This month commemorates eight years since my son Ben walked this earth. It’s hard to imagine! Seven months after Ben’s death I wrote a letter to my family and friends to help explain myself and put into words the grief I was experiencing in a form that would alleviate some of my pain and frustration over being a person I didn’t know—changed forever by the death of my son. My grief was so raw and I was so afraid of offending people, especially well-intenders. A few months later my letter was published in Just Between Us Magazine entitled Grief in the Raw. It was eventually included in my first book, The Ben Ripple.
I recently received an email from the editor of JBU telling me that Ben’s life is still producing ripples. A recipient of the magazine sent a copy of my letter Grief in the Raw to a grieving friend who had just lost her son and how she, in turn, used my letter to help put into words her own grief for her own family and friends to walk them through the grief she was experiencing.
It got me thinking that perhaps there are others out there who could use either the validation or information regarding grief. So I decided to re-use it in this month’s blog. I trust it will minister to your heart.
Dear Family and Friends,
I thank you for your love and support throughout this past year and a half with Ben’s illness and subsequent death. It means so much to me knowing you’ve carried me and my family to Jesus over and over again on your knees in prayer. Your practical expressions have also been so very much appreciated.
It’s hard to imagine that it’s been 7 months since Ben changed addresses from his temporal home to his eternal home. It seems at times that it was just yesterday that he was running through the door on his way out again. And hence, it’s still hard to believe that he is now gone and that there will no longer be memories that include him.
I know that it must be so painful for you to watch me in pain. I realize you may be at a loss for words or feel inadequate to reach into my pain. No doubt there are times when you feel awkward around me as I shed tears or at other times when I seem unresponsive to your attempts to somehow make me feel better. I thank you for your patience as in my raw state of grief I may respond harshly to you. I apologize if I in any way have caused offense as I’ve worked through my grief.
I’m tired and easily distracted. I don’t have a lot of social energy right now. In fact, I often feel like a caged animal looking for a quick escape route in social settings. I am sad but I’m not looking for anyone to make me happy. I am broken but I’m not looking for anyone to fix me. I am not looking for answers. I am not looking for sympathy. I need people to be okay with my sadness; realizing that my tears are bringing healing. I need people to be more interested in entering into my pain than trying to get me to the other side of it.
As much as I appreciate the loving motive behind them, assurances that “One day it’ll all make sense” or “One day you’ll feel better” only serve to project a future I can’t make sense of yet. Words such as “Ben’s in a better place” or “Ben isn’t suffering any longer” don’t bring the comfort that I’m seeking but rather simply remind me of what I already know. Although they hold elements of truth, words intended to help me “Look at the bright side” make me feel that somehow I’m living “on the dark side”. Words that encourage me to “think of all I have to be thankful for”, usually beginning with “Well at least…” only suit to minimize my pain and imply that I’m not thankful for what I do have. Words cheapen my pain. Answers to questions I’m not asking frustrate me.
Be assured that there have been seconds that occasionally turn into moments, where there is a vaguely recognizable sense of relief. I personally like how Ben’s girlfriend described it in a recent conversation. She said “it’s like coming up for air”. She went on to put words to my feelings when she said “It’s like most of the time we’re in the ocean and every once in a while we come up and take a quick breath of air before being submerged again.” That revelation in and of itself was refreshing! Because, YES, grief can sometimes swallow you whole and such the breath out of you!
I think all of us concerned have done well to “go on living life” even when it’s hurt. Just as God’s grace sustained me and my family throughout Ben’s illness I know He will continue to do so now in our grief. God has strengthened us all to “do the next thing”; whatever that has been along the way. It might amount to something as simple as taking a walk or having an extra cup of tea or just hanging together as a family. God is comforting me with His quiet presence. He is holding my hand as He’s guiding my steps. He is entering into my pain rather than seeking to get me over it. My pain is what God is using to reach deep into the recesses of my heart where He alone can speak powerful words of truth and comfort. I believe He is using my pain for His glory as I share my journey with others.
I don’t know what “being okay” will look like for me personally. But I do know that I will not always feel as I do now. I know that laughter and joy will emerge again someday. And I do know that I will survive and eventually recover. I cling to that knowledge, even though there are times when I don’t feel it. And I trust that I will be a better person, becoming more like Jesus as a result.
Please pray that I would come to see meaning in my loss. Please pray that God would continue to teach me valuable lessons in my pain. Please feel free to talk to me and the rest of my family about Ben and don’t be afraid of our tears when you do. We long to hear mention of his name. We want to know that his life and his death are still making an impact for the Kingdom of God. We want to know that he’s not forgotten. Most of the time, given the right time and place, we are bursting to share our all-consuming thoughts with anyone who will give ear.
Thank you for caring about me and my family. Thank you for listening to me with no words. Thank you for validating my pain by simply crying with me. Thank you for understanding when I’ve seemed distant or aloof or disengaged or uninterested in your life. Thank you for giving me the necessary time and space to work through my grief. Thank you for not giving up on me.
And finally, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)
Lisa (Ben’s Mom)
Lisa Elliott is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of The Ben Ripple and Dancing in the Rain. Additionally she has written articles for Just Between Us Magazine and devotionals for theStory. She and her pastor-husband, David, have four children (3 on earth, 1 in heaven) and serve the Lord together in London, Ontario, Canada.
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Contact Lisa at: email@example.com