Gotta Go Through It

I heard a story about someone close to us.  She went back to work shortly after Beatrix’s death, unhappily, and was accosted by one of her co-workers.  The woman was shouting at her, “People say they know, but they don’t know what its like.  I know!”  I think, from the story, that this woman was trying to comfort her, trying to express compassion, but our friend was just left bewildered and unsure of what to say.

I laughed when I heard this story.  Imagining our friend’s uncertainty at how to respond to this odd attempt at comfort, I am amused.  But I am also horrified.

This woman has obviously been carrying around a loss for several decades, unable to process it, and is (obviously) unable to reach out to others who are hurting.

Recently while on the road, we listened to a podcast by Rob Bell.  I listened to one of his teachings many years ago that has been formative in my thinking about how to be with people who are grieving and suffering.  (And I hope has helped me to do so in a better way).  The one we listened to recently was so encouraging to the spot we are in right now.  It’s called “Making Room for the Immensities.”  It is largely about going through suffering and grief.   (I know we have people from a wide variety of belief backgrounds here, but I would recommend this one to all of you.  Skip the first 2 minutes of announcements and such.)

It also helped as I looked at our plans for the next year or so, some of which don’t seem to make a lot of logical sense.  However, this is what it is largely about – going through our grief, so that we can get to the other side.  I want our pain to make us kinder, more compassionate – I don’t want to be yelling at people in 20 years because I haven’t gone through the grief.


We bought tickets.

Standard advice when you experience the death of an immediate family member goes something like this, “Go home, go back to work, and don’t make any major life decisions for at least a year.”

Given the difficulty of our daily life in Rwanda, the standard advice didn’t really apply to us.  In many ways, we have been struggling the last couple of years, and Beatrix’s death has made it impossible for us to consider returning immediately.

And we don’t know what we might decide to do next, after this season of grieving.

However, there are some practicalities that need to be taken care of: we need to make provisions for our house to be empty and protected for a longer period, we need to make sure our dog is taken care of, and thatP1060267 the utility bills will get paid.  We need to look at our ministry responsibilities and see what can be done.  We have to sort through Beatrix’s stuff, and decide what we might want to keep, and what we might give away.  (Most will probably go into the latter category, partly because I can’t imagine dressing another child in her clothes, for example, but also because I know all toys and clothes will go to children who really need them.)

We need to grieve with our community there.  For many of them, Beatrix’s death won’t seem real until they see us without her.  And for us, going back to the house where we spent most of her life…



I don’t want to do this, because I know that it will be unimaginably hard, but I know that at a certain point, the longer we put it off, the harder it will be.  I want to have done it – but I can’t just arrive at that point without going through it.

We are so thankful that a friend (who is the one of the kindest, gentlest, most patient, & most capable women I know) is going to accompany us for the first couple of weeks to help support us.  We arrive in Rwanda at the end of January, and will be there for about 2 months.

I’ll keep you posted as best I can on how that goes.

Advent Continues

We have traveled many kilometers in the last week, changing “homes,” time zones, and garbage disposal instructions.

We have been able to light our advent candles most nights, trying to explain our unconventional advent rituals to the various people we are sharing them with.  The term advent “wreath” doesn’t quite apply: last year we had an advent raft due to the overflow of bugs in the greenery we tried to build our wreath with.  This year we have an advent tray, so we aren’t leaving bits of the wreath all over as we move with it.


We are appreciating our advent calendar so much.  I’ve spoken a few times about how having others grieve with us mysteriously eases the burden for us.  When Elizabeth put together the calendar, she spoke of how hard it was for her emotionally.  Working on it, and receiving (e)mail kept our loss in front of her in a more constant way than it had been.  She said that she realized that this was what our days are like.  Her willingness to prepare this despite the immediacy of the grief has allowed us to look forward with anticipation to some unknown good surprise each day.  Some ways of carrying this grief with us are tangible.

As we open our notes and gifts, most days your words, kindness, and creativity have brought tears to our eyes.  It has been another illustration to us of the way that we think and grieve differently.  For me, the hard part was thinking about it and preparing for it.  Once we were moving towards a good solution, I was content.  I was prepared to participate and enjoy it.  For Mike it was different, he wasn’t spending much time thinking ahead about it.  As we opened our packages on the first Sunday of advent, Mike collapsed into tears.  He said two very true things:

She should be here with us, opening her books.

And very shortly after that, “We have such good friends.



Your kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness continue to give us the courage not to shrink from things that are hard – to celebrate what we had, to acknowledge what we are missing, and to remember and recognize what is good about our life.

My bad. (sorrynotreallysorry)

In my defense, I didn’t really realize what I was asking of you.

I was talking with a friend the other day, and she was trying to get an idea of what kind of gifts we might like for the advent calendar.  She is a thoughtful, articulate person, so I was confused, and told her, “no, no, we just want you to use some words, you don’t need to do anything that extravagant!”

I know that there are people who just like to give gifts, so I expected that a few people would want to send us something, but I was surprised at the number of people who did.  I thought I had asked a simple thing – that wouldn’t require any cost, or even much time.  No work beyond a few minutes thinking (less if you have foot-in-mouth syndrome like me) and a quick email.  Simple.  Nearly effortless.

But as I talked with my friend, I remembered how hard words are.

Last year, my friend’s baby died.  I did what I knew to support and love her (and talked with her about how she thought we could help), which mostly meant taking Beatrix and going to spend time with her most days.  But then I was leaving the country for nearly 2 months, and I felt like I was abandoning her in her time of need.  So I decided to make her a “calendar” of sorts, with something from me each day we were gone.  Some days it was presents (here are some minutes for your phone; today is market day, buy cheese on me this week; etc.).  Those days were easy.  I also asked some of our mutual friends to write her notes for some days, and those days were easy for me, too.  Most days I wrote notes, and those were so much harder.  Anything I tried to write that would actually be encouraging and loving, felt so trite, and I thought I had no right to say those things to her.  But anything I wrote that didn’t seem to speak to her grieving situation felt shallow and pointless.  It made me feel so vulnerable, and afraid – because I desperately wanted to encourage and love her – but it was only by doing it that I could know if it would actually be any good.

Had I remembered that, I never would have dared to ask you to contribute to our Advent.

(I’m glad I forgot, because it looks like you have responded to the occasion magnificently.)  Our friend Elizabeth put in a lot of time and emotional work into organizing it, and we are so thankful to her for doing it.

It is set up to be more practical than pretty, because we will be travelling this month – I want to show you, but it doesn’t look that impressive:


But I did sneak a picture, without peeking, while Elizabeth was doing the final organizing, and I think that is a much better visual:P1060387


Thank you for your courage.  Thank you for taking this thing I was dreading it and making it something I am really excited about and looking forward to.

Winter is coming.

And so is He.