Much of her day was spent floating in the ocean of grief she thought would consume her. She lay on the couch, curled in bed, sat in the rocker and stared...into nothing...into her pain.
I watched. Ready to jump in if she went under.
The waves grew taller, more frequent. Her ability to stay afloat weakened. She grew exhausted from simply trying to keep upright.
When the waves finally toppled her, she cried for nearly an hour and a half. Hot tears. Sobs shaking her thirteen-year old body.
When air was available, she screamed, ranted, and questioned, and then the sobs came in another wave. When her head came above water again, so did the anger and pain. She thought she was drowning, but I knew I was watching her swimming the ocean of grief with beautiful precision and excellence.
Finally, she told me what had sunk her.
"Mom, they think I shouldn't be sad."
"It seems like everybody." A long list of names come forth. Youth leaders, youth pastors, friends...trusted hearts she thought would be a safe haven that had lobbed painful bombs. "They tell me I shouldn't be sad."
Within the last four months:
--her parents separated
--her long-time diving coach had lied and left her feeling disillusioned
--her traditional activities had come to an end as her age transitioned her out of them
--her grandma had been diagnosed with cancer and died
--her grandpa had imploded with anger and no longer spoke to us
--her uncle wasn't coming to Thanksgiving dinner
--her mom's uncle had died
In four months, her world had disintegrated under her feet, and she was trying to figure out where to stand...if there even existed a place to stand....But!, she had no right to be sad.
"Anna," I whispered quietly, "you are doing beautifully. I'm so proud of you."
Her breathing stopped, and her head jerked toward me. "What? Mom, I can't stop crying."
I smiled. "I know. Good for you. You should cry. This is horrible. The losses are horrible. Grandma was an amazing woman, and she left a big hole. Thanksgiving is always special, and she won't bring dressing. That stinks. And she won't make pies."
Anna laughed. "You mean the pies that she told you to make but she always brought?"
I laughed, too. "Yep. Those."
Anna shook her head. "She always told you she was only bringing dressing, and then she brought two boxes of food."
I nodded. "Yes, she did."
Quiet settled in for a bit. Then Anna said, "Mom, I'm afraid I'll cry on Thanksgiving."
"Then come sit with me, and we'll cry together."
"Mom, they said not to talk to you about Grandma because it would only make you sad."
I fought to keep the calm. "They're stupid," I said flatly.
"I don't want to make you cry."
"Anna, you are not my mom. You are not responsible for my emotions or my tears. I am so sorry anyone was so cruel and stupid as to put that load on you. That is not your job. Your job is to heal. Period. And healing often means crying and telling where you hurt, so cry and tell me. Besides, who else will understand the pain of losing Grandma as much as me?"
She was quiet a moment. Then she said, "Mom, they keep telling me Grandma is happy and better off. I know that, but I still miss her."
"Next time someone says that, just say, 'Yeah, but my heart has a giant hole, and that is what I have to deal with.'"
She ventured her heart again. "They say she is always with me. No, she's not." Her anger finally showed up for the party. "She's not here. I can't hug her. I can't call her. I won't see her Christmas. She is not with me."
I smiled, so proud of my daughter, courageous enough to speak truth others like to evade.
"Next time they say that, simply say, 'Really? Where? Cause I would like to give her a hug.' I hate when people say dumb things like that."
She stopped, seemingly surprised that she is not the only one who hates such comfortless remarks.
She stepped further into bravery. "Mom, they make me feel like I don't have a right to be sad, like I'm selfish. I'm not selfish. I hurt."
I'm not selfish. I hurt.
My heart swelled with pride.
"Anna, their comments have nothing to do with making you feel better. They are all about making them feel better. They aren't comfortable with your sadness, so they try to make themselves comfortable by making you what they are comfortable with. They are the ones being selfish."
She nodded. "Yeah. I thought they would be sad with me or be sorry Grandma was gone, but instead, they told me I had to feel better so others did, and if I didn't, I was selfish."
I smiled. "Well, I don't think you are selfish. I think you are grieving, and that is perfectly acceptable."
She became quiet. Finally she spoke. "Mom, thanks for being comfortable with my hurting."
I squeezed her tight. "Not a problem, Amazing Girl. I totally understand."
And unlike the others who say that, I really do...and she finds comfort in that.
God, thank you for all the times You have allowed me to feel what she has felt...to understand that other people don't really understand...to experience the pain of people's comfortless comfort zones...so I could learn from You the ability to create and be a safe harbor...where healing comes by making it to the other side of the hurting...where I am comfortable with that...in her...and in me...