In 1986 I received a phone call letting me know that my father had passed away in his sleep. It was unexpected with no warning leaving no opportunity to speak final words, he was just gone from this world. In 1990, my mother joined him after a prolonged illness. 2012 I said good bye to my husband as he too joined Jesus. This morning I received a text from my sister, letting me know that her husband of 50+ years had left his world of pain and suffering. We knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it easier. No matter how you learn the news it is hard to let someone you love go.
I know some of the road my sister now faces. The change of wife to widow takes place in an instant, but the learning to navigate and accept that change takes much much longer. She bore the role of caregiver with such grace, and now she can rest. It takes grace to appropriate the new role she really does not want to live. I am so grateful my sister has Jesus by her side. I am so grateful she has two loving sons who will walk with her, even as they mourn their own fathers passing. But in many ways grief is a solitary road. But it can be a road made easier with encourage-rs who fill the roadside with empathy and solid help.
Another one of my brother in laws is a runner. He has run for many years–he even completed the Boston Marathon. People line the course to cheer on their people. But the amazing thing, it is not just “their” people, they cheer everyone! Their cheers and encouraging words often keep those runners focused enough to finish the race. My sister is his sideline cheerleader. During these 26.5 mile races, they would map the course and she would place herself along the race course, cheering him on to victory. Some of my best “cheerleaders” as I navigated the rough waters of grief, were my children and others who had experienced grief first hand.
When death happens, you look out the window and go–why doesn’t the world stop? Why are people still eating ice cream? The whole world should be mourning with me…my world has shifted, why not theirs? Because grief is personal. It touches our hearts deeply and we each react in our own way. If grief has not touched your world–be grateful. You may not know how important your role as a sideline cheerleader can be. Take the time to simply say, “I’m sorry for your loss”. It is a simple phrase, but if said with compassion, it speaks volumes.
A sideline cheerleader may show up with groceries, mow the lawn, clean house or do laundry. They may just come and sit and be present. They may give a hug and pray, or sincerely ask weeks after the event, “how are you doing?” They may send cards, texts or FB posts of encouragement. Paul encourages us in Romans 12:15, rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. He doesn’t say how long we rejoice, or how long we mourn. He just encourages us to join with the rejoice-rs or the mourners. Rejoicing may be a sprint, but mourning is definitely more of a marathon. Thank you for learning how to be a sideline cheerleader–it is not easy. It is often not “fun”, but it can be very rewarding. I still trying to be better at it. I pray the Father, who understands all things, will help us learn how to mourn with those who mourn. Please pray for my sister and her family. Thank you.
(The picture is my son in law, Timothy Haslet who ran the Boston Marathon with his twin brother for their sister Adrienne (center) who lost her leg in the Boston Bombing in 2013)