The frozen ground beneath my knees was bitter cold, the kind of cold that instantly chills to the bone. I ignored it as I set about my task of tidying my surroundings, removing debris and dead leaves that had been blown by the wind to this location. I arranged the bouquet, carefully placing them in the empty urn. Then I tried to stay, to be still, to just be. I tried to remember happy moments, to count my blessings. I intended to sit in thankfulness for a while, as it is the season that we’re supposed to be thankful. But I couldn’t get past the cold.
And as I felt the cold invade my body even deeper, the damp ground under my legs chilling me further, I felt the cold’s bite sink deeper than I knew was possible. I felt the cold reach my heart.
Alone on the hillside, I wept.
The ground was cold. The ground was so very, very cold. My mind kept contemplating the same question repeatedly…Why do I have to sit here with my dad in this cold, cold ground?
I wanted to lay flat on my face and embrace the ground around his grave. I wanted to wallow in my pain…but it was too cold. I knew that, if I lingered longer, I’d be unable to leave, immobilized by the weather and my grief.
So after a short amount of time, slowly, reluctantly, tearfully, I left.
And as I drove down the beautiful, tree-lined road, away from the cemetery, my mind was dwelling on nothing but my grief. Tears continued to course down my cheeks as I could think of nothing by my loss. Yet somehow, the lyrics from the song playing on my car stereo broke through to me…
Lost in your light, the only way I’ll make it through is, Lost in your light, I close my eyes and disappear in white,
So tell me it was worth it, so tell me I will make it, so tell me all of this was not in vain,
remind me of your promises, remind me of your faithfulness,
remind me this was never about me…
– White Capstone, by Project 86
The last part of that song, remind me this was never about me, hit me, hard. I slowed my car, gently rolling to a stop at the lone stop sign on an empty country road and repeated that part of the song again. As the words sunk deeper into my being, I felt them trying to speak something specific to me in that moment. I turned off the stereo to be alone with my thoughts.
In my mind I quickly came to the conviction…Yes, it’s okay to grieve, but I need to get past myself. It’s not all about me.
This time of year feels especially rough. Thanksgiving marks three years since my dad’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I can’t help but feel that, for me, Thanksgiving is now less about thankfulness and turkey and more about signifying the start of our final three months of having dad here on earth with us. Three agonizing months of watching him fight for his very life.
The song lyrics sparked so many questions in my mind…But was it, his battle, worth it? Was it all in vain?
I could yet again only come to one conclusion…Dad’s battle, despite the pain of it all, was never in vain. His battle was fought with thoughtful intention. He knew he wasn’t just fighting for his own survival, he was holding on to his strength and his faith for us, to show us, to lead us, for us to cling to and to remember.
This grief, I’m constantly in need of being reminded, is not about me. It’s about what I can do with it, and it’s especially about reaching beyond it. This Thanksgiving, my neighbor across the street will face the holidays for the first time without his wife of almost 60 years. My neighbor two houses away lost her husband of more than 40 years, barely two weeks ago.
This was never about me.
I’m not the only one hurting, and I need to remember that. I need to remember, as much as my heart aches in these moments, there are many others who are hurting, deeply, that need grace, love, hope and compassion. There are people who need to be remembered, and who need to be allowed to remember those they’ve lost, even if it hurts. There are people who need to know they’re not alone, as the gray days of winter approach, and the chill of the season sets in with it.
It’s inevitable I will cry again. I will struggle to not immerse myself in my own grief. I will probably shed tears as I try to make the stuffing for this year’s Thanksgiving meal… To have loved, to have lost…yes, it was worth it. My life was made better because of the difficulties I’ve faced, though I hate even hinting at, admitting or even acknowledging that fact. My trials in learning to deal with grief sparked my book, Very Much Love, which has been helpful to others, reminding people they’re not alone in the journey through grief. My stumbling through life, becoming painfully aware of the impact of loss, has helped me realize just how important it is to reach out to others in their most difficult moments. If I can help comfort one person, whether it’s by baking cookies, or writing a note of condolences, or sitting in silence with them… If I can walk alongside someone who is struggling, whose strength is waning, whose heart is hurting, and help carry them through these dark days until some light, some hope, returns… this battle, this pain, was not in vain.
This Thanksgiving, as I remember to be thankful, as I count my blessings and spend days surrounded by family, I know there will still be a few moments of grief. I know there will be occasions when I have to remind myself the pain was worth it, that I will make it, I just might need to take some time to breathe through it. And while I know there will be fleeting moments of sadness, I have hopes that most of our celebrations will be full of joy.
Through all of the festivities this holiday season, I plan on making it my goal to live in the present, to embrace those around me and to be mindful that these moments, these times with family and friends, they are memories in the making. These moments we spend together will never be repeated, they can never be replaced. These treasured moments we are living in are priceless, they are truly a gift…
Who will you reach out to during the upcoming holiday season?