse eats the chocolate square that had taken on special meaning to you. The sun will still come up tomorrow, if someone cleans the bathroom counter thinking that they are making life easier for you. It’s gonna be okay if the Old Jeep finds a home in another driveway.

The love that binds us to these odd little affections is stronger than our odd little affections. The memories are not controlled by the chocolate, cheese, shampoo, perfume, dirty laundry, old shoes, or Old Jeeps. Long after these things have lost their power, love will drive the memories. Love binds these memories forever in our hearts.

Dear Father, when we are the one who has suffered, thank You for sending others to comfort us, to pick up our houses, to make our meals, to take our turn with carpool, and so much more. When we find ourselves being the one to pick up houses, make meals, run carpool, and so much more, thank You for guiding us to be the best comfort that we can to those who are suffering. In the midst of these upside down, inside out situations, we need your Spirit to help both the bereaved and the comforter to make sense of the senseless. Remind us always that our attachments are not to the things – but to the person. And death has no power over the love that binds us to our loved ones because of your ultimate love for us through the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ. For this we pray – Amen!

P. S. May the Old Jeep’s new owner enjoy many miles of memories.


Season 3

On March 16th, just two short days away, it will be the second anniversary of Brooke’s accident. With wedding anniversaries, there are time-honored understandings about what to do. Paper, cotton, leather, flowers, wood cover the first five years. Tin, crystal, china, silver, gold, diamond as time drags on. Even though you wouldn’t expect anniversary gifts to be “one size fits all,” society has tried-and-true suggestions for how to tick off each passing year. 

Not so much with death. Like marriages, no two grieving families are the same. Yet, we don’t even try when it comes to death anniversaries.

There is no script.

Read more

Waiting and Watching and Watching and Waiting

As a child, my daddy had the most annoying habit on Christmas day. He’d gather us around the Christmas tree to open presents. That’s not the annoying part. No – the annoying part was where we’d have to wait. Wait for our turn to open gifts and Watch as everyone opened each of their gifts. Waiting and watching. Watching and waiting. Read more

Gone Too Soon

Over the last week, our nation and the world became a little less dignified. A little less civil. A little less honorable.  A little less humble. A little less colorful. Well . . . it just became a little less. Our former president, George H. W. Bush (a/k/a “Bush 41″), has “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (borrowing the eloquent words of another former president) After ninety-four full years, Bush 41 joined his beloved, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, who passed at age three nearly sixty-five years ago.

Even though the Bush family is obviously saddened by their loss, it is so evident that they are also celebrating a long life, well-lived. As well, they should. President Bush’s life was filled with humility, humor, service, love, and so much more.

Celebrating life is so much easier when someone passes away just shy of a century. Read more

Are You Glad You Did?

Do you remember the first time that you “adulted” Christmas? You know – that first Christmas when you carefully curated “real” gifts for everyone on your list without your parents doing the shopping (or the buying) for you. The first year that I lived on my own, I had filled my car with presents for everyone that I loved. I was so proud to have chosen something special for each one of my family members. I was so full of anticipation just imagining everyone’s reactions as they tore through the wrappings. Read more

Brooke Was Here . . .

In a few days, it will be June 12th. Fans of red roses, peanut butter cookies, and beef jerky may be looking forward to the day as they all share June 12th as National [fill in the blank] Day. I’m betting that even the most avid jerky fan is surprised to learn of the upcoming National Jerky Day. For the rest of you, it’s probably just another day on the calendar. For a handful of us, it marks another bittersweet reminder that Brooke was here.

How do we celebrate without the guest of honor? Who makes the wish when there is no one to blow out the candles? When our loved ones are no longer here, we long to celebrate their memory and we wish that more people had been given a chance to meet them in person. Read more