My oldest daughter and I snuck into the back of the church just before the memorial service started. She asked me to go with her to support one of her classmates, whose dad had died several months earlier while out for a jog. Because of the pandemic, the family had waited to host this celebration of his life so more people could attend.
We listened to stories about his life, how he met his wife, his time in the military, the way he faithfully supported our school and the students. We belly laughed as friends from his childhood and younger days shared stories. The school choir sang some of his favorites. I couldn’t help but think back to that day seven years earlier when I had sat in the front row of the very same sanctuary. Back then, it was us who shared stories and celebrated the life of my husband Ericlee, who had died of cancer at age forty.
I remember sitting next to my three daughters, who were two, five, and eight at the time, and my mother-in-law, who was burying her only son. My family and friends filled the pews behind us — hundreds of them. We laughed and cried in much the same way the family before us did. And I wondered, then, what the future would hold: How could God redeem a situation like ours? How would I survive without my beloved?
After the memorial service, my daughter and I hung back. She wanted to greet her friend, and I felt like I should introduce myself to this young widow mama. I just wanted to hug her neck and tell her God was going to take care of her and her kids.
As we made our way down the aisle, the woman looked up and welcomed me with her dark eyes. I awkwardly introduced myself. “I already know who you are,” she quipped. “I don’t want to be a part of your club.”
I was taken aback at first, but I understood what she meant. Nobody wants to be part of the Widows Club. It’s a club we do not choose. We feel thrust into it when most of us would rather scream and run in the opposite direction. And yet, there’s a profound comfort I’ve found in connecting with other widow mamas through the years.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you didn’t choose to be part of the Single Moms Club, the Infertility Club, the Mental Illness Club, the Divorced Women’s Club, or the fill-in-the-blank-here club, but I’m here to remind you that God has a tender place in His heart for you, just as He did for me as a newly-minted widow.
He has a heart for women who are vulnerable in all kinds of challenging life circumstances. God comforted Hannah, who called herself a “woman with a broken heart” because of her infertility, and He eventually gave her a son (1 Samuel 1:1-20).
Jesus went out of His way to meet a Samaritan woman at the well, who had been through five husbands. He revealed Himself as the Messiah and sent her out to share her story with others (John 4:1-39).
Jesus comforted His dear friends Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. He wept with them even though He knew He was going to perform a miracle and raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-53).
Friends, we need to make space for grief. We cannot forge ahead without tending to our trauma and our tender places. We all have experienced loss in a variety of ways. Grief does not go away. It can’t be pushed down or stuffed in the closet. Grief will leak out when we least expect it.
I got a message this week from one of my best friends that her mama, who has been fighting cancer for years, is weakening. My friend is praying for strength to be her caregiver. My mind floats back to those final weeks of my husband’s life. A friend told me it was a “sacred privilege” to be able to usher him to Heaven. In my exhaustion and anticipatory grief, I had a hard time understanding how this was a privilege. Looking back, I know it was, indeed, a gift.
Another dear friend sent me a message that her abuelito graduated to heaven. She’s flying to her homeland of El Salvador to be with her family who is mourning. I pray for safe travels and for her young daughter who must stay behind with her daddy.
There’s a circle of grief and glory that does not end until we take our last breath on this earth and cross that finish line into eternity with Jesus. Sometimes that circle feels like riding the merry-go-round on the playground. The world whizzes by, and you can’t quite find your bearings in the grief. But if we lift our heads, the light and glimpses of God’s glory are there too. Even in the tenderness of grief, we get that feeling of earth-meeting-sky, of mourning-waltzing-with-joy, of life-kissing-death.
My twelve-year-old comes into my room before bed. “Mom, I just watched Dad’s funeral on YouTube!” I search her face and realize she is not stricken with grief like one might expect. Instead, she possesses a surprising joy.
“I don’t remember any of those stories from the funeral,” she says. “It was so cool to hear the impact he had on people.”
My girl lost her daddy when she was just five years old. She was like tissue paper back then — beautiful and ever-fragile in her grief. I draw her close and inhale the tangy-sweetness of her skin. This is where the grief and glory meet. And this is where God meets us.