WHEN A COMMUNITY GRIEVES
It was morning. I was sitting down enjoying the rich aroma, and about to take my first sip of coffee. The initial thoughts of the day are always of my son. I could see him like he was there, quietly padding through the kitchen to the sunroom where I now sit, like he did every weekend morning. Thoughts of him are never off my mind. Not for a second. He superimposes every moment of my life.
The clenching in my stomach was a little tighter than usual that morning and had been. The “one year” of our tragedy was 2 days away and we had been feeling a heightened sense of pain for weeks. I couldn’t stand a weekend away from him, how on earth have I endured a year without my child. A year ?- is what I was thinking when a Facebook notice popped up on my phone. A photo of a handsome young boy with a bright smile filled my screen, except the words beneath weren’t “keep praying for…”, they were “…another young life lost too soon.” My insides turned with a familiar and excruciating sensation and thoughts began racing through my head. Oh, that poor mother-child loss-out of order death- Oh God, the pain-why???-what can I do? Oh, that perfect perfect boy, why??”
Another child in our community who was taken far too soon.
My God, please, not another. But it was so, and now his family and our community will have to try and comprehend the incomprehensible once again. The battle for his life was over, but I knew all too well another battle had surely ensued for this family. The only consolation to me in that awful moment, was that I had every confidence our community would envelope this family in support, comfort, love and prayer like they could never imagine. They would grieve with them. It wasn’t going to take a moment of pain away or bring their child back, but it would hold them, show them they were loved, cared for and not alone in what can be a horribly lonely and difficult life-walk. Life-walk. Because the pain of child loss never goes away, it just gets carried.
Can an entire community grieve over and over again for it’s children? Ours is.
When a community grieves along with a family it is elevated far above simply a place where people live and shop and go to school. I have seen this with my own eyes and it is a beautiful, wonderful thing to behold and an even more wonderful thing to absorb as a bereaved parent.
Any person, any community and yes, even family- can do the safe, comfortable thing and observe grief from the outside, saying “What’s to say? What’s to do?”, and walk away, neglect to reach out, allowing the bereaved to fend for themselves. When people step up and step in to grieve with a family they are elevated to healers.
Menders. Counselors. Tenders. Comforters.
It is an amazing and rare testimony as to the marrow of a community when this happens.
They become the softened edges of a harsh and unfathomable experience for a grieving family. They become one of the many invisible arms about the family holding them upright. Literally or with prayers. They fill a dark and suffocating room with light and oxygen, allowing an exhale and some warmth in the room. Every meal is a meal a Mom is incapable of making. She is struggling through unbearable pain. Every text with words of encouragement, scripture or just a little purple heart is an embrace. A way of saying “I have not forgotten your pain today.” Priceless, for sure. The invitation from a neighbor to attend a weekly bible study was a brotherly gesture for a devastated husband with no brothers. Life-giving. The mention of her child’s name in a story shared will one day be a soothing salve to a Mother’s broken heart, reminding her they haven’t forgotten her child. They can never forget her child and they won’t, not a community that grieves with.
Acknowledgement is the backbone of how a community grieves and heals. Saying with your words or actions ‘Yes, we know you are in unimaginable pain. Yes, we know it will be for a lifetime, because nobody “gets over” child loss. Yes, we know you aren’t the same person anymore and we’re OK with it, we love you anyway. Yes, your child is missed and will not be forgotten. We acknowledge what has happened and will never pretend it didn’t.” That’s a community that grieves.
Never in my life will I forget bracing myself as I stepped out of the car at his middle school. The very sight of the building made me weak in the knees. He walked there, and played there. His energy still occupies the hallways there. The image in front of me, however, was breathtaking. A sea of blue t-shirts, designed for my son, by his classmates and arrayed across countless numbers of his school-mates at a memorial soccer game for him 2 months after his passing. I didn’t know if I had the courage to attend, but how grateful I am that I did. That sight, that event bandaged something on my heart that day. They were acknowledging it all. Aiden, his love of soccer, his place-the soccer field and his family. It demonstrated to my older children what kind people and a grieving community do for one other in times of tragedy. It showed them how much their little brother was loved. Those teachers, Moms and students touched me so profoundly that day. I will never forget how they remembered my son. They grieved with me. Again on March 9, a year later, seeing his coach, whom he adored, his team mates in their uniforms wearing “Aiden 18 Noonan”
armbands along with parents, neighbors and teachers in our driveway to remember him again with a candle-light vigil. So powerful and so healing to have your child remembered in that way. To have the community wrap it’s arms around you once again. The inquiries in the weeks prior to see how we were holding up, what we think we might need to get through the anniversary of that awful day and just to say “We’re going to be there with you in whatever way you need.” Acknowledging. Mending. Comforting.
I wish every community of people could know their immeasurable value at a time like this and even further down on this arduous path. They should know the impact of the little and big things they do. Every whispered prayer, every gift left on a doorstep months after, every text, remembrance bracelet, card and quiet moment spent just sitting in the presence of the broken ones. They should know the opportunity they have in front of them to save- and take it. The opportunity will pass.
A community can grieve as mine is.
The impact of “community” can be known in the truest and most splendid sense of the word. That in an unexpected and beautiful way, they can be family.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet, on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet
With which He walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
With which He blesses all the world
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet.
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes, through which He Looks
compassion on the world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
For resources for bereaved parents, please click here.
Please look for the next post on “What To Say, What To Do”.
If you are a bereaved parent and your community or someone in it has done something healing at any point in your grief, please comment below or email me at Jennifer@untiliholdyouagain.com. I’d like to share in my future post what helps.