the gravity of grief weight

He picked around the cashews on the table and instead chose the peanuts, pecans, and almonds. Cashews are my favorite and he was leaving them for me.

We had biked to our pastor’s apartment in a rush and I was flustered about our handfuls of changed Saturday plans. He let us sit there, my new husband and me, and think of things to say or not say. So, the stillness sunk in with the late morning sun streaming through all the circle windows. With sweat still on the backs of our shirts, we heard Vito say, “What do you want to talk about?”

We didn’t know, exactly. We just knew we should talk, so we shrugged into conversation about marriage and transition and new things and… well, and grief.

I didn’t think I could put fingers to keys again, at least for awhile. I had to let her words sit with me first. I had to let my shoulders in Brooklyn feel all the weight on hers in Davis. I had to try, anyway. I had to notice, slowly, all her torn apart-ness. All the ways they were one. I had to try, anyway. I had to try because I want to hurt the right way, with the right amount of hope and the right amount of grief and the right amount of tears. 

Of course there is no such thing, just the salt water crystallizing my eyelashes and the runny slobber wetting my keyboard. There are just the traffic signals on busy streets and the emotionless subway schedules and the memories unpacked from boxes in our new apartment. There are just the pictures in piles and the voicemail snippets and all the hot white silence in the air when my mind asks questions without permission. There are just those things.

Those things and the cashews stranded on the cutting board Saturday morning in the middle of our pastor’s dining room table, next to the little bowl of sweet honey and a few green apple slices. It felt good to be exposed. It felt good to sit in air that wasn’t figured out – to search for words and find nothing. It felt good to get unraveled and not fight for tidy endings.

Those cashews. My eyes kept drifting over the table and landing on those cashews.

It is strange that I am whole. It is strange that for almost exactly two months, I am one with someone I love more than anything on earth and that he knows cashews are my favorite. It is strange to feel this new one-ness when my sister Grace is torn apart. Weight on top of weight on top of the new gravity of grief weight. 

I filled a $95 prescription for eye drops today. No more contacts for awhile, until these drops clear away the grief stripes. But, they will stay there, behind all the white and behind all the ways the world is still striving to make sense.

And grief is okay because death is not normal.

Truth is like sandpaper sometimes and ocean waves and steep ravines and caves and breaking dawn of a new day. Sometimes the natural arc in the true story is carried on the back of an ant inside a grand canyon. And sometimes our hearts don’t make sense.

No matter how hard we try, but we try anyway. We try and we believe and then we pray for more belief.


Find all our writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

a guest post from Grace

“I am Grace. And I will do my best.”

That was how Grace introduced herself from the stage at Will’s memorial service. I can still hear her soft, strong voice; I can still see her firm stance and steady smile. She wore a dress with a flower print that day and I loved her for it. I love her for many things – for the way her decisions are full of purpose and her words are carefully chosen, for her patience with all of us who are grieving someone we loved while she is grieving her own self… because she is the only one who loved Will as her own body.

I am humbled to post her words here and honored that she shared them. She, like Christina, insists that she is not a writer. But if either wrote a book, I would be the first in line to buy. I am learning about truth and honesty from them both.


As I drove down the country road toward the town of Davis, CA and away from the home my husband and I had just moved into, I grew more anxious about my first counseling session. I felt ill-prepared. Having never gone to a counselor before I realized that maybe I should have prepared goals or thought more about what questions I might have or come up with a succinct way of describing what ‘my situation’ is.

When I parked, I flipped quickly through the few pages I had journaled since Will died (I don’t journal… I think maybe my last journal entry was from junior high) to see if I had put down any thoughts I should share during my hour session. I sat anxiously in the waiting room until the clock read 3 and a kind-faced woman came out and introduced herself to me. The moment I sat down on the couch a blend of tears and snot began its descent down my face.

I never quite know the source of these outbursts any more… this one I tried to explain to her was, yes, due in part to anguish, but also because the task of relating who I was, who Will was, and who we became together seemed an insurmountable task. I hate that interview question, “Please tell me a little about yourself.” What do you say, how can you convey all the nuances of yourself to someone in words? How do you know what is relevant? And how do you not come across as prideful? When she inevitably asked me that question, I gave her the bullet points of my life….

“To start with, I’m an introvert. I was born in California to Christ loving parents, I have one older brother, we moved to Iowa when I was in elementary school, my mom died in a car accident when I was 15, I was an incredibly shy and self-conscious teenager, I enjoyed sports and especially running, I met Will the summer after high school when I was a counselor at a Christian summer camp where he was the director, we dated long-distance for 4 years while I went to school at UC Davis, we got married after I graduated college, my grandma passed away from cancer just a month ago, and Will and I had been married almost 3 years when he died in a car accident driving home after a late night at work.”

But what I couldn’t convey…. what I couldn’t say because the thunder of sobs was closing in…. was who I became because of Will. I couldn’t express that it was because of Will that I, that we, became more fully the people God intended us to be. I couldn’t express that without him I don’t know who I am or what life is supposed to be…. and that I’m not ready for a life that is not the one Will and I had planned together. The life that now includes chickens and a big community garden on the property where we just recently decided to rent a tiny house, the life where we were going to build a home and have little curly-haired children with big Nichols-thighs, the life where we were going to continue to love and serve God and one another.

I’ve been trying to sort out the mess in my head. And let me just say, I don’t typically have the patience for this kind of introspective stuff. It’s like my head contains shelves that, in the earthquake of loss, memories and emotions got tipped off and are now intermingling on the dusty floor. Sorting and sifting through the wreckage and reconciling God’s truths to my heart is HARD. And through reading and praying and journaling and thinking aloud to my counselor God has faithfully shown me that He is present, even now as I’m working to sort through the pieces that don’t make sense.

One of the truths about God that I’m wrestling with is that God is sovereign. Tim Keller describes it well in his book called Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering when he says, “But the Bible depicts history as 100% under God’s purposeful direction, and yet filled with human beings who are 100% responsible for their behavior—at once.” So God offers comfort in the truth that He is in control.

To be honest, that is a truth I am on my knees praying for and at the same time can’t bear to accept. It is a truth that says ‘Will’s death was not an accident because I knew the number of his days.’ Guilt has consumed me the past weeks knowing that if I were less selfish I would have insisted to Will that he stay in Reno at a hotel to get some sleep before driving home or that I should have insisted to Will that he call me so I could help keep him awake while he drove. But knowing that God knew the number of Will’s days offers freedom from that guilt. The truth of God’s sovereignty also says ‘I intended you to experience the loss of your love and to live life as a widow.’ This is something I’m not quite ready to be ok with. I know that I’m not the same person. Though I’m not ready to know this new person, this widow, quite yet. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the person I was with Will, because he was the best part of me.

The last part of the truth about God’s sovereignty, the one that is most important, is that God had determined that Jesus would die on the cross to offer redemption for our sins. And because I know and believe this truth I know one day I will depart to be in Heaven where I will be face to face with Jesus and in perfect community with William and all the other Christ-believers who will have gone before me, experiencing ultimate joy and fulfillment. Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven has been so good to read and has brought so much peace. Up until now, I’ve always just considered Heaven to be preferable to Hell and left it at that. But wow…. I feel that finally I am understanding Paul when he tells the Philippians that he desires to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23).

Will, the morning after he proposed to me and before he had to hop back on a plane to Iowa, wrote me a note on my computer than I recently rediscovered. And the last line is one that I’m holding onto each moment. He said,

“Know that I love you, and although parting is always very painful, when we see each other once again it will be all the sweeter.”

This ‘parting’ has been very painful and the road ahead will be difficult, but I will choose to continue to ask God for the endurance to run the race set before me (Hebrews 12:1) with my eyes fixed on the goal, Heaven.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

observing grief

One of these days, someone will tell me I need to take better care of my eyes. And I will listen because that person will be right.

It is probably irresponsible to wear my brother’s old contacts – the ones that arrived in the mail on Friday, hours before the accident. But I love that he sent them, because “our prescriptions are close enough” and he didn’t need them after lasik surgery. The conversation went something like this…

WN: Care! What’s your prescription?

CN: Uh, I don’t know… why?

WN: You can have my contacts!!

When we found out both Christina and I had equally similar prescriptions (and equally hazy memories about what those prescriptions were), he intended to divide the spoils fairly between his two sisters who do not have vision insurance. We love him for this… this being so typically “Will.”

I don’t know why I tossed that brown mailer package out, with his efficient and upside down scrawl on the label. He used to start his letters from the bottom because he didn’t like to waste pen strokes and now the last ones he wrote to me are on their way to a landfill in New Jersey. I don’t know if he was still starting all his l’s and i’s from the bottom… I’ll have to ask Grace, she would know.

I paid full price for a copy of “A Grief Observed” at a snobby bookstore in Grand Central Station after taking the train over my lunch hour to find out the largest used bookstore in the city didn’t have it. But my eyeballs were burning from these free contacts and I am observing grief. It felt urgent; I knew C.S. Lewis’s hazy combination of intellectual and emotional fog would make me more normal.

Pancake Mondays only gets better and the joy is almost painful. We moved around in that sliver of a kitchen, chef and sous chef-ing that packed out Monday night like the apartment restaurant owners we aren’t. Our MacGyvered cold brew coffee sat in the freezer and six batches of batter rested in the fridge while our test pancakes were devoured with plenty of time to cook the (coconut) bacon to perfection. The neighbors came and the friends came and the strangers came and they all came through that open door and my face got confused.

This is still joy and it feels both welcome and wrong. I push against it and every emotion that distracts from this new, awful reality. But I am drawn to it, because joy is the only emotion with any strength in it anymore. There are a lot of emotions, but just joy has strength in it. It is made of the same stuff that allowed Jesus to endure the terrible tragedy of the cross, scorning the shame that would be our salvation.

“For the joy set before him…” There is something very “set before us” about joy. It is something far off as much as it is something near, like muscles making our bones dance toward a sunset.

One night last week, Tam moved the furniture around my glazed-over figure in the dusk light of our common space. Chairs got pushed to the walls, the rug got adjusted to make more space, and the clutter got cleared enough away for our legs and arms to be free. And we danced in that summer dusk light. Each separately working out whatever it was we needed to work out on the poorly refinished wood floor – separately stretching misery and mercy with untrained movements and with (for me) little grace.

The “joy set before me…” had settled in to all my knotted muscle groups, its presence pushing like thunder against my ribs but escaping like mist with my breath. Joy.

I am pushing against it. How is there still joy and why is it the thing that is strong and brings strength? It seems best and most appropriate to step into sadness and lock the door. But even then it seems joy pursues me and lives inside locked rooms, too.

I got a card from my grandparents, with one of my Gram’s flowers printed on the front. A lily, I think. Will’s fingerprints are all over their house – the shingles, the support beams on the addition, the wood shop, the storage shed. There’s the smallest knick in their living room where he missed a beam with the nail gun. They are remembering.

For the joy set before us, camped around us, living in us… this, we endure. There is no sense-making of it. We are on this side and he is over there. And the joy set before us is the same.

All I know is, a small package arrived on Friday, August 2nd and now my eyes burn like the fireballs Dad used to hide under the seat of his Chevy pickup. And I’ll let them burn until someone tells me I need to take better care of my eyes. Meanwhile, I’ll be hitting the Visine good and hard.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

when you meet people like us | guest post from Christina

This is a guest post from my sister, Christina. She has good things to say and I’m glad to have her say them here. Read this if you don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting or read this because you want to understand our hurt a little better. 


Caroline, as I’ve said, is the wordsmith.  So much so, that while greeting people at the visitation, I accidentally received many compliments for her beautiful writing, by people who hugged me while saying some version of , “Oh Caroline, I’m so sorry!  And you’re such a beautiful writer!” and I hugged them back, “Oh, you are sweet! But I’m Christina!”

But grief is this weird thing, this weird thing that completely takes over your personality and your world, and you start thinking, “Hey, whatever works.”  Maybe this whole “writing out your thoughts thing and publishing them to the world” helps.  Too many quotes? That’s just the kind of classiness that you get with this brown haired sister.  My beloved sister-in-law and I were talking the other day and I mentioned that I was going to write a blog entitled ‘World’s Least Spiritual Griever.’  This is that blog.

A portion of you who read this blog don’t know us, or at least don’t know us well. And some of you we consider ‘our people’ and you are struggling to love us through this. This post is for both of those groups.  For those of you who don’t know us, read this and keep it in your back pocket for when you meet people like us, people drowning in a sea of sorrow and grief.  For those of you who know us well, the ones we consider ‘our people,’ this is for you too.

To our people: We’re sorry for being weird.  For not calling or texting you back.  For zoning out when we’re talking with you.  For probably waiting too long to send you a thank you for the home-cooked meal you brought over to our homes.  For ruining our conversation with you with our new-found perspective, trying in the softest of ways to let you know that your problem isn’t a real problem, because in your problem everyone is still alive.  We’re sorry that our emotions, the things that upset us, and our demeanor change a million miles a minute. We’re sorry that we won’t commit to plans. We’re sorry that there are only a few people that we can tell the whole story to (because re-living the worst minute/hour/day of your life is something you just can’t do very often). We’re sorry that it’s hard to engage with us, even though you clearly love us very much.

And the things that are probably just me… I’m sorry I almost passed out on my porch when you brought me a meal last night.  I’m sorry I can’t stop apologizing for this new personality that is so radically different than my old one.

We can’t explain why all these things are true, and it’s hard for us to not know when we’ll feel ‘better.’ But I’m afraid it’s going to be a long time.  And that terrifies me.

If you want to help:  Even making this list makes me feel like such a needy person, such a diva.  “Here are the things I need, please do them!” But I have to believe that there are a few people who truly are ‘in this’ with us, awful as it is here, in this place. Assuming I’m correct, this is a list for these people.

Friends, please let us talk about him, and what happened.  Please don’t avoid us because you aren’t sure what to do.  If you are not sure what to do or what to say, can I make a few (more) suggestions?
“How are you doing/ feeling today?”
“This is terrible. I’m so sorry.”
“Sometime I’d love to hear about William”
“What’s one thing I can do to help you/ love you today?”

Let us feel happy and joyful when we have those moments and act normal around us, but gentle.

Let us tell you stories about him and our life with him and make us feel safe doing this, like it’s not weirding you out to hear about this thing that happened, or about him. He was an incredible man (the best I’ve ever known, honestly,) and one of my favorite people in this whole world. I like talking about him.

Invite us to things but don’t be offended when we don’t come. Text us and don’t be offended when we don’t text back.  Call us but don’t be offended when we let it go to voicemail.

Have I mentioned that (if you are close to us) please please ask how we’re doing, and ask about Will? Of course, don’t ask these questions as you quickly pass by.  That’s the worst.

You know what else you could do?  If you really want to step inside this dark cave of terribleness with us? Read about grief a little.  C.S. Lewis’ book ‘A Grief Observed” is incredible.  Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff‎ is also a perfect depiction of grief.

Crazy, unhelpful things sometimes burst out of people’s mouths.  We have tons of grace for this… sometimes.  Flippant comments about different things making it ‘worth it’ or different reasons why we should be thankful, those are tough to hear, because we are living in a nightmare and nothing is a fair exchange. Some things you will try with good intent and those things will go very wrong.  But please still try them?

One thing you can assume…

We are not ‘doing well.’ We are not ‘handling it.’ We are not confident of anything right now.  We’re losing it and at least this grieving sister has spent multiple hours in the last week considering vintage motorcycle and/or treehouse tattoos and searching online for girl baby names that start with the letters ‘Will.’

So, that also happened.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

come | he will not cast us out

In the pale darkness of our Brooklyn bedroom, we prayed.

Honest prayers, out loud, are like a wrecking ball for the walls I build to protect my grief. He prayed first and I breathed out my soft echoes in mmhmms. A day’s worth of silent wrestling caught up with me in his clear words, wrapped in our white wedding sheets. We are one now, but I wanted to roll toward the blank wall and blink away my sadness in solitude. Alone is painful and that feels more appropriate. But when he finished his honest prayers, I started my own with a sigh.

Keep me from jealousy.
Forgive any bitterness that tries to take root in me, O God. 
Help me to speak grief words openly.
Teach me to walk with Patrick in this and not shut him out.

It went on like that, lit by streetlights, and I realized I had much to confess. I walked my words up to the altar and tossed them down, like flowers on the casket we never buried. A strange and honest offering. What I most wanted to pray for, selfishly, was more time on this side of heaven.

I am jealous of those Will loved well and of those who knew him best. I am bitter for the moments I didn’t spend with him and for the moments I wasted in his presence. I am bitter at a world that suffers death every day, for the wars on top of wars of death and none of it weighing the weight of this one man.

It was just the scratch of our midnight voices that hit the silent ceiling, a strange and honest plea for some ground to catch our freefall.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

We believe and we are praying for more belief. We are confident in the goodness of the Lord, of the eternity He rules and the table He prepares. We are confident that He is our home. We are confident in His invitation to “Come,” though His beckoning feels painfully far off.

Two soft voices melodied these words over the string arrangement while Patrick and I took communion at our wedding. We wanted everyone to know about the invitation that altered our lives forever, Jesus’s invitation to “Come.”

Today we sang this same invitation during communion, but the melody from almost two months ago felt a world away. I am now the child in the last verse, full of fret and grief – the child who is not cast out. Even that child has an invitation to sit at the celebration table and take part in the feast, maybe especially that child.

Come ev’ry child, with fret or grief;
He will not cast us out
He will meet our unbelief
and drive away our doubt.

Come, cloaked in grief. Come, bring your sadness to the feast table. Come, bring your questions and doubts and weary tears to the day the Lord has made. Come.

Come, he will not cast us out. He will meet our every unbelief and hear our every doubt. He will comfort and keep us at the celebration table, when we grieve and sorrow and pray honest prayers in the pale darkness.

“Come, He will not cast us out.”


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

 

this is our story

I sat at the front desk with a temp worker named Chelsea two days ago. We exchanged high pitched pleasantries and filler words about college and travels and restaurants in the city. Then the Senior Director waved me into his office and told me with kind eyes that our company is a family. He wanted to know “the story.” I fumbled the details out and my vision blurred. Three sentences felt insufficient, so I added halting additions in an attempt to introduce my boss to Will, “He is…ahem was an engineer… He works, um.. worked for a conveyor company out there.”

And, when I couldn’t keep my face tidy anymore, I just nodded as I walked out with pursed lips and squinty eyes. I dabbed my face back at the front desk while I told Chelsea (the temp worker) the “story” in one sentence. And I hate that story – that final story I keep telling about my brother Will. The final story I’ve smashed irreverently into one memorized, mechanical sentence that sounds more like a news report than anything else… the story I feel obligated to follow with the words, “It’s okay,” and “We are fine…” because no one is comfortable with death or grief or sorrow. Everybody shifts uneasily when absence happens like that.

And everyone wants to know the story.

Sometimes, my urban life plays make believe. New York City dresses up in everyday routine, and it almost almost feels like my life on earth isn’t altered forever, like it is “just another day” where taxis have road rage and college students are hung over and teenagers buy too much at Forever 21.

But then I am walking toward Bryant Park on 42nd Street and there are too many people, all of them strangers and none of them Will. He has never been to Bryant Park, but his absence follows me around like a shadow hovering over all the spaces he is not.

We are a weathered lot. Dad calls often with a shaky voice and as many questions as answers. We talk about “how things are going” and “getting better” and “benchmarks,” but there is no good news, only words to put in quotations because we don’t know what else to do with this grief. We want to honor him with our efforts and to love the God who gave us 27 beautiful years. But we are all hiking fumbles in office buildings and front porch swings and backyards. We are all shrugging shoulders and breathing sighs and letting the pain sink to our depths, because it would be wrong not to.

This is our story, stretching out like a rope between mourning and hope. All the threads intertwine, connecting what feels like opposites on either end.

There is peace, yes. And there is pain.

But our faith is not simply pragmatic. Our minds, knowing Will’s salvation, cannot tell our hearts, knowing Will’s absence, to “move on.” Nothing in quotations works in real life. We can’t “make progress” or “get better” by some mental acrobatics. Our minds and hearts are meshed together in constant, internal marathons – chasing reason and running from emotion or the other way around.

I walked into the copy room today and found five guys hanging out where there is room for two. To their silence I said, “Is this a secret meeting?” They side-glanced with smirks that looked like they were hiding a freshly painted “boys only” sign behind their backs. “Yep, top secret meeting,” one said. I chuckled at their mischief, “I know what’s going on… I have three brothers.” The words stung my eyes.

This is our story of peace and pain.
And there is still much to be written.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

praying for more belief

I’ve been sleeping a lot.

They tell me, “Sorrow is exhausting,” so I guess a twelve hour stretch of slumber is allowed. The days are perfection, hovering at 70 with dreamy cloud cover and begging to be biked. We stuffed my purple, craigslisted road bike into the trunk on our return trip from Iowa, so now I get a better wind return for my energy investment. But I get tired even on perfect days.

I’ve been reading through old posts lately, like this post I wrote on Black Friday, the day Will and Grace came to visit. I felt like I had really climbed inside Lent, like sadness was a weight I wore for clothes. It was heavy and I couldn’t wait to trade it for white lilies on Resurrection Sunday. But it is strange looking back now at these words…

This is the darkest day, but there is hope on the horizon. There are rays hiding behind the dark sky, lit by the glory of the Creator – our God who knew all along that there would be a resurrection. And the resurrection lights the way for our love of one another.

All those days in Lent when I felt weighed down by solidarity with Christ feel like feathers now. It’s like Black Friday happened again, or is happening, or is some sort of constant, awful undercurrent.

It can get mechanical, navigating grief. The deepest feelings I had before now feel like dramatics. But I know this is not the case. I know in my head that it was the blackest day when Christ died. I know we are not mourning without hope, because I know Christ did not stay dead.

But we are mourning.

And it is hard to be selfless. It is hard to take a genuine interest in the welfare of others, to think eternal thoughts and love without condition. Those were hard things before grief.

I feel it the worst with Patrick and our less-than-two-months marriage. I want to blame my bad communication and silent treatment on mourning. I want to crawl inside my sadness and away from the tension of hope, even for a little bit. I want for him to know what I need, magically, without me saying a word and I want for him to know when that changes. Grief is tempting as a great excuse for sin, maybe, and it is stretching us to the maximum.

We never got tickets to that “honeymoon phase” people talk about. But I do remember, on the worst day of my life, what it felt like to be held by someone I trusted completely. We had been married less than one month when we got the news that my brother (and my husband’s best friend) had died. Neither of us decided to let the other inside the pain, it just happened. I let my grief press up against his chest and I let his consolation cover me while I rambled incomplete sentences and tried to keep afternoon appointments. I never once wondered if I could trust him with all this, I just did.

I found this post recently from the same week leading up to Easter.

It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. This God, who loved the world so much that He threw His seed to the earth to be sown in death. The evidence is in the palms of His hands and the scars on His sides.

The resurrection is waiting on the other side like the buds breaking through dead branches and the sprouts peeking out from dry ground. Resurrection is hiding, buried safe in God’s plan for redemption.

This week is about death, but it was always about life to God.

It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. I am learning that life, sometimes, is still frightening… while you are believing. So, we pray for more belief. In our marriage, we pray for more belief that God is keeping His promise to us so we can keep our promises to one another. In our family, we are praying for more belief so we can be support and love when we feel weak. In our friends and neighbor circles, we are praying for more belief to talk about the weird tension of mourning and hope and all the in-between that makes no sense.

That last line is heavy, “This week is about death, but it was always about life to God.” It’s about Christ on the cross, but it is also about Will because he became new when he trusted Jesus. The death in him was gone when he believed Christ stood in death’s place on his behalf.

This is what I know and what I believe, but I am praying for belief that brings peace when this trade doesn’t make sense.

Note: I’m not sure how much this grief needs written out, but maybe you’ll be patient with me as I do some sorting. 


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

for the times I want to hide, a joy report

It seemed like a silly thing to organize from the passenger seat of a Ford Fusion en route to Brooklyn from Iowa. We had just spent the strangest week of our lives mourning loss and rejoicing victory with some of our favorite people on the planet. No one would have faulted us for wanting to hide. But the group text messages went out and a small tribe agreed to gather for prayer and a potluck dinner in our apartment.

We had never hosted a grief party before (has anyone?), but our friends seemed to understand the necessity because they accepted the invitation to mourn/rejoice with us. They came, our patchwork Brooklyn family of transplants, one by one in the late summer rain. They dripped into the apartment with all the potluck fixings for barbecue tacos.

We opened leftover wine from our wedding and accepted rainy hugs. Everyone was sweet and none of us knew what to do because grief is terrible. So, we shared the details of the past week’s events as we topped tacos with cilantro. The Christian camp culture in us formed a rough outline of a circle as we mechanically and emotionally shared our purpose in inviting them in. But they were not confused and they did not come to mourn with us in despair.

They came to mourn with us in hope.

So, we celebrated and laughed and prayed and cried and poured more wine. And I realized that joy is not a Heisman situation in times of sorrow. There are no bootstraps to pull up, not even if you grew up Midwestern. The joy is already claimed in Christ, apart from our strong-arming efforts.

Before Tuesday night had ended, our friends’ 11-month-old, Reed, learned how to walk (and then run). I believe it is God’s grace that laughter sounds so similar to tears and it was God’s grace that Reed made us laugh so much that night, with his wobbly steps and with his face full of achievement.

There is joy to report, like the adult lunchable my friend made for my first day back at work and like finding out all the days I was gone from my job were paid. There is joy, like provision in apartment searching and seeing familiar faces in my neighborhood. There is joy, like wise words from friends and strangers who know grief well. There is joy, like bike rides and fresh flowers and salvation stories.

I’m the kind that wants to hide. I want everyone to think I’m with someone else when I’m really hidden, anonymous in a coffee shop or on a patch of lawn or in the corner of my bedroom. When I need to think, I like to disappear.

This would be one of those times I want to hide, but God is inviting me into His presence where there is joy. Fullness of joy, even. He will not forget us, for He has engraved us on the palms of His hands and invited us to find joy and pleasures forevermore in His presence. We are not alone in the dark with our demons.

Grief wants to push back – to reject that joy can live in the same space with sorrow. Grief wants to refuse me laughter and sunshine and a face curved with delight.

But it is okay to stretch with tension. It is okay to have joy to report. It is right and good to believe the promises of God will find me in the times I want to hide.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

in the dark with our demons

It’s a line from a song by The Oh Hellos called “I Have Made Mistakes.” It made sense before I felt broken in two, before the day I met grief, but it makes more sense now that demons are trying to live in my dark.

Demons, like returning to a regular job and navigating crowded city streets and breathing in slow, evening minutes that seem painfully unaltered by Will’s absence. Demons that stare at me in the lamplit dark of this little apartment and whisper things like, “What are you doing in this city?” and “Why Will?” and “Why don’t you feel like being productive or looking presentable?” Demons.

But I keep hearing these words from the sermon at Will’s service last Friday,
“Death is not normal.”

Nothing is normal now, except grief headaches pushing like bricks on my ears. Apartment hunting is different, marriage is different, sunshine is different, morning is different and friendship is different. I am different.

I am different and things won’t get better because we were not created to die. We were created to live. Being alive is normal. Ten days ago, I could pretend that living was normal here on earth; I could pretend that everyone has time to dream and time to be lazy and time to have time. And then I answered an ominous phone call and drove across the country with my husband to hug a line of 450 people who loved my brother Will.

We are not forever young because we are not forever. It’s a hard thing to reconcile, really. Will was not forever and I am not forever, but it feels like we should be – like we should have indefinite time to plan adventures and let laugh lines mark our faces.

We were made for life, so that is the “normal” we crave. But, in our sin we chose death, so that is the normal we face.

We severed that eternal thread when we decided to go our own way, but I have never yearned for life more than right now. I have never longed for eternity or ached for God’s perfect “normal” than I do these days. I am holding tightly to the belief that Christ came to restore that order.

The normal we crave vs. the normal we face. The tension of the two is trying to break me in the dark with my demons – trying to make a defeated sluggard out of me.

I feel like I got painted into a watercolor and left out in the rain. I have made mistakes in my mourning and I’ll continue to make them. I’ll be impatient and silent and stubborn. I will refuse to look presentable and I will forget my manners. But I will not pretend to be strong. I will not pretend that we were created to die, that this “circle of life” is just “how it has to be.” I want God’s normal – the way He created Adam and Eve originally in the garden, before their decision to eat that rotten fruit and before my sin claimed the same rotten fate.

Sometimes the only thing keeping you from being defeated is believing you are not.

And I believe. Simple sermons are okay, I think, like this one my aunt sent me last night from Deuteronomy 33:27, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” The everlasting arms holding me up also defeated the demons in my dark and made a place for me in heaven.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

Will | a remembrance from James

This is a guest post from my brother, James. This is the remembrance he wrote to share at the Celebration of Life service last Friday. Please know that we are all still available to talk about anything you may have questions about. Also know that the memorial fund established in his name is still accepting donations that will go to three different ministries where his legacy as camp counselor, handyman, and mentor will live on and touch youth with the message of hope in Christ.


William and I had an interesting, different, and sometimes frustrating relationship. Growing up as Will’s little brother was no easy task because of his influence on others. I spent a good portion of my life being frustrated in Will’s shadow. He was a leader in sports without saying anything but working hard. He was a friend to all without leaving people out. He was cool without doing what others did or had done.

As we went through the years it was easier and easier to see why others were drawn to him in this way. For the counselors at Bethany Camp, he was a father, friend, counselor, and mentor. Two people come to mind when I think about Will’s lasting impact there. I did not hang out with Derick or Becca that much before they worked at Bethany Camp with Will. When he was gone for the year for school and I was still at home with them, I saw how he taught them to love others. They both demonstrated through action how Will lived. I could ask them for anything, tell them anything, and rely on them to down for anything. Becca has been talking about it recently about how she always said, “I miss Will.” I can remember countless times that this came up in conversation when we would be hanging out and she would remember a time when they did this or that. I never realized the significance of that or how impactful that was on her. For Derick I am reminded of love of helping people, a trait Will and he shared. Derick would do anything for anyone without a regard to himself or what he had planned. Will’s most important discovery at Bethany camp was, of course, Grace. I will never forget his giddiness after meeting her and starting to date her. Never had a woman had this effect on him. When I heard Will singing, “If this isn’t love, this is closest I’ve ever been!” from Anberlin, I knew that whatever this was, it was different. William loved Grace with all the love that God loves us with.

In the past few years, after learning about Will and myself, I started to get over my pride and actually be open to what Will had to say. He would never force this on me, he would just be in the background ready to offer helpful advice when it came to money, cars, mopeds, kayaks, and most importantly love. I remember a conversation I had with him about Carly as I was driving over to her parents’ house one weekend night. I can’t remember talking to Will at all about this subject in our entire lives, but when I needed him most he was there. He just listened and coached and counseled and listened some more. I know at the end of the conversation he told me that he trusted me, he believed in me, and he loved me. We have had many conversations since then, all ending with him trusting and believed in me. Never had it felt so good to hear those things from someone that I had looked up to for so long.

After saying all these things, I think it would be a miss to not talk about why Will was the way he was. Christ’s love and service flowed out of Will like water through a stream. Will had this love because Jesus died on the cross all our sins. He was saved by the grace of God through faith in the death and resurrection of His son. If you do not have this faith, you can talk to any of us so that you will know for sure where you will spend eternity.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.