Warning: This post might make you mad. This post might make you question my faith. I don’t care so much about that. I am in a continuous cycle of struggling, running away from, clinging to, questioning, and altering my religious views. I know that is okay, because a relationship with God is a RELATIONSHIP. It isn’t always sunshine and roses, but it’s real. I have some Radical and Open Conversation to say about Easter. It is my hope that what I have to say will help your friends in grief think of Kindness when they think of you.
I have spent an entire work week missing my mandatory bedtime of 8:30ish by 4-5 hours. I have endured the trauma of a week in middle school right before a break, and the fun and torture of high school cheerleading tryouts. My brain to mouth (fingers) filter is shot, so of course I think Good Friday is a great day for the first installment in the series entitled, It’s Better to Just Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut: What Not to Say to the Bereaved. Yes, I find it hilarious that my bucket-mouth self is going to tell you to shut yours.
Ahhhhh, here we are: Holy Week. Many of you are counting down the hours until you can eat sweets, get back on your carbonated beverage routine, or check social media. The Lenten season will soon be over. For 29 years, I loved this season. In high school and college, I would join the crowd and attempt to give something up for Lent in order to show what kind of Christian I was. One year, my bestie Ellen, and I decided to give up caffeine. We were so proud and were sharing with our friends our decision to loosen the grip on the evil drug over a glass of sweet tea. When we learned that the tea we had chosen to replace our beloved nectar, Diet Coke, contained caffeine; we decided to adjust our Lenten promise. On the first Ash Wednesday after Molly died (about 6-7 weeks into this grief journey) a friend asked me what I was giving up for Lent. I replied, “Oh I guess I gave up my sister, hopefully I’ll get her back at Easter just like you’ll get to eat French fries again.” Yes that was a snarky reply, but I am not known for my sweetness. Since then, I have not participated in Lent, which is a personal decision everyone must make. I also remembered that I am a BaptiMethodiNonDenominational Protestant, and realized that I was not letting the Catholic church down by not participating. Shwew! I had to give up too much involuntarily, so instead, I cling to my bad habits and try to pick up more when possible.
Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Oh, precious Emily. You have given up so much, but do you know who also gave up more than most could bear? God.” In fact, shortly after Molly died, someone said to me that God knew our pain because he allowed his own son to die on the cross. Now, I was raised in the church from birth. We weren’t an Easter/Christmas church going family. If those doors were unlocked, the Garners were there. “You have strep throat? Oh, sorry it’s Sunday, tell your strep to wait.” “You have a lot of homework? Sorry, pray about it at Mission Friends, because it’s Wednesday night.” In fact, the only way to get out of church in the Garner home was to be in the hospital. (This was certainly not an infrequent occurrence, however.) One time, Mom was out of town, and Dad told me and Griffin that we were going to skip church and go to the zoo. This was the first time in my life that one of my parents were going to let us miss church with no IVs stuck in us! He took us to the Cyclorama instead. Biggest let down ever. All this to say, before grief took up residence in me, I would have probably said something like that too. Easter was a celebration day! Jesus arose from the dead! I would stare out at the sea of new dresses and seersucker suits, stumbling through Up From the Grave, He Arose, wondering if the Easter Bunny was getting a nap and anxiously awaiting our annual Easter gathering with our dearest friends. Easter was a happy time, because it was what set us apart as Christians. So, the 12 year-old Emily was shocked when the 29 year-old Emily replied to the person who assured me that God knew my pain by saying, “Uh, no he doesn’t. He is God. He knew that his son would die, but then he’d get him back in 3 days and they’d be together for eternity.” I don’t know who had a more shocked face, me or the person who was trying to comfort me, when that word vomit spewed from my mouth. I had NEVER thought of it that way, until that moment.
So, the first bullet point under It’s Better to Just Keep Your Mouth Shut: What Not to Say to the Bereaved is: “Do not tell them that God understands their pain.” See:
It’s Better to Just Keep Your Mouth Shut: What Not to Say to the Bereaved.
- Do not tell them that God understands their pain.
I love Common Core, and I know that I have to give reasons for my claims. So here they are:
1. Yes, God absolutely understands their pain, but you know who does not? The person in pain. Not even the fact that God theoretically understands their pain makes them feel better. God is omnipotent, humans aren’t. Let me give you a real world application (also Common Core): Pretend that you are stuck on an uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean with one person and no way to communicate with anyone in the world. No phones, no computers, you don’t know morse code, and Hogwarts has not sent you any owls. You have accidentally cut your leg off, it is bleeding profusely, you can’t breathe or walk it hurts so much. The person with you says, “Oh you know what, my friend in Arkansas knows how to make a great tourniquet.” Would that be of any help to you? Arkansas…. Indian Ocean.
2. The person you are talking to might not believe in God or might worship a God different from yours. Duh. (Sidenote: The book What Christians Can Learn from Buddhists About Suffering is a great book. Although the title might be different. I’m too tired to get up and look, see first paragraph.)
3. The person may believe in God, but they are probably mad at him. They feel like he’s the friend in Arkansas who knows how to make a tourniquet, but he is NOWHERE to be found.
4. Let me restate my point from my word vomit. God knew that he was getting his son back in 3 days. If I knew that I would get someone back in 3 days, I would be like, “Sure, let the plane crash.” “Okay, cancer can win this time.” 3 days is an adequate amount of time to be separated. Sure, when we get to heaven, it might seem like we’ve only been apart 3 days. Unfortunately, we are bound by gravity and brain activity to Earth. We aren’t on that timeline yet.
So, Easter is a sad time for me. It makes me think of death and how sometimes things work out for people. Then I am reminded that my sister, who had faith to move mountains, is dead. It didn’t work out for her. Then, I am mad. Then, I think of Mary. She had prepared the oils to anoint his body for his entombment, but she didn’t need them. He wasn’t destined for that tomb. Then, I think of Mama, she doesn’t visit an empty tomb, knowing her child is seated at the right hand of God. She knows her body is 6 feet under where she is sitting. She hopes that Molly’s faith has become sight. She can’t talk to her child, she doesn’t get text messages or Snapchats that let her know that Molly is safe, and any mother is going to worry when they don’t have 100% proof of their child’s safety. Then, I am sad. Like Mary, Mom had little warning of Molly’s arrival. Like Mary, mom watched her child change the world for the better. Like Mary, Mom endured her child dying in a public manner. I just wish that their stories had more similar endings.
As you gather with your friends and family this Easter to celebrate the miracle of the Resurrection, to honor the grave clothes that were not worn for very long, please don’t neglect those mothers whose children are still wrapped in theirs. You don’t have to say anything. Hug them, take a flower to the cemetery, weep with them. It’s radical to think that the miracle of Easter can feel like the nails through the hands to some people. But, it’s time that we open the channels of communication and share the realities of the struggles between grief and grace.
More than meat loves salt,