You may have noticed my absence this month from most social media. My mother-in-law, Rita, died unexpectedly. She died of a cancer no one knew she had. We were told she had 6 months to live, but 4 days later we were saying our final goodbyes.
Instead of posting cute photos and sending out encouraging posts, I’ve been thinking about death and loss, mourning and lamenting this month.
Not only did my mother-in-law die, but three members of the church I work for died within one week. It seemed as soon as one funeral was over, another needed a bulletin. Dying seemed to surround me.
When my mother died from Alzeheimer’s Disease five years ago, she had suffered the ten years prior. It was a long, slow, painful goodbye.
But when Rita died, I felt like I was on a roller coaster of emotions. Decisions needed to be made, only to be changed the next day. Advice was received and revised constantly. Discussions about what the next six months would look like for our family quickly changed into messages to hurry and say goodbye.
Rita was my first friend when I moved here. My husband, Jeff, two week old daughter, Jaena, and I left our home north of Detroit to move to the farm. We unloaded the U-Haul, moving our limited possessions into a tiny farmhouse that my in-laws owned. Three days later, Jeff took our only car and left for two weeks to finish his job in Michigan.
Rita and I were thrust together. We had two things in common. We loved her son, and we both adored Jaena. In many ways my first born belonged to Rita as much as to me.
Rita had raised three boys. Finally she had a little girl to buy dresses for, to hold and to spoil. Rita was more than willing to take me anywhere I needed to go so she could hold Jaena while I went in the store and to baby-sit anytime I needed a break.
It was perfect, if it hadn’t been for the fact that we were basically strangers. But Rita made it easy to become friends. She invited me to her house for meals, took me to church with her and introduced me to her large family.
When Rita started having eye problems, we spent hours together when I took her to doctor’s appointments over an hour away. She always treated me to a meal out after the appointment. As a young wife and mother, spending my days at home with small daughters, I loved those meals.
Rita was known far and wide for her sweet iced tea. And at one of those meals, she tried to order a Long Island Iced Tea. Neither one of us knew anything about alcohol. Somehow the waitress must have picked up on that because she smiled as she informed us that there would be NO tea in that drink. Rita quickly changed her order to plain old iced tea. We laughed long and hard over that mistake.
Rita was a farm wife of the old variety. She had a “town day.” Every Thursday she left the farm for the day, visited family, went out to lunch with friends and bought all her groceries for the week. And sure enough, every week, Jaena got a new outfit. I didn’t have to buy clothes for years.
When I got my first part-time job, who was my babysitter? Rita. It made leaving a crying baby much easier. She was with her Nanny, the other woman who loved her.
Throughout the years, Rita would ride her golf cart down to my house and do a lap through the driveway. We would trade hellos, recipe ingredients and sometime a child or two would ride off with her.
But like all relationships, ours changed as my girls grew up. We didn’t see each other as much. We’d wave as we drove by each other’s houses. Eat meals at each other’s homes. Go out to eat together as families who live close do. But the one-on-one friendship changed with the busyness of life.
I missed those meals out with just Rita and my girls. I missed getting a call to come down for soup. I missed the visits outside on the deck in the evenings.
And now suddenly she is gone. I never pictured life without her here. And I miss my friend.
I’m reading a book with my girlfriends, Prophetic Lament, by Soong-Chan Rah. It is based off the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament.
In chapter 1, Rah says, “The question is not whether there will be death, but how we will understand and address this reality.”
How do we deal with loss in our culture? How do I deal with my grief?
In the introduction to the book, Paul Lois Metzger, talks about having “…one finger in the ancient Scriptures, another in the daily newspaper and another touching the heart, all the while pointing to Jesus Christ.”
That idea causes me to look at my grief through a Biblical lens.
- “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) I can too.
- “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” (Psalm 116:15) God loves to be with his sons and daughters in eternity. I can rest in the knowledge that Rita is with her loving Creator.
- “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” (Psalm 119:28) The Lord will give the sorrowful strength. I can lean on Him.
- “You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me.” (Jeremiah 8:18) The Lord knows how to comfort us. I can turn to him.
- “…I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13) God can give joy instead of sorrow. With God it is possible to grieve one’s loss and yet be joyful. It is possible to hold those two emotions at the same time.
I’ve heard someone say the fee for loving is mourning. How true. And what a beautiful thought. Mourning is a way of honoring those we love and have lost. And today I’m thinking about my friend, my mother-in-law, and my heart is sad.