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A Word About Grief

What I’m about to write isn’t easy for me.  It won’t be easy for some of you to read.  I’ve been putting it off, but now the time has come to let it out of my heart.

Saturday night, our community lost one of our teenagers to a car accident.  While we all mourn, one girl in particular, whom I happen to love very dearly, has lost a friend.  You can see the grief in her blank stare and her half-hearted smile.  She’s mourning a friend and facing her own mortality and it’s hard and it hurts and there’s absolutely nothing any of us can do to make it any better or any easier for her.

Next month marks the sixteenth anniversary of the day that I wore her shoes and my heart still hurts.

I was twenty when I got the call.  You know, the call.  My new husband had a car accident and was in the emergency room.  Whoever drew the unpleasant task of calling me not only had the sense to dramatically downplay his injuries, but also failed to mention one thing.  He was not alone in the car.  When I rushed to his side, I discovered that his ankle was “bothering him” because the bone was pulverized and his hand was hurt because it had been crushed.  In the midst of all his pain and shock and my rush to sign consent forms to get him to surgery, he told me, “Find Matthew.”  Our very dearest friend, the best man in our wedding, the person that we both loved with all of our being, was his passenger.  I was like a crazed woman in the ER.  I peeked behind curtains, I begged nurses for information.  I wandered around like the lost soul that I was until I found a police officer who minced no words and permanently broke a part of me.  I know now that my husband knew it, and I knew it somewhere under all the denial.  We lost our friend that day.

Loss of anyone at any time is never easy.  I don’t intend to address here the loss of a family member, a sibling, or, God forbid, a child.  What I want to talk about is specifically the loss of a friend.  In doing so, I don’t wish to disregard anyone else’s turmoil or in any way suggest that I was hurting worse than anyone else.  There’s something unique about losing a friend at a relatively young age.  For many of us, it’s our first exposure to the reality that anything really can happen to any of us at any time.  Youth does not make you invincible.  It’s a smack in the face to the natural order of things.  When you’re just getting started in life, you don’t expect to have to say goodbyes and it knocks the wind out of you when you do.  I don’t claim to know how everyone handles it.  I can only tell you my experience and maybe in the telling I will heal a little bit more.

To say I was crushed was an understatement.  I literally did not know what to do or where to go.  I stood alone in the ER until someone came.  I can’t remember those moments clearly even now.  My husband was in surgery, doctors were talking to me, at some point my family came to support me.  I remember sitting in a quiet room somewhere until my husband was moved to a room.  Then I had to tell him what his heart already knew.  He was properly dosed with morphine, which is probably the only thing that got him through those first days, as all hell broke loose.  The hospital phone rang off the hook as our friends called to confirm the horrible news.  Our pastor came to pray with us, and I’m ashamed to say that I was so wounded and angry that I left the room.  I stepped outside for a smoke and was confronted with a front page article of the accident, including a picture of the wreckage.  I was twenty years old and I thought I had a lifetime with my friend.  I was not adult enough to know how to deal with the loss and I wasn’t child enough to be protected from it.  It was a full-blown wake up call from reality.  There is no permanence in the world.  No matter how much you love someone, you can still lose them.  And no matter how much it hurts and how much you might wish it, it won’t kill you.  You have to learn how to pick yourself up and move on with that empty space in your heart.

I learned how to do it, through trial and error, but I can’t say that I healed.  If pressed, I might go so far as to say I never recovered.  The experience broke me in a very real way.  I started putting up walls.  The more people I care about, the more I have to lose.  The more I let into my life, the more I will hurt if I lose it.  I don’t mean to suggest that I’m a lonely old hermit.  I am married and I have children and I have a number of acquaintances.  Friends?  Real, true lifetime friends like Matthew?  No.  My heart can’t bear any more.  I know all the reasons that’s wrong, but I can’t overcome it and so I’m at peace with it.  I bear scars and they may not make me beautiful, but they make me real.  They remind me that I can be strong if I have to and they make me feel like I always have to.  To this day I have the most lovely dreams about him and I pray that they represent a spiritual visit from him.  I miss him so much that it hurts to breathe sometimes.

To the girl that I love, I say this.  Be strong, do what you need to do to get through this part.  The next will be a little bit easier and the next will get even a little easier.  It might never stop hurting, but there will come a day when you realize you no longer relive the worst moments again and again.  Keep breathing and hold tight to the memories, but don’t lose sight of tomorrow for too long.  Don’t let it break you.  You are not alone.

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  1. Martha
    April 11, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Shel you have spoke to my heart… and yes I shed tears recalling a very similar situation as a teen. It is a smack of reality that I would never wish upon young souls.. but it may make us stronger it also brings us wounds that sometimes do not heal.. love ya girl!!

    • April 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      Love you, too…it hurts almost as much to watch it as to live it. If we have to have wounds, at least we are strong enough to bear them.

  2. April 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Thank you for writing this. It really gave me pause. You see, I know what it’s like to be the mother of a child who has died. I know what it’s like to watch my daughter deal with the death of her precious brother. My son and his best friend, 19 and 20 respectively, were broadsided by a drunk driver who was going more than twice the speed limit. Both of them died instantly. I don’t, however, know what it’s like to have a good friend die – as did the friends of my son.

    • April 11, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      I am so terribly sorry for your loss. I can’t even begin to fathom it. Thank you for reading and commenting. I stay in contact with our friend’s mother; it feels like we still have a bond, even all these years later. I wish your family peace and love.

  3. Vicki Montgomery
    April 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I am the Mother that lost her son that night. Yes, it hurts to breath at times, but good memories come to me and seem to ease the pain. I hated God for letting this happened but I know now he is in control. I hated the guy driving the car that night but I have come to love him as my son did,that’s a good feeling.I have made peace with God and made friends with his friends . No one can fill the hole in my heart,but I’m still living .May God be with you and the driver. Bless your children and thank you for being in my life now.

    • April 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

      Thank you, Vicki. You mean so much to us and your love is a blessing. Our loss is nothing compared to yours and I so admire your strength. Know that your son lives forever in our hearts. He gave us beautiful memories to hold on to.

  4. April 12, 2012 at 8:12 am

    thank you for sharing this, shellie…

  1. May 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm

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