"It's Just Not Fair"
My cart was full to the brim. Emersyn was barely visible sitting in the middle of the basket with her little head emerging from all the newfound -but I assure you very necessary- Target bounty. Luckily she didn’t seem to care about her surroundings due to the strategic placement of my iPhone in her tiny hands. In all fairness, she had already put up with a full morning of errands with minimal complaining and I am that mom, who in an effort to buy herself a few more minutes of peace, will occasionally stick a phone in my kid’s face.
I love Target. It’s just the best ... or the worst ... depending on how you look at it or who you ask. However, there always comes a time where, “I just love this place” suddenly shifts into, “Oh my gosh I need out!” That threshold had been crossed. Target had officially done me in and I suddenly found myself on a mission to exit, find my car and free my daughter from her hour in “cart-jail.”
As I was walking briskly to the front of the store my cart suddenly screeched to a halt - enough so to even get a grumble out of Emersyn from down below. To my right sat the reason my cart had stopped so abruptly - the card section. In that moment I had to make peace with the fact that Target was not done with me yet. I found myself frozen in the middle of the aisle with a sudden heavy heart …
An old friend of mine had just lost her mom to cancer and I needed to get her a card.
I stood there staring at the sea of cards and did what we all do - judge them by the inch visible to the eye and inevitably play a game of Card Roulette.
No. No. Nope. Definitely no. Seriously? Have any of these people ever actually lost someone they loved?
Seven years ago I could have plucked one out effortlessly, thinking it was top notch in the sympathy card department. Beautiful picture. Check. Religious encouragement. Check. Pretty envelope color. Bonus check.
It’s amazing how certain veils in life can be torn down and in an instant reveal so much that was previously unseen. Circumstance and experience seem to have a way to change not only our hearts but our eyes.
I crouched down low so I was level with the sympathy section and scanned card … after card … after card … BUT through the set of eyes I was given after Logan died. I can’t imagine sympathy cards have changed much over the years, so it quickly became apparent that I was the one who did the changing.
Almost every single one rubbed me the wrong way. They may have been well-intended … but were poorly executed. Some of the cards did have ok words of encouragement but the timing would have been terrible for someone whose wound was still fresh and bleeding. The WHEN is equally as important as the WHAT. There is a time and a place for SOME things … and absolutely NO PLACE for others.
Here’s the proof:
“You are stronger than you know.”
False. In the wake of the death of a loved one, you don’t feel strong and more importantly, you don’t need the PRESSURE put on you to feel strong from those around you. In the months after Logan died the thought of taking a shower and brushing my teeth often felt overwhelming. I was anything but strong … and that was ok. I was weak and broken … and that was ok too.
“May the memories of sunshine chase away the clouds.”
Nothing can chase away these “clouds.” And on that note, grief needs to stop being viewed as something that needs to be chased away. It’s a process and it has a purpose. The bereaved need to lean into their grief, not attempt to scare it away. Grief needs to be faced head-on. Otherwise, it comes back bigger and uglier and messier than before. Chasing it, burying it, or attempting to outrun it is futile at best - not to mention incredibly unhealthy.
“Nothing can ever replace a loved one’s presence in your life.”
Absence. Absence most certainly can. Death STOLE THE PRESENCE of Logan in my life. Yes, I will always carry him in my heart but that is nothing close to what I desired and what I deserved as his mother. God may gift me moments where I feel more connected to him or more clearly see his delicate footprints in my life, but that is not the same as him existing with me. Feeling an “essence” of him when I see a sunflower or hear a certain song is something I, of course, will gladly take on this side of Heaven … but is nothing close to his PHYSICAL presence being here by my side. I can’t hug an essence. I can’t tickle an essence.
Creating flowery statements by stringing together pretty words and then finishing them off with a dusting of sugar does zero good. Sure, they may sound poetic on the surface … but once deconstructed, have the truth and depth of a half-full kiddie pool sitting in a back yard on a blistering hot summer day. These words simply “evaporate” the moment they are read.
“You are never alone when you have the love and support of those around you.”
Support fades. The floodgates are open and rushing at first but as time carries on that once raging river slows to a trickling stream (if you are lucky). For some, it dries up entirely.
Even when support IS present it, unfortunately, does not have the power to eliminate loneliness. No amount of love could have filled the lonely void left in my son’s absence. No amount of support could have filled the painfully empty nursery-to-be that I sat in every day. No one was with me as I broke down in the shower every night. No one was sitting by my side as tears fell off my cheeks on the way to and from work for over a year. I may have been loved by many … but never felt more alone in my entire life.
“You and your family are held close in our hearts & wished comfort in the days to come.”
Days? The path of grief cannot be traversed in “days” or weeks or even months. It’s a lifelong journey. The road changes and evolves and as time goes on can (hopefully) be better navigated and tolerated, but most certainly never fully ends. It is anything but a weekend road trip gone bad. Offering support in the “days” ahead (although ironically enough, quite apropos) is appropriate for someone recovering from a minor surgery - not a chronically broken heart. After a significant loss life gets split into two parts … BEFORE & AFTER. I have the life I lived before Logan died and the life I live now that he is gone.
“They say bad things in life happen in threes. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. But if it does I’ll be by your side for all three.”
OH MY EVER-LOVING GOODNESS. No this is not a joke and is actually available for the bargain price of $4.99. “Heads up… you might have two more tragedies heading your way.” Completely speechless on this one. Completely speechless …
I honestly could go on and on with countless examples but feel as though I have more than made my point. I’m confident my bereaved parent community is standing behind me sounding a unanimous, “Amen.” Meanwhile … others are very possibly feeling defensive or irritated by my (maybe?) too abrasive or too blunt of an opinion.
Please know, my heart in this is not to come across as cynical or skeptical of human sincerity. I actually think tragedy is one of the greatest catalysts of the beauty that can be found in humanity. Nothing else spurs a heart into action more than the suffering of others. Nothing else makes a human heart look and act more like Jesus. So if you are reading this and a newly present, “Oh no…” is reverberating in the back of your mind, please do not over-analyze every sympathy card you have ever sent. Acknowledging a loss IS necessary, the thought DOES count and support IS always appreciated.
We got a ton of cards after Logan died and I kept EVERY SINGLE ONE. I don’t recall their words or feeling any anger when I read them because some of those words may have been misplaced. I actually felt very loved. In all honesty … I don’t remember a single one. Grief is heavy and much like a fog, coated everything - especially my mind’s ability to remember. The stack of those cards live in a little box that contains every piece of what remains of Logan’s life. They help fill a box that is painfully empty. Those cards are proof Logan existed and I will hold on to them until the day I leave this world (and that box) behind and RUN INTO HIS ARMS.
What I find most upsetting in all of this is the subtle way our culture hints that grief is wrong and loss is only for a season. The posture of our society was reflected in those cards and it breaks my heart. It is so deeply rooted in our culture that it makes me wonder how we will ever find a force great enough to choke it out.
Were those cards filled with the intent to love? Of course. Were the words meant to offend or hurt or cause a grieving heart to roll its eyes? Of course not. There is a big difference between being LOVED and being UNDERSTOOD. In the aftermath of a loss some people are capable of both and some - normally due to inexperience, youth or dare I say it … ignorance … are not. Luckily more often than not these “word misfires” are born out of a genuine desire to support.
That tells me there is STILL HOPE for change.
I just can’t help but think how a slight recalculation or couple degree shift in the compass of our culture could truly change everything. I can’t help but dream of a world that one day UNDERSTANDS and ACCEPTS.
And just in case you are wondering what card I picked after 20 (additional) grueling minutes in Target …
“It’s Just Not Fair.”
Yup. It was that simple and it was perfect. No justifying. No “at least” statements. No pressure to move on.
P.S. Coming Spring of 2020 … my new and improved line of sympathy cards. Just kidding. But maybe not.