Parents, Kids, and Heartbreak

It’s funny the things you have in common with people. Whether it’s a favorite song, a similar life journey, or possibly a relationship or two, if you dig deep enough there are tendrils that connect us all over the place.

But sometimes, it’s not so funny when you have something in common.

Last night, I went to visit one of the ladies from our church at the funeral home. Her daughter passed away on Sunday morning, and this sweet lady was having to bury her child. I went to visit with her because I know what that’s like.

It doesn’t matter if you have your child for 40 years or 40 weeks, there is nothing harder than burying your own flesh and blood. As I drove to the funeral home last night, I debated in my mind which is worse: not ever getting to know your child, or getting to see them live life only to lose it too soon? I suppose you could make arguments either way, but in the end I decided there was no right answer.

And I shuddered at the fact that I’m in position to possibly experience both, because life has no guarantees. I pushed that thought out of my mind as fast as I possibly could.

I ended up not staying very long. For one thing, I got there with only 40 minutes left in the visitation time. For another, I’m insanely attuned to the truth that people who are grieving need personal space. Granted, this is just my personal belief, based on my own preferences – I need space first and will seek community when I need it – but there is something that hammers away at you when people want to comfort you. It is one of the most generous things that we can do as human beings, to show up and show others we care, but the relentlessness of a funeral visitation exacts a steep toll on those who are grieving. Often it’s both a welcome distraction and a demanding drain, so I try to err on the side of caution: a quick visit, a heartfelt prayer, and then leave.

So it was that I held hands with this dear woman for about ten minutes, just listening to her pour her heart out. She told me how her daughter had lived with her ever since she became a widow. “She was a good girl. She kept me from being lonely.”

Tears started flowing, and I just patted her arm. She looked up at me and smiled.

“You understand, don’t you?” she said.

“Yes ma’am. I do.”

In a couple of hours I’ll walk about 200 feet from my office and run sound for her daughter’s funeral, then walk another 500 feet more to the grave where they’ll bury her. And about 500 feet away from that fresh, new grave is the grave of my daughter, no longer fresh and new, but established and mature. It will be hard, standing in that graveyard, smelling the dirt and flowers and being transported to that day, seven years past, when those smells erupted for my Ruthanne. But I will do it because I know how it feels to see your child slip from your sight and into a hole in the ground. I’ll do it, because when it happened to me I felt so alone, even surrounded by the hundreds of people who came to grieve at my side.

I’ll do it because, in the end, I do understand.

It’s a link to other people that I would have never asked for, but it’s one that has become – in a strange way – the most humanizing and common one I have. I don’t know what it means, but it’s powerful enough to bridge an age gap of 50 years, and put me on equal footing with an 85 year old mother who’s heart is in pieces. And it allows me the opportunity to tell people God’s honest truth:

Even shattered hearts can heal.

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