a blog about words and faith and life by Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘grief’

Stopping Traffic



To the middle aged woman who gestured angrily and yelled as we passed…

To the thirty-something man in the power suit who honked and forced his black SUV through our line…

To the person who tried to pass us and then moved his car into our lane to block our progress…

Perhaps you don’t know. Perhaps you didn’t recognize the hearse and the flapping flags on the first few cars. Perhaps you didn’t notice that we all had our lights on and our hazards flashing. Perhaps your mama never taught you to show respect to the dead by showing kindness to the grieving.

You couldn’t know, of course, that the woman inside the hearse was only twenty years old. You couldn’t know that she leaves behind parents and siblings and a young husband and a one-year-old baby girl. You couldn’t know anything about the person in that hearse or the many people who followed. But you still could have stopped. You could have waited. You could have recognized that someone else’s pain was greater than your need to get to lunch.

Her parents saw you—you were just the first of many who will be impatient with their grief. Her younger siblings saw you—breaking the chain of cars that separated them from their sister’s body and their parents’ arms. You see, a funeral procession is not about getting to the cemetery at the same time. A funeral procession is a chain of connection, a visible sign of the invisible bond of grief. To the grieving, it is inconceivable that the world keeps going when their world stopped. They cannot understand how the rest of the world keeps spinning, not aware that it has lost something precious, when their world will never be the same. They will go through the coming weeks and months and maybe years with a hole in their gut that will be virtually invisible to everyone who passes. But for this day, this moment, they are seen. And if their grief doesn’t stop the world, at least it should stop traffic.

As a pastor, it is my job—and my honor, my blessing, and my burden—to sit with families in the midst of their pain, to hold their hands, to try to bring them comfort when the unthinkable has happened. I listen to their stories. I help them plan a service that honors their loved one. I help them choose a scripture for the service, whether they know many by heart, or know only that their loved one believed, or know only that they want something religious just in case. We create a bubble, or maybe a cocoon—a safe space where they can remember and cry and laugh and sit together in grief and anger and know that whatever they’re feeling is OK. It is heart-breaking to sit in those front pews, and it is gut-wrenching to watch those who sit in the front pews. But we are in it togetherthis thing called life, this thing called grief, this thing called love. And then we move from that space, together, for one last difficult act after so many others—one that nobody ever wants to imagine but always fears—to see our loved one’s remains laid in the earth. So we follow the car in front of us, knowing that we are still in it together, still bound by our shared grief even as we go out into this busy, impatient, insensitive world.

So for those of you who were so angry that a funeral procession made you a few minutes late, I have a few suggestions. The next time this happens, try not to think of the fact that you missed one rotation of the lights; think instead about what the people in those cars will miss. Try not to think of being late for your lunch date; think about the people who will never again get to meet their loved one for lunch. Try to consider that maybe you could inconvenience yourself for one moment to allow a hurting family to stay together, to show them that you see them and you recognize their loss.

I hope you can do this because one day, you’ll be the one driving with your lights on and your hazards flashing, needing to follow closely so you don’t lose your connection, don’t lose your way. And I hope the world will stop for you.

The Invitation

Like many people on Facebook, I play a couple of games. The makers of these games always try to get you to invite other people to play so they all include an “Invite” button. Some of them even give you suggestions on which friends to invite. From what I can tell, they’re just chosen at random from your list of friends on Facebook. There doesn’t seem to be any great marketing scheme behind the suggestions. They just put a couple of your friends’ names and pictures next to the game and encourage you to invite them to play.

Today the first friend on the list was Jay. I don’t think Facebook knows that Jay was my first real crush back in 9th grade, who is now married with teenagers and is a powerful figure in the Christian music publishing industry. He’s a busy man. I won’t be inviting him to play.

The second person on my list today is Donna. She’s a very sweet and funny woman from my church, and although she might like the game, I don’t invite her. I figure if she wants to play it, she will, and she doesn’t need an invitation from me.

The third person the game suggests I invite is John. Facebook has suggested him before, but I won’t be inviting him to play, either . . . because John died 14 months ago.

John was only thirty years old when he died. Like many people his age, he lived online. When he died suddenly, his Facebook page became the place his friends could connect, share their memories, and grieve their common loss. Reading page after page of posts, John’s parents learned that their son had touched many, many lives, and in ways they had never imagined. It brought them great comfort. They tell me it still does.

Posts are fewer now, but his friends still go there from time to time. On his birthday. On the anniversary of his passing. Comments like “I’ll never forget you, bro” and “I can’t believe it’s been a year; I still miss you every day.” One friend wrote, “I keep seeing funny things that I think you’d think were hilarious.” So he posted the video that made him laugh, even though he knows John won’t see it.

I didn’t know John well. I’d only met him a few times. He was the grown son of parishioners I love, and my tears of grief when he died were for them.

All this comes to mind in an instant. I see his name and the little drawing  that he used as his profile picture – an incomplete circle of a face with some scribbled hair – and I am suddenly reminded of his life and his death. His parents do not need such inconsequential reminders. A day never passes without reminders of their loss, reminders of how their world changed one day last June.

I don’t know how it feels. I don’t even like to imagine how it feels. Losing a child is every parent’s nightmare, and if you spend too much time imagining that loss, you will make yourself crazy . . . not to mention what such fear will do to your child.

So I don’t. I don’t think about it much. Oh, I can’t help it sometimes . . . like when I see the bittersweet look on his mother’s face as we welcome a new baby into the church, or when I hear the quaver in his father’s voice when we sing “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.” But otherwise I can put it aside and not be reminded of my own fears of losing the daughter I cherish.

And then there it is – a stupid game suggesting I invite him to play – and I can’t hide from the fact that in life, there are no guarantees. So I cry a little, and I say yet another prayer for John’s parents, and for a woman in my church who lost her son when he was three, and for my aunt and uncle who lost their daughter, and for the friends of my family who lost their son, and for every parent who has lost a child who is still alive, but gone. I pray, because it’s what I know to do, even though it doesn’t feel like much. And I cry, because that’s the other thing I know to do, even though it doesn’t help much. And I keep John as my Facebook friend even though he is gone, so that I will never stop being reminded.

And tonight, when my daughter goes to bed, I will tuck her in even though she claims to be too old for such things. Because I am grateful. Because I can.


A joyful season?