It was Mother's Day, 1996.
I went to church because it was Youth Sunday. We sang all of the cute Mother's Day songs ("M is for the many things she gave me/O is only that she's growing old...") and I was fine. The greeters read a Mother's Day poem and handed out gifts to all of the mothers in attendance; I was good. Just before the sermon started, we were to leave the choir stand and go sit with our mothers--something we had always done.
Of course, everyone understood my situation. I could have sat with any of my friends' mothers. I could have sat with my Sunday School teacher. Even though my dad was in the pulpit, I know he would have been more than willing to sit in the congregation with me. And yet, my eyes were drawn to a seat on the right side of the church, about six rows back. A seat that had been vacant for about two months. I could almost see her sitting there, wearing a brightly colored hat and matching suit. I could almost smell her perfume--Red Door. I could almost see her smile as she reached out for me.
It was more than I could handle. A tornado of emotions swept through me. I tried to make it out of the sanctuary before the tears started, but just as I reached the back wall, violent sobs overtook my body. I wept--for the moments we shared and the moments we never would. For my sisters and my dad. For her. For me.
In America, we have what is known as the Bill of Rights--ten constitutional amendments created by our forefathers, giving us the freedom to live our lives without fear of retaliation. A lot of excellent points are covered: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to a speedy trial and the right to bear arms. However, if I ever had the opportunity to stand before Congress, I would argue that we need an additional amendment.
Arguably, we need more than that--but today, I'm not talking about politics.
You have the right to grieve.
You have the right to protect your heart from additional wounds.
Some years, I go to church on Mother's Day. Most years, I don't. For me, Mother's Day is just one of those occasions that has been difficult to publicly acknowledge. I make no apologies for handling it my way--you shouldn't either.
You have the right to cry.
If you've ever found yourself on a grief journey, you know that some of the strangest things will bring you to tears. Once, I was at a barbecue and I cried because the potato salad reminded me of my mom's. Let the tears flow.
You have the right to take your time.
We live in a world of instant gratification. Modern technology has allowed us to speed up everything from cooking to communication. But there is no shortcut for grief. You have to allow yourself to feel everything--the hurt, the anger, the sadness and even the guilt--before you can find that place of true acceptance.
You have the right to laugh.
The beauty of grief is that it is not always sad. There are moments when I laugh so hard about some of my mom's quirks, which seem to have become mine. I write in the margins of books. I can't braid hair at all. I am a really bad driver, though I've never come close to taking out a gas pump. I have more pens in my purse than I will ever need in a lifetime...and I ALWAYS lose my keys. I am definitely Regenia's child.
You have the responsibility to help others.
In the ninth grade, one of my favorite teachers sent for me during lunch. She asked me to talk to another one of her students whose mother had just died. I was nervous. What could I say that could possibly help this girl? I sat there for awhile, collecting my thoughts. Eventually, I started talking...and talking.....and talking. When I stopped, she didn't say anything. I was kicking myself for making the situation worse, but then she reached out and hugged me. In the midst of that hug, the lightbulb above my head clicked on and I finally understood.
In the past sixteen years, there have been times when my heart ached so much, I wanted to die. I just didn't think I could handle anymore heartache and pain. But I made it--not because I'm so great or perfect, but only because I serve a God who loved me enough to save me from myself. My gratitude is in my service to others. I will always write about this. I will always talk to those who are going where I have already been. I will always lift up in prayer those who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
I will always encourage, because I have been encouraged.
Whatever loss you are dealing with today--a family member or a friend; a job or a relationship--be encouraged. From one battered (and healed) heart to another, you can make it. That's your right too.