A Handmaiden of Grief

Rugged piles.

The roughness of these days.

Three years ago, my good friend Kirsten lost her baby boy, Ewan, after 16 days of life. It was such a disorienting time. To be living in Florida while my friend’s heart and soul were breaking open in Washington, I felt so helpless. 

My mother, generous and heartfelt woman that she is, gave me the gift of a plane trip to Washington a month after Ewan died.

What I remember most are the silences. 

Sitting next to Kirsten on a red couch in a local coffee shop, saying nothing as I held her hand, her head resting on my shoulder and tears dripping down her face as we watched two young mothers with their young kids have a play date across the room.

Sitting next to each other on the couch in her apartment at night, holding her hand in the silence there too.

How few words were between us. How few words were needed. There were no words to say. What could possibly be said?

Nearly two months ago now, Kirk’s mother passed away after a very quick 7-week journey through stage 4 lung cancer. It happened so fast, it feels like we’re both still wrapping our heads and hearts around the fact that it did, indeed, happen. 

This time I’m learning how to walk through deep loss with my husband. 

How grief pockets can hit at unexpected moments. How to navigate the holidays. How each day is different. How numbness plays a part at the beginning. How, for the person who lost a parent, it can feel like a hole on the inside that will never get filled again.

I’m learning to walk beside him as we go.

My friend Jan lost her husband, Gary, last week. 

It wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s not what any believed would come. It was to be a quick procedure — a coiling method, they called it, to remove a discovered aneurysm. Instead, an invasive surgery, a stroke, an induced coma, 18 days of waiting, then loss.

We had prayed for him. Laid hands on him. Anointed him with oil. Exchanged smiles and hopes and hugs. Lingered to talk about his music, how maybe he would bring one of his Song Chapel concerts to our church in the new year.

It didn’t go as planned. 

In all that time of waiting and praying, this loss isn’t what I thought would be at all.

I was privileged to sit with Jan twice in her hospital vigil. Talking together while Gary slept. Letting our friendship plant some roots. Learning some of each other’s stories.

Both times, and in all the time in between and after, this was not the outcome I foresaw. A different future, yes. A bracing future for them, maybe. But this? No. 

My friend has lost her beloved. My heart cries hard for her.

And in my community, more loss. 

A friend who lost her boss, then her grandfather.

A pastor in our town gone to suicide, the pain and shock rippling outward, a literal geography of loss, a time of questions, and anger, and sadness, and pain.

In the mix, far removed and yet personal to me, Nelson Mandela died, too. 

So much loss. So much darkness.

And what I notice is being beside. Walking beside, waiting beside, watching beside.

A handmaiden of grief.