“I’m so sorry.” …Words that I will never say again to a friend or acquaintance when I find out they have lost a loved one. Instead I’ve come to the conclusion that the most comforting phrase in that moment is “That sucks. That really sucks. If you need a shoulder to cry on, let me know. If you need someone to vent and get angry with let me know, I will be your punching bag or provide a pillow for you to scream into. If you need silence and alone time, let me know, and I will help you get rid of distractions and turn off your phone. If you need someone to laugh and smile with as you remember your fondest memories of that person, let me know. If you need someone to hold your hand and walk the rest of this lifetime of grieving, let me know I have a hand you can hold.”
It wasn’t until I lost my Grandpa that I truly discovered what it means to grieve, and to grieve with guilt. I loved my Grandpa. He was a huge part of my life. Growing up, I spent my summers with him, my grandma, and my family at our lake cabin in Minnesota – fishing, canoeing, roasting marshmallows over bonfires, laughing constantly over his cheesy jokes and wearing his fishing caps. My Grandpa loved God and others without condition, and showed me what it meant to give to others without expecting in return. He was great with people, giving back to his community and church, serving his country during WWII in the Navy, loving and taking care of his wife for 65 years until death, and sharing his love and laughter with his family. He was a huge part of my life and who I am today.
This past summer my friend and I set on a journey to Europe that we had been planning for the past year. Excited to explore and go on a much needed adventure, I stopped by my Grandparents’ place to say hello and give a ‘see you later’ to them before I left on my trip. What I didn’t realize was that when I hugged my Grandpa goodbye that it would be the last time that I would ever hug him. If I would have known, I would have squeezed a little harder and held on a little longer. I left knowing that I couldn’t wait to get back and tell him all about my trip and show him all my photos, photos that would never be seen.
While on my trip my Grandpa fell ill and passed away. I had got back to the states in time to discover my Grandpa on his deathbed. While in Texas, on my way home, I got to say goodbye over speakerphone. When I got off the phone I just slumped on the floor in my friend’s apartment and sobbed. I was so close to getting home, yet so far and all alone. I had told my Grandpa that I loved him and that he was the best Grandpa ever and that I was sorry that I wasn’t there to be there for him. After his passing, everything happened so quickly that I didn’t have much time to feel. It wasn’t until long after the funeral that the grieving and pain seemed to grow. It seems as though grief should be immediate and taper off, like ripping off a Band-Aid. However, the grief tends to grow over time and after the shock wears off. I felt immense guilt for not being there for him in his time of need. How could I not be there for someone who means so much to me? I felt stupid and selfish for going on my trip when I should have been there with the rest of my family, by his side in the hospital. It didn’t happen that way though. I have come to understanding that goodbyes are not always on our own terms that is why they hurt so much.
Everyone, including myself, found comfort in the idea that I would see him in heaven and that was my hope that I have in knowing Jesus Christ. What no one told me though was that until then, grieving sucks. I wish someone said, “It is going to suck and hurt a lot, but you know what, eventually it will be ok.”
The grieving will never go away. There will be things that trigger that grief throughout your life that will remind you of that person – a picture, a sweater, a smell, a memory, a visit to the lake cabin. But when those triggers happen embrace the pain warmly. Why? Because those moments remind you how much you loved that person, and the closer you were to that person the more pain exists. I’ve had those moments where I’ve squeezed my eyes and fists so tight that I tried to will him back into existence because I fear that I will forget him – his smile, laugh, bad jokes, but most importantly his love. In those moments, I reach out to God because He does know what it was like to lose someone he loved. I find God saying, “It sucks, I know, but you are going to be ok, and….”
If you need a shoulder to cry on, let me know.
If you need someone to vent and get angry with let me know.
If you need silence and alone time, let me know.
If you need someone to laugh and smile with as you remember your fondest memories of that person, let me know.
If you need someone to hold your hand and walk the rest of this lifetime of grieving, let me know because I am here.