I am writing this post as a way of grieving as well as to hopefully help others. I recently lost three friends who were a big part of my life, even if for just a short time.
I actually met my friends Ed and Betty at the same time. Ed was in a wheelchair, and Betty was his nurse. They both started coming to the church I grew up in, and I asked Betty to assist me in Sunday School. She agreed and ended up being an amazing teacher! I was 16 at the time and she was in her 50’s. She never looked down on me because I was so young. We became fast friends as we worked on Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, children's programs, and all kinds of church events. We spent hours talking and laughing together. We even played Mary and Martha in a church play. In the bible, Jesus had come to visit the sisters' home. Martha flitted about making sure everything was ok while Mary sat listening to Jesus. Though I played Mary and Betty played Martha, I honestly think the roles should have been reversed. Betty was much better at listening at Jesus’ feet, and I am the worker who gets too busy to hear Jesus speak. But from that day on, I was Betty's little sister; she even signed every card she gave me with "from your big sister." We were very close for almost ten years before I changed churches. We still kept in touch, but it was not the same. Still, her light and the lessons she taught me live on in my heart.
I was at Betty's funeral wondering where Ed was. He was paralyzed and in a wheelchair when we met, but that never stopped him for going for what he wanted. He was genuine and kind. We talked so much together. We went to lay speaker school together, where we were trained to preach in other churches. He was a great listener and so funny. We could laugh together for hours. I never saw a wheelchair or disability when I looked at him. Someone at Betty’s funeral told me that Ed had died too. His funeral was less than a week later.
Then the day after Betty's funeral, I found out a friend from my current church died. I got to know Colleen about a year ago. I am in charge of decorating for Vacation Bible School and in March of 2015 I walked up to her and asked her to help. She said she wasn't an artist. “Can you paint between the lines?” When she said she could, I said, “You’re hired!" We spent four hours every Saturday together for four months. Our decorating team had deep discussions and spiritual debates, and sometimes we just talked about nothing and laughed like teenaged girls. Colleen was so excited to help and even took things at home with her to get the work done. The Saturday we were scheduled to set up the church for VBS we found out she was in the hospital with cancer. The next time we saw her, she was in a wheelchair. Another lady from our church and I just had to walk out of the room when we heard. I just cried. I mean, we had been painting together the week before. Now, Colleen could barely walk. Through the ups and downs of her cancer treatments, the one thing that stood out was that Colleen's faith never wavered and her infectious smile never faltered. She said many times that her faith was growing, and that she ready for whatever God had in store for her. At her funeral, our pastor said so well that our bodies are like decaying vessels; as the cracks in Colleen's body grew, the light of Christ shined through brighter and brighter.
Colleen's death after Betty's and Ed's just crushed me. As I went through the week, all the hard won structure and eating habits I formed went right out the window. I was grazing on comfort food and actually gained a few pounds. I was not in a good place. Several people suggested writing about my feelings to help with my grief.
Why did these deaths cripple me? My friends were all believers, so I know they are dancing with Jesus in heaven, pain free. I think losing so many friends at one time was just a drain on my heart and mind. I’m confronted with the idea that as I age, it’s possible that more and more people I hold in my heart will leave this earth before me. I'm facing the fact that I will not always have my husband by my side. I struggle to deal with that; he has been my world since I was 15 years old. Over and over this week I hugged and comforted family members standing beside caskets. I know one day it will be me accepting those hugs. Just the thought of that makes me cry. I am a highly emotional person --I cry at hallmark commercials-- and overwhelmed by memories of lost friends and my own personal issues, I sunk deep in a place where food once again became my comfort.
I asked for help on Face Book and received such words of encouragement that I sat down that Friday night and wrote, and cried, and wrote some more. I just let all the pain and frustration and fear go into these words. I let the tears fall onto my husband’s big flannel shirt that I was wearing. And through those tears I prayed, asking God to help me.
A friend reminded me that God's mercies are new every morning. Her words restored my perspective and reaffirmed in my mind and heart that each day is a gift from God. We are not promised tomorrow. We need to make the most of each day. I have never feared death, but I do fear being left behind, of being alone. Though three beloved friends were gone, each of them had left a part of themselves with me. From Betty I learned to give freely of my time and talents. She taught me that caring for others is caring for Christ, and that humbling ourselves to care for others is a way to honor God. Through Ed’s perseverance I learned to never let an obstacle stop me from doing anything. No matter what the challenge is, in Christ it can be overcome. And Colleen taught me that no matter what life brings, smile and rely on God. Even in my darkest hours, I can draw closer to Him and let His light shine through me.
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, cry! Let it out. Then look back and see what lessons you can hold onto from that loved one's life. Honor their memory by following those lessons to help you move on through the pain and grief. Resist the temptation to go it alone, or to fall permanently back into old habits. Lean on friends; ask God for comfort. We all suffer loss, and we all deal with it differently, but don’t let it break you. We are not alone!