There's an empty car seat that sat in our master bedroom for the last few weeks. It's not because I was creating some sort of "memorial" out of it, but rather that my bedroom in general is the last place I clean and tidy, since my door can be shut and everything hidden behind it in a hurry.
The car seat was moved to the garage today. Part of my flesh wanted to scream that life isn't fair. It shouldn't be empty. It should be full and heavy and awkward to carry because a small baby should've been inside.
But there isn't.
So. Very. Empty.
It reminded me of words I've heard often as I've grown up in church. Words said by the angel that guarded the tomb as the women came to see Jesus' body. Expecting to find the one they loved much, and instead they found the same: emptiness.
Don't be afraid. He isn't here. He has risen, just as He said.
The thoughts and feelings of those girls were probably a lot like mine have been some days. Where life seems unfair, and someone they loved dearly and felt as though He wasn't around long enough, was gone. Their hearts undoubtedly as empty as that tomb.
Often, we can't rationalize such feelings of emptiness, because we weren't supposed to feel them to begin with. If death entered the world through the sin of one, we weren't really ever made to experience the process of grief in the first place.
A lot of people can't handle it. Or they think they can, and they try to fill the "empty" with something.
I don't have the energy nor the digital space to write out how, in detail, to be someone who actually supports someone through loss. But I can give you some general thoughts on the topic.
The last few weeks, both Paco and I have received an outpouring of sympathy, empathy, apathy....the list goes on. Gifts and words of encouragement, and words not so encouraging. We've had a lot of people who have tried to put something in a place where "empty" now rests.
First and foremost- I want to say this post is not targeted at any one person. And we are not angry or upset with anyone. Honestly, we've done everything we know to do, to assume the best in everyone. Knowing full and well that you each have our best at heart- or at least we are trying to be naive enough to think so. But as someone who has so recently walked a road of hardship, and knowing others have, and are, and will certainly also go along the same way, I wanted to communicate some of the do's and dont's of "comforting" others. We all- myself included- have no idea what to say or do when someone experiences death, loss, tragedy of any kind- and rightfully so- because we are foreigners to this process. But in light of the last few weeks, I wanted to encourage us all in how to handle such scenarios, with extra grace and frailty.
I am by no means an expert. I still have much to learn. But I can offer some respite for the people who've lost so much, by offering everyone else around them, insight into what is really needed, and really not needed in that season. So here it goes!
1.) As believers, we DO NOT COMMUNICATE WITH THE DEAD. I don't care who or what or when you felt prompted by the spirit to think that was ok, but let me tell you, that according to the Bible, communication by anyone, through any means, to anyone, and for any purpose, is NOT of God. The spirit that would try to tell you that you have a message from a person who has passed away, for someone else, is a spirit that isn't of God. As much as I miss my daughter, as much as I wish I could still hold her and nurture her, I do NOT worry or wonder about her care and condition now. I rest assured in the faith and hope and promise of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the Cross, that says she is whole and worshipping in the inner courts of the Father Himself. Please, please, PLEASE do NOT allow yourself to be caught up in such a false and evil scheme of the enemy. He is lurking around waiting to bait you with hyper-emotional and hyper-spiritual experiences, in hopes that you'll feel temporary comfort. This does NOT comfort a believer in the slightest. Rather, they are left to think you are crazy, and need a serious intervention through prayer and fasting.
2.) If you suck at cooking, don't cook. Yep. I went there. But seriously. If preparing food isn't your thing, there's always a delivery or take-out service, if you insist on food being the vehicle for your comfort and thoughts. There is nothing worse than having a terrible day, mourning the loss of a loved one or horrible event, and having to stomach down terrible food that tastes pathetic and choking it down because you know you "need" to eat, even though the best food in the world would be unappetizing in those moments. Do everyone a favor, and just don't.
3.) Don't TRY to be there if you're not usually there. I can't tell you how irritating and annoying and genuinely repulsive it is, to have long-drawn-out hugs from people I have no relationship with. It's one thing to hug someone who has been walking through hardship, it's another thing entirely to hold them against their will, and "whine" out a "how are you? Really?" As if to expel emotions that aren't there. If we didn't have a real, and ongoing relationship prior to the heartache, my life-crisis, isn't the time for you to join into my life-journey. FYI- It screams "I'm nosey and curious and just have to get a piece of this pie!" Just don't.
4.) BE IN THE WORD. Finally, something you can do. I know, I know- it seems like it's counter-productive. But honestly, as a believer who has been walking through some rough days, I can tell you, discernment levels go through the roof. If you've offered words of encouragement or hugs or conversation, and you're not regularly in the word, your words are draining the life out of me and my family. It sucks our energy, like a leach sucking blood from our veins. When someone is full of the Holy Spirit and has the Word of God permiating their physical self, it's like an intravenous breath of fresh air. Get your face into His word, He will give you the words to say- directly from His book of Wisdom, and they will be LIFE to whomever you're speaking with.
5.) GET ON YOUR KNEES. The same is true about prayer as it is about the word. When you genuinely take time to pray for us, the Holy Spirit does a supernatural knitting of our hearts. Don't ask me how, but I know it to be true. People I don't normally relate well to, people who typically annoy me because of differences in personality- it all fades and the Spirit of Christ- which dwells in them RICHLY encourages me. The opposite happens when you say "we are praying for you guys!" And you're really not. Don't worry, you don't have to say it or admit it, because we know. Not because we can judge your heart or read your mind- but because the Holy Spirit is seriously the giver of Life, and unless He builds us up- you're laboring in vain.
6.) Just ask. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to scream at people for beating around the bush with Esther. She was real, ya Know. She lived and was with us. She has stories and things for us to share. There is nothing worse than someone hunting around out of curiosity, and blatantly ignoring reality to "tread light" for our sake. It's more of a disservice to us, when you think we can't tell you or don't want to acknowledge her. If you want to know what happened when she died, just ask me. If you want to know how I'm feeling today, just ask me. If you want to know what my favorite thing or least favorite thing about her was, just. Flipping. Ask me. I will gladly tell you. Because just like my other kids, she is near and dear to us, and we love to share all of her stories just like we love to share the stories of the other kids too. It's really ok. Don't be scared. Just ask.
7.) Not every day is a bad day. I think people assume I will be walking around with my head hung low, for a good, long time. I suppose some people do this longer than others, but I don't have time to go into why. But I will say, that I am honestly alright. Most days I am fine. Yes it was tragic. Yes it sucked. No I would never want anyone ever to have to bury their kid. It's terrible. But life goes on. I will still have to get dressed and take care of my self and my kids and our home and our lives. If not, I would be seriously medicated at this point, and thank God I don't have to be! Solomon said it best- there is a time to mourn, but there is also a time not to mourn. So please, when my hands are full of four other kids, and I'm rummaging in the diaper bag for a snack for one of them, and my phone is ringing and the baby is crying, don't try and get me to have a "sit down" with you about my feelings. I'm really not going to even try to cry and be upset in those moments. Because honestly, I don't have the time.
8.) not every day is a good day. It's funny the things that become triggers. But usually, at least for now, when something triggers my emotional heartache, I'm gone. Like for the rest of the day. I become a basket case. Everything makes me cry from there on out. If I'm crying because I spilled coffee on the floor, or because it's raining, or because we are two seconds late, or because I'm tired, or because I don't like my shirt color- it's more than that. It's because really, deep down, I'm having a pitty- party, and am just all around sad or angry or both. I will dig myself out. But seriously- don't start asking about it. I'm really trying to get it together and maybe salvage whatever mascara is left on my lashes, and your probing makes it worse because my answers come out in the form of tears. Just shut-up. Because 9 out of 10 times, I will probably just start talking and blabbering on and will eventually tell it all to you anyways.
9.) I don't want to hear your glorified grief story. Seriously. I hate it when people feel like now you're in a "club", because all of a sudden you've both been through something tragic. If that's the case we should all have sashes and badges and a handshake and a pledge. But we don't. Because that's sick and demented. They have groups for people like that, at shrink offices and AA groups. But not for me, and not in public. Just because you've experienced hardship or death or any sort of pain doesn't mean you have the right to go around gloating about it. Me either. We should be glorifying Christ THROUGH the pain. I can't even write all the details here, but I will say this: when your circumstance becomes bigger than the God who delivered you from said circumstance, you're really in idolatry. Get over it. And praise Him.
10.) Praise Him. I know, I sound like a broken record. But really. When things seem hard, for me or you, praise Him. When death seems big and impossible, praise Him. When sadness or sorrow overtakes you, praise Him. Because when we do, things change. You, me, the person next to you, all have the same resurrection power inside of us, and it can bring a weary soul from death and grief and loss, to rejoicing and gladness and life again. When all hope seems lost, praise Him.
When I see things like that car seat, or even people and their hearts, it can seem hopeless. Because it's empty.
And I'm sure that when Mary got to the tomb that day, she was feeling much the same.
But because of the empty grave, there is also an empty cross. And I am so very grateful that the cross is empty. Without the empty cross, I would still be hanging there. Dead to self. But instead, I'm alive in Christ. No longer empty, but full- full of His love. Full of His joy. Full until He comes again.