I hate lilies.
Overblown flowers sitting
They cover the box that holds your heart
Lilies are death
They seep thickly into the air and add to the
in your chest.
They’re a white memory always lying in wait.
When your guard is down, they whisk you back to that
the one with the box of hopes and dreams.
They are the unbearable
without a breath of wind to ease the weight.
I walked into another room a few weeks ago and the lilies were there waiting for me. I took a breath and they were there to steal it from my lungs. And the weight that fell was different and terrible and so familiar.
My journey started 11 years ago today, but the last few weeks make it feel like yesterday. And in the wake of it all, there are still the questions…questions from wonderful, loving people who just want to do the long hard walk with the ones that have no choice.
“What can I say to someone who’s grieving?”
“What can I do to let them know that I care?”
“How can I avoid hurting them more?”
The thing about grief is that it’s a road you can walk and remember every bend and stone and rut but still not be able to give someone else directions. I don’t know. That’s the thing. I’ve told people in the past that I still don’t know what to say. All I know are a few things NOT to say.
That road is narrow and no one’s path is like anyone else’s. I’ll make my list and say my things, but this is not a cheat sheet. This is not Grief for Dummies. There are no shortcuts and you will still have to listen and listen hard. Because one person’s balm burns like acid for someone else.
1. Saying that you don’t know what to say is okay. How can you find words for something there are no words for? Those words began a poem written for my friend Diego’s memorial service and they are True.
2. DON’T tell the person that they will find love again. This one should be a no-brainer, but apparently, it’s not. There are true things and there are helpful things. They are not mutually inclusive.
3. Another no-brainer. Don’t ask for gory details just to satisfy your curiosity. Seriously. Just don’t.
4. Don’t suggest that God took the person away because who knows, they might have turned out to be a horrible person a few years down the road. ??????
5. Actually, don’t speculate out loud at all on God’s reasons for allowing them to die. Our minds are finite. Our theories are small. And even the most grandiose ideas still ring hollow in the wake of our loss.
6. If a memory pops up in your mind, SHARE IT. This brings me to two epiphanies I had during my journey.
Part of the pain of grief is never being able to talk to the person again, never having another conversation, never being able to ask them a question or get to know them better. We save up our memories like treasured possessions but the knowledge that this collection is finite is part of the pain. You, our mutual friends, are the only source of new memories we have. We crave to hear your stories, any scrap of new insight, the most insignificant memory because:
a) it means that not everyone has forgotten and moved on
b) it means we can continue getting to know our loved one better
Share the way his eyes lit up when he looked at me. Laugh with me over the way he stood with his feet at right angles or wore jackets to the beach. Tell me about the hole in your life because you lost your only friend who loved Star Trek as much as you do.
People are often afraid of sharing stories for fear that they will cause more pain to the grieving by reopening the wound or “reminding them of the pain.”
Friends. We don’t forget. It’s always there no matter how much time has passed. Please, share the stories. They can be funny stories. Funny is good. Micah was hilarious. Diego was hilarious. I’m pretty sure they’d both be bummed if no one remembered how funny they were. And again, the stories are that tiny reminder that we are not the only ones who remember, who grieve, who miss them. See Epiphany 1.
7. Be careful with the book gifts and recommendations. I might even go so far as to tell you to forget about it completely unless you’ve been through a similar experience. I lost count of how many people recommended those books where the people die and then come back and tell everyone about heaven. I got through most of one and hated it. It was like salt in my wounds because my loved one DIDN’T come back. Heaven by Randy Alcorn was far more healing, but again, that was my experience.
8. Don’t stop. The nature of death and trauma is that there’s an acute period of pain when everyone is there. But as the years go by and the shock fades, people forget that it still hurts. Ten years can pass and we can still have moments where it hurts like yesterday. Don’t stop checking on us. Don’t stop letting us know that you remember a birthday or an anniversary, or just that you were thinking of us and missing the person too. Don’t stop praying and don’t stop letting us know that you’re praying.
I’ll close with something I wrote 6 months after Micah’s accident, back when I was younger and a better writer. As I read it, I realize something I didn’t know then. The song doesn’t stop. And it starts up again whenever it wants at whatever verse it wants. But we who hope hold on to that final verse.
E Minor Song
There was a story
Innocence Laughter Joy
Major key arpeggio
Only the beginning of a story
And he did not know the end
There was a chapter
Love Adoration Contentment
Sweet, sweet ballads
The story grew longer
And he thought he knew the end
Horror Shock Agony
Crashing, dissonant chords
The story stood still
And it seemed to her, the end
The page turned
Sorrow Pain Weeping
Broken minor triads
The pages continued turning
And she wished it were the end
Long chapters stretched forever
Numbness Grief Despair
Whole rests, no music
Verses four and five, repeat
It seemed it would never end
The chapter changed once more
Tears Smiling Peace
An alto softly humming
The book took form in loving hands
He was waiting at the end
One day the final page was turned
Beauty Richness Glory
Minor chords behind soaring melody
The book repaired and healed
And they never had an end