I've had this situation a couple of times recently--mostly at church during a brief 3 minute meet and greet that's sandwiched right between announcements and the beginning of the service. Enough time has passed and our church has grown enough that I'm often seated near young couples or college students who are relatively new and don't know me or my family.
We both extend our hands and offer up our first names. I try to find something that will help me remember that name for future reference and then I turn to introduce my three kids who are all turned in different directions doing the exact same thing that I'm doing--some with new faces and some with old friends. Then comes my dilemma. I know as this sweet twenty something couple looks over my family they're likely thinking one of two things: her husband doesn't come to church or she's divorced. Most people don't jump to the conclusion that the missing husband is actually dead.
So what do I do with that? I would like to be able to casually close our conversation with "And their dad, my husband, passed away last year. He was a great guy." I'd like to do that but I usually don't. I don't because as soon as the words "passed away" pass over my lips, the smile that's on their faces passes away also. They immediately come back with some kind of uncomfortably shocked response and I reassure them that it's okay and proceed to tell them we're doing fine, etc. until the music for the next song cues up and we politely return to our pew. I know in my heart that I've brought a little black cloud over their time at church and now I'll forever be the lady with the kids whose husband died a while ago. The thing is that I'm okay being that lady, I clearly am that lady.
My friends who have lost children find themselves in this situation all the time. "How many children do you have?" A safe enough question, right? Not for those parents who have already said goodbye to one of their own. So do they politely say they have three or do they tell you about the three here and the one there and then ruin your day just a little? Please know that it is only by the grace of God that they do not blurt out that one of their sweet babies died one day and a part of their heart died with them..oh, and have a nice day.
The thing is that we want to be honest, we really do. By not mentioning that missing child or spouse or parent we feel like we are hiding this monumental thing that happened in our life and therefore feel like we're hiding this person that we loved with all our heart. We feel like a bit of a fraud because this thing that we're not telling you feels so obvious to us that certainly you can read it all over our faces. Every fiber of us is saying, do you see how broken we are, how incomplete our family is, how devastated? But we don't say that because we're pretty sure that you don't have the stomach for it. If we're honest, we hardly have the stomach for it, but we don't have any choice.
What do we do with death, people? It's destructive and despicable, but it's also common and completely expected. There has to be some kind of middle ground. For those of us walking in grief, we've had to make peace with this hardest reality. We can't escape it. It's like a lens that has been put over our eyes that we will forever look through during our time on this earth. And we want you to know that we've become okay with it and sometimes it helps us a little to talk about. We need to talk about it without you getting that look on your face--you know, the one where conjure up a smile and try to make us happy, to make our hurt go away. You can't do that, no one this side of heaven can do that. But you can offer up two sincere words, "I'm sorry." And that's good enough. We're sorry, too, but every day we're figuring out to live fully in the face of death. We are going to be okay. We are already okay.
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, no crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." Rev. 21:4.