Editors note: We are thrilled to introduce Melissa Dalton Bradford as a new contributor to the Segullah blog. You may recognize her name from several poems featured in the Segullah literary magazine; Melissa’s grace, beauty and wisdom and an incredible asset to our community.

I’m sitting in a pediatrician’s examination room.  We’ve been living in Munich for nearly three months, and my eleven-year-old Dalton has contracted a bad chest cold he just can’t shake.  This starched-smock doctor I’ve known for twelve minutes takes notes as I recite Dalton’s medical profile. I would like antibiotics.  Frau Doktor would like a complete history. Dalton would like to get out of there. Sitting stripped to his underwear on the gray examination table, he appears disconnected from our conversation which is in German, a language I incorrectly presume Dalton cannot yet understand.  (He later tells me he followed this whole exchange.)

“You know, Frau Bradford,” she places her pen flat on her clipboard, “this boy seems depressed.”

“Depressed?” I feign nonchalance. “Hmmm.  You think?  Well, maybe he looks quite sad.” I act like I’m scrutinizing him. (Scan up. Scan down.)  He does indeed look very sad.  Mournful, even.

Weakly pulling at a string dangling from the leg of his underwear, he coughs that foamy, upholstered kind of cough, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.  Frau Doktor’s Kleenex reflex is snappy.

“And the reasons your son would be sad. . .?”  she asks, extending him a tissue. She then poises her pen to make the list: “I suppose your recent move from France? The new school? Losing friends?”

“Actually. . .those aren’t the reasons,” I say. “Well. . .except maybe the last one.”

I sense where this is going, and I’m hoping I can escape without entering the holiest of all my holies and maybe breaking down.  That would be bad, breaking down in front of my sad stripped-down son, in front of this woman who  peers at us like lab rats, clipboard and pen in hand.

I search for Dalton’s eyes.  They are the same eyes, peeled wide open with pain, during those very last minutes—just three and a half months earlier—in an Idaho I.C.U.   Under this long, hot moment boils up in me a visceral craving to go back. I want to flee from this moment, to escape this language with its pointy hospital corners, devoid of condolence, barren.  Childless.

Oh dearest Lord, I want to be back where we were all together. Take me back.

“Frau Bradford. . .? “ She clicks her pen and raises her eyebrows.

I adjust myself in my chair, fold my hands in my lap, breathe deeply. Then, like some reporter from the nightly news, I orate: “On July 19th, in a farmland canal in farmland in the western United States there was a water activity organized by a group of university students, among whom was our oldest, our eighteen-year-old son.   That night, he and another student were sucked up stream and pinned in a hidden undertow.  Twice, my son got out.  Twice he went back in trying to save the other boy. The other boy survived.  But my son. . .”

I finish.  The woman tucks her pen in her breast pocket. And with all the tenderness of a tongue depressor, says: “Ach, such strokes of fate.  You had best not think about it. Best get on with your life.”

She needn’t offer me any tissue.  I’m dry as a cinder block.

***********

We’re at church. This new, tiny ward of well-meaning strangers is struggling to know what to do with us.  I know this because from where our family sits in a sodden clump in the back pew I watch as eyes flit from looking into ours.  Smiles strain.  Shoulders turn away to some sudden, nervous preoccupation.  And behind my stock-still façade echo all the words I crave hearing—honest ones, simple ones like, “I know what happened and I’m sorry.”  But none are spoken. For weeks upon weeks, silence swells.

Such silence sends the tacit message that our son’s death—and his life—never happened, don’t matter. That, and the general levity, the apparent unscathed and rollicking solidarity our family cannot join in, makes me think that, well, it must be time to “move on,” “find closure,” “be grateful,” “rejoice.”  My gut winds itself into a knot as thick and bristly as oceanliner rope.  Is wanting someone to ache with me presumptuous? Is quietly weeping through the sacrament hymn ill-placed? Is my grief selfish? Self-indulgent?

The knot groans.

And then one day in late autumn a brother who hadn’t spoken to us until that moment strides up to me, plants one hand on my shoulder, and with the other hand pumps mine, exclaiming, “Smile! It’s such a great day to be alive!”

My scripture pages—the Book of Job, to be exact— still bear the little warped pockmarks from the tears I shed on them that day as I took refuge in our car, blistering my palms by nearly wringing the leather off the steering wheel.

************

Lars is straight from the cast of The Sound of Music: blonde, blue-eyed, with a bank of snow white teeth, as quick and light on his feet as a Bavarian leprechaun, perfectly proportioned and perhaps thirty-one.  Or nineteen. Ageless. He’s murmuring along with Celine Dion (his German accent does wonders for her English), who’s piped into the salon where I’ve arrived for a long overdue trim. Lars tries to make small talk while admiring our mirrored reflection: me stiff and old in the chair, him elfin and nimble on his toes.  I sense under my lips a polite smile trying to emerge from hibernation—I’ve not been able to smile since July, four months earlier—but I just don’t have that kind of strength.

Lars hums and sections off hair, cooing, crooning and combing.  But I’m so clogged with anguish I sit frozen, fearing what will come out of my mouth if I open it.  My mind scampers ahead, frenzied, trying to plot escape routes around the inevitable question about family and children.  At the rate Lars is talking, we’ll hit that question head on before he takes his first snip.

Then he catches me off guard:  “Life’s short,” he says, stretching smooth a swath of my hair, scissors held at attention. “There’s never enough time to love the people who matter the most to us.”

His exact words.  My scampering panic stops like I’ve pinned its tail under my boot. My throat constricts.

“You’re right, Lars,” (and where this came from, I’ll never know,) “I buried my oldest son four months ago today.”

I recall details of Frau Doktor: clip board, pen, white orthopedic sandals.  As I write this, I can feel her words clawing into my torso like a sharp-tonged trowel.  I recall with a pit in my stomach the clenched grip and forced smile of the jubilant brother from church who was, I know this now, trying desperately to smile away my frowny face.

In contrast, I recall with sweetness every last millimeter of Lars: scissors in the right hand frozen midflight, length of my hair held taut in the left hand, neck craned forward and eyes narrowing as he asks, “Wha-what. . .?!”

I repeat myself, whispering.  But it costs me my composure.  Celine’s high notes, thank goodness, cover my low tears.

And here’s the image I cherish the most: Lars drops hair, scissors, and both his arms, hangs his head in a slow side-to-side shake, turns from the mirror to me, tears welling up in his eyes, and with a scarcely audible groan, bends toward me to wrap my shoulders in a hug.  “Oh, no, no. I am so sorry, so sorry. . .”

*****************

It’s true.  Not everyone is a Lars.

But would that more of us were.

So very many of my LDS sisters and brothers are, gratefully, like him. . . and then some: expressive, unafraid, patient, intuitive, selfless, inspired. Being the recipient of such godly compassion has been utterly awe-inspiring for me.  Our family has had mortal angels on our right hand and on our left, round about us to bear us up. From their wings has come the warm updraft that has at times held us aloft, above the dark suction of the abyss.

What’s been perplexing and sobering, however, in our own journey through the valley of great grief and in the vicarious journey we’ve shared with many bereaved friends, has been the hurt and alienation that have come from—who would have guessed it?—faithful LDS church members.  In fact, in retrospect we’ve found that the most hurtful comments (or hurtful “avoidance silence”) have come from those within our faith.  (Author and bereaved father, Nicolas Wolterstorff writes, “Your tears are salve to our wounds; your silence, salt.”) The comments (and silence) are almost always rooted in a lack of understanding of the nature of grief, (its duration, depth and necessity), in a misunderstanding of faith (its compatibility with grief and its potentially increased density as one reaches the bedrock of grief’s valley), and in a misapplication of “doctrine”: the mis-belief that faith supplants grief, that grief can be eradicated or curtailed by quickly “getting your mind off yourself” in service, and that if grief lasts more than “X” months or if it keens and wails it is pathological and will damage those left among the living and distract and deter from their “mission” those newly gone to the dead.

But what of the straightforward doctrine found in the 23rd Psalm?  “And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. . .”

To that wisdom I add: Blessed is she who walks (or crawls or claws) through that valley with me.  Blessed is she who does not insist I hurry, do the fake jollity-jig, buck-up, or bungee jump over it.  If we, mourner and co-mourner, share some of that descending and ascending journey together, we will one day kneel side by side on the upper rim of this shadowed valley. While we will surely be bruised and bloodied, we will also be bonded.

Inimitably to each other. Eternally to our God.

When have you been the recipient of inspired compassion? Have you ever experienced any of our faith loaded with answers but lacking in the gift of empathetic comprehension? How have you “mourned with those that mourn” and “comforted those in need of comfort”?

115 Comments

  1. Sharlee

    November 30, 2010

    “If we, mourner and co-mourner, share some of that descending and ascending journey together, we will one day kneel side by side on the upper rim of this shadowed valley. While we will surely be bruised and bloodied, we will also be bonded.

    Inimitably to each other. Eternally to our God.”

    Melissa, I think these are some of the most beautiful lines ever written.

    Oh, how I love you.

    I know what courage and graciousness it took to share this here. Thank you.

  2. Michelle L.

    November 30, 2010

    Ah Melissa– Your loss leaves me shaking and tearful. I’ll walk through the valley of the shadow of grief with you. Though some days I’ll have to crawl and you may have to wrench my arm and drag me to my feet in those moments when the pain seems to great to move on.

    One of the great fallacies of “mourning with those who mourn” is our mistaken perception that we can understand another’s pain through our own experience– I’ve heard grief dismissed in so many ways: “Well, at least he died as a baby. It would have been worse to get to know him.” or “Why are they always complaining about their finances. Plenty of people lose their home.” or “So their dad is marrying a vicious woman who hates his family? Just learn to love her.” or (someone actually said this to my friend a year after her husband was murdered) “You’re lucky you don’t have to deal with a husband anymore.”

    It’s so easy for us to see someone else’s hurt and dismiss it as “not so bad” but the pain is real.

    Mourning with and celebrating with our fellow men is truly our life’s work. Thank you for your beautiful and inspiring writing.

  3. Robin

    November 30, 2010

    it’s hard to compose words to comment on such a brilliant post…
    and harder still to mourn with those who mourn, but what a gift it is to have the opportunity to do so (even if we’d all prefer that there be no cause for mourning.)
    I often think that its difficult to find the balance of acceptance and encouragement, sorrow and courage when striving be with someone who is struggling. And yet, there is beauty and blessings there.
    I am so sorry for your loss, and for the additional pain rendered by inadequate people who did not know how to engage with you as a sister who mourns.

  4. marintha

    November 30, 2010

    ” in a misunderstanding of faith (its compatibility with grief and its potentially increased density as one reaches the bedrock of grief’s valley), and in a misapplication of “doctrine”: the mis-belief that faith supplants grief, that grief can be eradicated or curtailed by quickly “getting your mind off yourself” in service”

    Melissa,
    Thank you so much for articulating so beautifully what I have wanted to so often. I am so glad you are here. Welcome, we are blessed to have both you and your words.

  5. cristie

    November 30, 2010

    This is so honest with pain hard to comprehend. Your loss rocks me to the core. I am so so sorry.

    I will try to “lift the hands that hang down weary” but I certainly know my lacking.

    A woman in my ward lost her seventeen year old daughter unexpectedly in June. I fail in knowing how to help. Her suffering…well, there are no adequate words to describe this pain.

    May I somehow figure out how to offer inspired compassion is my prayer.

  6. leslie

    November 30, 2010

    melissa- thank you for sharing so exquisitely and through such a personal window – a glimpse into your grief and gently teaching how we can be mourners with “those who mourn”

  7. Shay

    November 30, 2010

    My mother died when I was in high school, and I still clearly recall the pain of being shut out from my friends with a wall of silence. I thought then that young people could not be expected to understand such grief, but even older people struggle to understand one another’s grief.

    I think the crucial point is, as Michelle said, we cannot understand fully understand another’s pain. Our own losses ought to strengthen our compassion for the grief of others, but “mourning with those that mourn” does not require a complete understanding. People get caught up in thinking, “I cannot possibly understand what X is going through. I should just avoid X so as not to offend her with my ignorance.”

    Those who grieve simply want someone to listen; they want sincere condolences. Having someone else momentarily step away from their own sphere of concerns, and commiserate with our own, is a validation of our loss. Silence and averted eyes reinforces the feeling that our loss belongs only to us. It makes us feel that despite the crushing blow, the world keeps turning and no one cares. When swimming in grief, it helps so much to know that our losses are felt by others, that the world is not the same without our lost loved ones, and that the world feels that loss.

    I am so very sorry about your son.

  8. Blue

    November 30, 2010

    Isn’t it amazing how a good example can be so effective a teacher? Your description of Lars paints such a vivid picture. It’s like he personified compassion, and through your words, I’m able to see on the inside, ie: in my heart, how the proper response looks and feels.

    And I’m grateful for this glimpse, because I’ve had a growing awareness lately of how absolutely useless I’ve been in the past, when someone is grieving or dealing with loss.

    I simply didn’t know what to do, and it’s like a part of me shuts down. I think that’s how I learned to cope with pain as a child; just numb out and disassociate till the moment is past. But now I’ve been becoming aware of how I was in the past, and I want to change…and here you came along to teach me the first lesson.

    I’ve never faced the death of someone dear to me before, so I haven’t known from personal experience what would be helpful or not. I know this track record will be broken, probably sooner than later, and I’ve been utterly ill-equipped so far.

    So I am particularly grateful for your willingness to share your thoughts, and I am in awe of the beautiful way you have expressed them. I’m so sorry you’ve had to experience this painful loss in your family, and am amazed at how you have already managed to create beauty from ashes in countless ways, not the least of which is this post. Thank you! ♥

  9. Laura

    November 30, 2010

    This is a beautifully written post. I appreciate your perspective, I hope I know what to do and say to friends experiencing tragedy. Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Rosalyn

    November 30, 2010

    This is beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss (I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like)–but thank you for sharing your experience and perspective. Like some of the others have commented, I often don’t know what to say or do in the face of a tragedy–thank you for suggesting some ways to respond with grace and sensitivity.

  11. Lucy

    November 30, 2010

    I cried while I read your memory of Lars. I’m sorry for the loss of your son. He sounds like a wonderful person. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience in a thoughtful and beautiful way. I know I learned something from it.

  12. Emily

    November 30, 2010

    When I hear of another’s loss, especially a parent losing a child, tears of anguish are quick to come. I’ve often tried to stifle my tears, thinking I don’t know the person well enough, or that it is not my grief to express. Or just that we’ve all become so averse to crying. Now that I know that in this way I can mourn with those who grieve, and am helping them–I’ll keep from putting up a silent wall of dry eyes.

    Why is it that so many of us fear “making” someone who is grieving cry?

    Now I understand, mourners fear crying only if they have to do it alone.

    Thank you for this post and insight into that Valley.

  13. Deja

    November 30, 2010

    What a beautiful post, and welcome to Segullah. Thank you for sharing something that must still be so raw. You’ve taught us here.

  14. Paula

    November 30, 2010

    Beautiful post. I am so sorry for the loss of you son. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m thinking of our baptism covenants and how we promise to mourn with those who mourn. Grief has many stages and not everyone grieves the same. It’s ok to mention the person that has gone on. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to enjoy life again. It’s ok to remember the times you had with your loved one. It all takes time. I don’t think that you ever “get over” or “move on” after the loss of a child. You just learn to cope. I wish that more people would understand the whole grief process and do as Christ would have us do. Love the person who is grieving, even if it is just “I’m so sorry.” That would mean a lot.

  15. jenny

    November 30, 2010

    I remember hearing about your son on another’s blog. I cried hot tears for days afterward every time my idle thoughts landed on your story. I cried again today.
    Bless you. Every word you speak is truth. Thank you for sharing those experiences. I don’t think you ever “get over” the loss of a child, I think you quietly and simply and slowly and gently begin to learn to live in your new reality. Someday in the future, you notice things begin to taste good again, beauty crops up in more places than you’ve noticed in awhile, laughter comes a bit easier and without so much guilt. It is a delicate balance find the tipping spot where not rushing the grief becomes too long in a dark place. My mother-heart aches with yours.

  16. m2theh

    November 30, 2010

    I think the best things to be said to someone who has lost someone is “i feel for you” “I am so sorry for your loss”. Don’t ever say they have gone to a better place, that Heaven needed them more, or their life’s work must have been done. That doesn’t help. The mourner will get to that when they get to that. It’s been 3 years since my mom died and I am still angry that she’s gone. I am still not ready for platitudes.

  17. Stephanie

    November 30, 2010

    It seems to me that people are often afraid to acknowledge our loss of a loved one because they’re afraid it will bring that loss to our attention – as if we could ever forget!

    The words don’t have to be profound, just “I’m so sorry.” Grief doesn’t need to be fixed.

    The most comforting thing anybody said to me after the loss of my mom was, “My mother died 25 years ago and I still miss her every day.”

    This was a beautiful post, and profound. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. My heart aches for you.

  18. MJ

    November 30, 2010

    Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry for your loss. I have lost too many friends (about one a year for 10 years straight), and it always helps to talk about them. I will forever talk about them, especially when something reminds me of them.

    But I will try harder to be a Lars.

  19. MJ

    November 30, 2010

    By the way, your son must have been pretty amazing to lose his life in helping another. The fact that this is how his life ended means he must have been a very giving and loving person in life. The kind of man I hope my sons grow up to be.

  20. kaycee

    November 30, 2010

    My son died when he was six weeks old. I suppose I’m somewhat of a private griever in that I felt uncomfortable when someone showed up on my doorstep weeping (and it happened more than once). I felt obligated to offer comfort to them, and I was already so drained – it was difficult. The morning he died, I called my visiting teacher. We’d been newlyweds together in our Southern California ward, had children at approximately the same times and become good friends. After my phone call, she dropped her first grader at the elementary school, her four-year old at the preschool, and she (six months pregnant) and her toddler hit the mall for a couple of hours. Then, she came to my home and placed on my dining room table three beautiful white outfits for a preemie boy. “Choose,” she said, gesturing at the outfits. “If you don’t like any of these, I will get more.” I was stunned. Two weeks of shuttling back and forth to the hospital, four weeks of at-home care for a dying baby, agonizing over what to treat and how much, is he feeling pain?, how and where will we buy a cemetary plot? – and not once had I even thought about needing burial clothes for our sweet little boy. I doubt I would have been able to even look at the baby store without falling completely apart. How did she know? It’s been over ten years and I am still awed by her perceptiveness and grace. One of her selections was the perfect outfit for our baby. After I chose it, she hugged me, quietly gathered the other two outfits, and headed back to the mall to return them. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

  21. Heidi

    November 30, 2010

    Beautiful writing! I’m very sorry you’ve experienced such painful loss and raw emotion, but thanks for having the courage (and talent!) to share in such a moving way.

    This summer I was grieving something much less tragic, but I will never forget the way a dear friend let me rest my head in her lap and sob my deep, shuddering sobs. She stroked my hair and rubbed my back and listened to me moan and cry. There was no judgment, no advice, no religious platitudes. Just love.

  22. April

    November 30, 2010

    As a teenager two of my friends/neighbors lost a parent to cancer, from that day I found myself on the outside of grief. I didn’t know what to say or do to help. I thought someday someone close to me will pass and I will understand how they feel and will be able to be a better mourner. Last year My sister died somewhat unexpectedly and I found myself just as on the outside.
    I am so sorry for your loss. As a mother I have loved my oldest from the second I found out I was carring him, to the first time I held him, to his every first. I have so much desire to protect him from any harm. My heart aches at your loss. I pray that you can feel the Saviors peace, that you may feel his embrace and that your mind will be filled with understanding that only a mother who loses a child can receive.
    The only thing I have to offer you in your time in the valley is my testimony that I know the church is true and the Savior lives and because he lives we can all live with our families eternally!

  23. Barb @ getupandplay

    November 30, 2010

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Emily

    November 30, 2010

    Wow. Thanks for sharing your story.

    This reminds me, too, of people who are divorced, particularly in the church. We seem so afraid to talk to them about their marital situation. However, isn’t it strange that if we were friends with them during the divorce, we can speak openly about the past spouse and the situation and not feel funny a bit, but when it’s someone new, you just feel awkward talking about it. We should all be more open about talking, but sensitive, depending on the situation.

    Also reminds me of how we should mourn with those who have lost spouses/family members to addictions. We can mourn with them in those times, too.

    Thanks, again.

  25. Christina P

    November 30, 2010

    Danke sehr.

  26. mom o' boys

    November 30, 2010

    Your writing is incredibly beautiful. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I can’t even begin to imagine the depth of your pain.

    My sister, after her husband found out his cancer had relapsed, said that the most compassionate response she received from anybody was her professor shouting an expletive to the air. She felt like this was one of the sweetest ways to express the bitterness of the moment….no one needed to explain or lecture.

    Welcome to Segullah. You have an amazing gift for the written word.

  27. jendoop

    November 30, 2010

    Thank you for opening your heart to teach me.

    From someone who has surely said the wrong thing, just to have something to say, I’m sorry for the misplaced words. It is so good that you can see those words for the intent behind them now.

    I’ve tried to share my happy memories of the loved one that has died, hoping that it is a good way to share the grief.

  28. Mary S.

    November 30, 2010

    Oh how hard it can be to find the “right words”, so many times people say nothing at all. My husband and I were in line at a viewing in a funeral home together once. The daughter of a couple in our ward had committed suicide. My husband was very reticent to speak with our friends. I asked him why and he told me that he felt helpless to do anything for them and didn’t know what to say. I assured him that he just needed to look them in the eye and tell them how sorry he was and give them a hug. Sometimes all we CAN do is let those who are hurting feel of our love for them.

    Yes, some people open their mouths and let go with trite phrases and platitudes that leave you wanting to slug them. We had a sister in our ward whom I visit-taught, that lost both of her legs due to a terrible infection and someone actually had the guts to say that if they had just had more faith perhaps she would not have needed the amputations! I really don’t think those things have anything to do with whether or not a person is LDS, personally I just chalk it up to them being idiots.

    My husband and I have some good friends who are suffering right now, as one of them is dying of cancer, and their oldest daughter is in a coma from a drug overdose. We have tried to reach out to them via phone calls and email, but they have not allowed us to go down to their home and spend time with them right now. My husband wants so very much to see his friend before he dies, but I try to remind him that we all deal with death differently, and perhaps our friend needs some space and already has too many people surrounding them. We are all unique in dealing with grief.

    I hope that the Holy Spirit is unfitting you during your time of grieving. I can sympathize, but not empathize in the loss of your son. God bless you, Mary

  29. Claire

    November 30, 2010

    WOW WOW WOW!

    This is the best thing I’ve read all year (and I’m an English major!).
    Thank you for your eloquence and honesty.
    I needed your words today and am so glad I found them.

  30. Melissa M.

    November 30, 2010

    Melissa, I’m left awed and humbled by your beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing such a tender and difficult experience with such transcendent writing. We are lucky, indeed, to have you here at Segullah.

    Kaycee, your comment made me teary. I’m so grateful for those perceptive people who know what to do or say in times of grief. I want to be more like that friend of yours.

  31. Paradox

    November 30, 2010

    I remember when my father died last summer, there was no shortage of people trying to offer all the wrong condolences. My father and I had been estranged for years. The truth of the matter–which became sharper with each person’s attempt to comfort me–was that they did not know my pain, or my struggle. There was no way for me to help them understand, no way to give them my pain enough to understand it. Words were meaningless, proof that in them, there was no help for me. Everywhere in everyone was emptiness. It tore me away from them and their society, simply so I could flee the realization that they were just as helpless as I was. They did not know what I really needed because they didn’t really know me.

    I relied on them to be OK, to keep the world spinning around me. But all they wanted to do, for weeks as this highly public death festered in everyone’s eyes, was TALK.

    The help I craved most, the one thing I asked for in insisting I was OK–was silence. To be left to my God, my master surgeon to the ailment I knew He alone could understand. For calm and peace that no unhallowed words would every bring–healing from the source. I wanted it without explanations, without strings, without casseroles, or “I know how you feel.” I wanted rest. I wanted peace. I wanted this disturbance in my life to be powerless over me, for it to crumble to dust. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to move forward, once and for all. For people like me, silence is a saving grace.

    For those of you who give compassion through attention, may the Lord bless you. For those of you, like me, who give and crave silence because it’s what you would ask for, may the Lord bless you too. To those who can tell the difference and know what is needed as you minister, the Lord has already blessed you to to be an angel to us all.

  32. dalene

    November 30, 2010

    Thank you. And I’m so, so very sorry. It’s so difficult to know what to say, because there are no adequate words to describe the grief.

    Yet I am grateful for the experiences in my life and the people who have taught me to mourn with those who mourn–at least the best I can. I still remember the sick feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when my friend Lynda later described to me the horrified look on my face as I joined her at the door of her 22-year-old daughter’s apartment, waiting for the coroner to finish his work. I felt like somehow I let her down by not being courageous or somehow, what, I don’t know, hopeful or strong? But in the generous way she has always had, Lynda assured me that in my face she saw the raw truth of the horror of what had happened to her–losing her child–and she knew she would not be alone.

    We need to learn to be OK at times when there are no words. Shared tears and hugs can speak volumes.

  33. Tasha

    November 30, 2010

    Beautiful and so well done. Thanks for sharing this message with us. Thanks for teaching us to be more sensitive. And I, too, am so, so sorry.

  34. Kerri

    November 30, 2010

    Melissa,

    I don’t have words to express my gratitude for this essay, as well as for Early Harvest. My sweet younger brother drowned this summer. I had read Early Harvest earlier and had been so moved by it, had wondered how such beauty could come from such pain. I returned to it numerous times after my brother’s death. It both deepened and soothed my grief, depending on the reading. Thank you for sharing your pain with us. While I don’t pretend to know or understand your grief, the grief of losing a child, I do know that truly mourning with those that mourn is one of the holiest acts of love there is on earth.

  35. Angela

    November 30, 2010

    Melissa, this post is full of beauty and truth. Thank you so much for writing it and sharing your hard won wisdom so eloquently and well. We are lucky to have you here.

  36. MissMel

    November 30, 2010

    Melissa,
    I want to add my comments here, but lack the words to thank you enough for opening your heart and experience on the page. I was recently reading about a person whose life ended tragically. The writer described that the ending was tragic, but the life the person lived certainly was not. It sounds like your son lived at a level different than most…a hero. Love to you.

  37. Heather O.

    November 30, 2010

    Thanks for sharing, Melissa. All of us can use a lesson on how to strengthen and comfort one another.

  38. Anne

    November 30, 2010

    I am so sorry.

  39. NightingaleTamar (Heather B)

    November 30, 2010

    ..And this is why I begged you to join us here. Because we need your voice so much.

    This is beautiful. And I am so grateful for your understanding of faith and how grief does not diminish faith, that sorrow over something, grieving, does not mean you don’t have enouhg faith, in the afterlife, in the now, in our Father’s plan. The two are not totally unrelated, but it is a shallow learning that assumes that a happy face and a lot of service can overcome a portion of our spirits that MUST grieve and complete the grief cycle, which is present in all societies and common psychologically to mankind, in order to come out the other side of it whole again.

    I have seen SO many friends refuse to grieve, and become stuck in the cycle itself…. refusing sorrow, they stay in denial for years, or, worse, in anger. I hope that more people begin an understanding of the “right” things to say or do from your post.

    For me, the greatest words were from a sister I barely knew. Everyone in our ward, after my second miscarriage, either a) had no diea we even were pregnant, or b)avoided my completely. One sister, who will ever be beloved to me for it, just came to me, put her arms around me, and said “I’m so sorry.” It was enough. As opposed to the sometime friend who tried to comfort by saying “don’t worry, there will be other children, and it was probably deformed anyway.” Who I just couldn’t bear to talk to anymore afterwards. Ever. And my grief was over a child not known, not suffering such as your family has borne…and not silence such as your family has borne.

    Thank you for all of us who hope the world understands that I’m sorry and I love you are a GOOD thing, and ignoring grief (your own or others) is the worst thing that you can do, for their spirit and your own.

  40. Jen

    November 30, 2010

    I am so sorry for the early death of your son. Your writing has so beautifully taught and inspired me. I want the image of Lars grieving with you to never leave me, along with the story of your son giving his life for another. I am reminded that we all need to be more kind and loving to each other, “in the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see”.

  41. La Yen

    November 30, 2010

    Thank you.
    I am reminded of the image of the Savior weeping at the death of Lazarus, who he was about to resurrect. He, of all people, knew the plan, and yet he mourned for the survivors and with them.
    Thank you.

  42. Mette Harrison

    November 30, 2010

    Melissa,

    I am so sorry! I remember the relief in hearing a man talk in our ward after we lost our daughter. He warned people not to say that “it was part of God’s plan.” It’s just not something you say to a woman whose daughter was raped and killed. An extreme example, but it felt right to me.

  43. Donna

    November 30, 2010

    So touching, thought provoking, and loving and courageously shared. I’m so sorry to hear of the passing of your son. I can’t even imagine….

    I appreciate the response of Lars and I hope I can be like him. I like to believe people genuinely try to comfort those who stand in need, but we often stumble with or words, searching for the perfect response. Sometimes the best comfort comes from a tender embrace, a soft touch, or looks of empathy and love.

    Parents who learn their child has a disability go through grief and mourning. No matter the degree of the disability, there is a process of grieving a parent enters. Well meaning individuals say, “It could be worse, at least it isn’t….” . A worse situation can of course always be found, but it doesn’t dismiss the pain and sorrow that is present for that parent.

    Thank you so much for opening your heart and helping us to see from a different perspective.

  44. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    November 30, 2010

    One may wonder if one’s said too much. (You can be sure I’ve wondered that even while writing this blog. . .) But what else can one say but too much? Your words, women, lined up like so many luminous soldiers on my screen, make a wall of light against the black that, even three years from impact, could otherwise plow me flat. What a world of love there is!

    And how grim must be loss without love.

    (Sorry to have taken so long to respond. . .I’m several time zones away from most of you, I think. . .Got your words at 5:30 am Singapore time).

    I simply must say something to every last one of you:

    Jen: My feelings, too. We MUST be tender with each other. For every person walking past us on the street there is a
    story and a reason behind the behavior. Who knows what tragedy that soul has just crawled out of or what sadness she is going to step into with the very next stride?

    Heather B: You begged for ME? And I have been so intimidated to join and pipe up. And to grief: you are so right that one of the most important factors determining a “healthy” absorption of great loss is community. If the community refuses to acknowledge the loss AND the necessity of grief, the bereaved can get stuck. Other (older) cultures understand this better than do we.

    Anne: Thank you. And I am sorry for it too. I ache in my bones for my son. However I do not feel sorry for myself if I sense I am not feeling sorry BY myself. Your four words help!

    Heather O: I wince and cringe thinking of how miserably ill-equipped I was to mourn with others before knowing mourning myself. I am still no pro, but I am much more aware. . .

    MissMel: Yes, Parker lived a bright, happy and love-drenched life. That he tried to save someone he’d known a scant week was no surprise to his life-long friends: he was simply like that. The grinding anguish parents endure who live many years with a troubled child (which Parker was not) is so different from the blow we have absorbed. They truly need mourners and comforters.

    Angela:You know that means so much coming from you.

    Kerri: Your brother died? Oh, horrible. I am sick for you. What life lays on us. . .And you put it perfectly: mourning with others is one of ht holiest acts we can enter in to. So humbled Early Harvest spoke to your pummeled heart.

    Tasha: On one level it’s HARD to share; but on another level I want so much to lay it out so that others, also alienated in whatever crater of grief they might be hiding in, will sense hope and solidarity.

    Dalene: I’ll bet your stunned and thunderstruck presence was just right for Lynda. We are pretending if we respond otherwise. I still hold in my memory a certain friend who stared at me, mouth agape, eyes wide with vulnerability, and she stammered. . . And she stuck around stammering for many months, via telephone. The sticking saved me.

    Paradox: .. .And I am very sorry for the complexity of your separation from your Dad. Yes, the heart of our loss is always ultimately unknowable to others, except to God Himself. But we all suffer, and in that we are united. For an entire year following implosion I went into hibernation—silent, monastic, intense, soothing hibernation. I see in retrospect that year was an enormous, wise gift from God although it meant our whole family was without an on-hand “knowing” community. I cannot adequately express how torturous that felt. Forget casseroles. We just needed someone in our Country who knew we had a son named Parker. His realness needed to be validated. But the months of total silence provided otherworldly tutoring I might never be able to repeat. There is, I have learned, “holy silence” and “avoidance silence”, and they have quite different sources and effects. To escape, as Christ did at the news of the Baptist’s death, into “a wilderness place, apart”—into a holy place to commune with the Father and maybe the Baptist himself— is one thing. But to have no observing party acknowledge large loss—even with two words or a knowing glance—that is quite another thing.

    I have much more I would like to respond to, and I will do so in a moment. Please be patient with me and I’ll be back. Thank you all again for your thoughtfulness.

  45. Kristin

    November 30, 2010

    I’m so glad you are here and will be sharing more of yourself with Segullah.

    I was deeply touched with what you’ve shared. I’m so sorry for your loss and grateful for what you have shared with us about your experience so maybe I can do better.

    I thought instantly of my husband’s cousin, whom I so admire and love. She lost her husband to cancer earlier this year. They have four children. He died the day before his 36th birthday, two days before Father’s Day. They are both phenomenal people who have taught me much through their examples.

    I have deeply mourned for my cousin-in-law and the children, and wondered how I might give some degree of comfort. I’ve tried a few things, like meeting up with them when we traveled cross country this year, sending a package, emailing, and lots of praying.

    I emailed a link to your post to her today and received a response that she read it and found it spot on.

    I would guess that I haven’t said all the right things and so often over the last few months I’ve felt like I was bumbling along and maybe making it worse, but I appreciate knowing that my lame efforts are likely better than silence.

    Thanks again for sharing this.

  46. Cindy

    November 30, 2010

    When I was a senior in high school, the father of a classmate became very ill. We were both in the band and the band director announced it, and later informed us that the classmate’s father had died. I was filled with grief for her. Fathers of 17 year olds are not supposed to die! I remember watching her from my place in the band when she came back to school after the funeral. Wondering how she was doing. But petrified to say ANYTHING at all to her. I never did, and I regret it to this day. I resolved as an adult to never let something like that happen again. I agree that it’s hard to know what to say. I hate knowing that sometimes what I say will be the wrong thing. I will never say (because I know that it is always wrong) “I know how you feel.” And I hope my words are able to be received with the love with which they are given…

  47. Cindy

    November 30, 2010

    PS–Your story about your son, well actually both sons, breaks my heart. I am so sorry for your loss and pain…

  48. Jen

    November 30, 2010

    I read a post recently about how nice it would be if everyone could go around wearing a sign stating just what they were going through. I think sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own problems that we forget to forget ourselves and look at what others are going through.

    My sister cut a bunch of fingers off of her hand a couple of months ago, and gave birth 4 weeks early via c-section during the middle of her finger re-attachment surgery. I have been so Grateful to live in a small town where everyone knows and tells us they are thinking of her and praying for her. I can’t imagine the isolation that an entire new place must bring in addition to the constant gnawing grief.

    Thanks for allowing us to share in your grief. I think it must be some tangent of the gospel that sharing grief with others seems to make our own burdens lighter. I hope my eyes will be more open from reading this.

  49. Kathryn

    November 30, 2010

    I am so sorry for your loss, Melissa. Know that I am praying for you and your family. I cannot imagine how incredibly difficult this trial has been for you.

    I have read the post and all the comments and cried. And cried some more. Oh how I wish that I was better at mourning with those that mourn. I usually just say I’m sorry and cry with them, but it often doesn’t feel like enough. I’m glad to know that, often, it is. I now make a new resolution to actually look for chances to buoy others up.

    Reading this has put me in mind of the story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Before he did anything else, we are told in verse 35 that “Jesus wept.” He wept. He mourned with them. It was not until after he wept — not until after a season of mourning, and I guess that season could have lasted all of Mary and Martha’s mortal lives — that he went to the place of burial and raised Lazarus. As I was reading, I saw with a flash of understanding that the story is also a parable.

    I don’t know if that made sense. If not, that’s ok, I’ll just keep trying to comfort those who stand in need. Thank you for the lesson and for your beautiful words. They were needed.

  50. Emily

    November 30, 2010

    I know this might be a little out there, but I just noticed at the bottom of an e-mail from our piano teacher that she has a blog, a forum, and a book about grieving. I had no idea. I thought it was really neat that she has turned her personal grief into a way to help others. Perhaps this could be helpful to some. http://sistersinhope.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=30, http://www.solothebook.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16&Itemid=31

  51. Stephanie2

    November 30, 2010

    Wow, this is absolutely beautiful.

  52. JBlake

    November 30, 2010

    When my husband’s father died suddenly (and too young) the Relief Society President mistakenly spread the news that it was his GRANDfather. When we returned to our ward the counselor conducting sacrament meeting did not say anything about our loss and I then realized that no one knew. However, the bishop saw my face at that moment and I knew he knew. He and his wife visited us at home after church and mourned with us. Slowly the correct news spread. It was so painful to be mourning and yet having our friends not know what we were mourning.

  53. Emily M.

    November 30, 2010

    Melissa, I’ve cried over this twice today, and if I reread it I know I will cry again. Thank you for writing it. I have been blessed deeply by those who have mourned with me, and yet I forget so quickly. I need reminding. Thank you.

    And I am so sorry.

  54. ~j.

    December 1, 2010

    Wow.

    I’m breathless, tears spilling, exhausted. Bless you. It is a weary journey for those of us who bury our sons, our children. Bless you.

  55. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 1, 2010

    I’m back. . .and it took no more than four sentences of reading your feedback to bring softness to my breathing and that rim of tears to my eyes.

    Oh, yes, yes. . .Jesus WEPT, Kathryn and La Yen. He who knew he would summon his friend from death, he who saw perhaps in that moment a foreshadowing of his own approaching death/resurrection, he who could have saved the friend from death’s passage in the first place—he let himself FEEL IT, and he wept.

    (“Jesus Wept” happens to also be the title of LDS therapists and bereaved parents, Joyce and Dennis Ashton’s, book on understanding and enduring loss.)

    Not everyone, of course, has to weep to show compassion. But the compact force of that scripture tells us so much about God’s example of feeling WITH another. My sense is that behind Alma’s exhortation to “mourn with” and to “comfort,” lies the very essence of the atonement: Christ willingly becomes one with us as he vividly enters into—through imagination, through unfiltered love—our mortal experience. He imagines/envisions/recreates in Himself our pain so absolutely, he actually absorbs it viscerally. Do we want to become like Him? Really? I wonder if we can without practicing that “vivid imagining”, that “envisioning”. True, only He can bear us totally; but as his followers we’re given a small mortal chance at an apprenticeship in compassion.

    To Jen: please tell your sister I will mention her specifically in my prayers.

    To Mary: Oh, I cannot even speak.

    To Robin: The sad solid truth is there are no words adequate for major loss. Still. . .”One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.” (Sophocles) How ever love can be eeked out, it will help. Also, grief outlasts comfort. It’s the sad sorry truth. But that is why mortals alone are not THE comforters, but the Holy Ghost and all those heavenly attendants are. As we enter the space of our own or another’s grief, then, we are entering holy ground where we brush shoulders with the divine.

    To CIndy: How many of us have found ourselves in that precise situation? I will never forget the anonymous woman in the drive-through dry cleaners—someone who didn’t know us but must have guessed from all the dark suits she cleaned for us that there was a funeral. Pinned on the plastic wrapping, written in blue ball point pen on the bill for $48.75 were her words (which I’ve kept): “Our thoughts and prayers are with you at what must be a very, very hard time for your family.”

    Strangers, like friends, can extend themselves in small, unobtrusive ways like that to acknowledge the loss.

    To Donna: I have watched from close range the deep grief of parents who have a disabled child. The fall after our Parker was buried, our dear friends conceived twins. When the twins were born, they named the daughter Penelope and the son Parker, after their “favorite home teacher”, our son Parker. Eight months later, that same baby Parker lay in a coma and near death in a Parisian hospital. Meningitis. He miraculously recovered, but has been left with so many residual health and motor weaknesses, including deafness. The parents were some of our core supporters when “Big Parker” left this life. We have tried to stand near by while “Little Parker” has struggled for his life and his dear parents have struggled (beautifully, courageously) to find their way in their “new life.” SAINTS in the making, I tell you.

    To Cristie: It is always right to pray for guidance—discernment—in finding what the person in pain needs/will tolerate. We’ll make mistakes while trying to help, but the bigger mistake is turning away form that godly impulse to love.

    The sad solid truth is: there are no words adequate for major loss. Still. . .”One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.” (Sophocles) How ever love can be eeked out, it will help. Also, grief outlasts comfort. It’s the sad sorry truth. But that is why mortals alone are not THE comforters, but the Holy Ghost and all those heavenly attendants are. As we enter the space of grief, then, we are entering holy ground and we have lots of help from the unseen world.

    (And to think I just about talked myself out of posting this essay. . .I’m unspeakably humbled that it resounds with someone out there.)

  56. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 1, 2010

    I hurriedly patchworked that last response and see I repeated myself in there. I’ll pretend it was worth repeating. . .? 🙂

    I can’t sign out here without mentioning the life savers from Segullah, some of whom have posted right here. Those who have been closest to our story would be mortified and squeamish (if not outright mad) to have attention drawn to themselves. But I must say that their efforts to mourn with and comfort me given me oxygen, light and nourishment. . .

    Michelle, I’ll climb any peak with you.

    Sharlee. . .angel sister, I will go into any valley with you. You have held by me every lurching step of the way.

    And you ALL pushed me to write. . . . .

  57. Jenne

    December 1, 2010

    Thank you for providing an example of appropriate heartfelt and sincere response to someone else’s grief. It can be so difficult to know what to say. I recently wrote an essay about my own valley of the shadow of death and how deaths seems to shade my life each day and change how I live and plan for the future. In that process, you would think I would have learned ways to comfort others because I learned what it was like to need to be comforted and I still feel horribly inadequate and worry about what to say and whether to say anything at all.

    I agree that recognition is so validating. Not saying anything is so hurtful to one who is grieving. I greatly appreciate still the card that my basketball team signed and gave me after the death of my father.

    And about Frau Doktor, all I have to say is “those Germans… ‘

  58. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 1, 2010

    Jenne, I feel similarly about my limitations to assuage another’s grief. Even after scraping my open heart along the floor of the valley (I’d never known before the sensation of cardial rug burn), I still brace myself at facing another person’s major loss. And I don’t pretend to have the recipe for everyone’s comfort, nor do I think there exists “the” perfect response, because grief has a DNA as unique as she must bear grief. But, as I told a R.S. scripture study class just this week (our topic was Mosiah 18, no less), since my experience with loss my doors have been flung open to the larger world of suffering and my “weep valve” has a much looser valve. I cry quite easily for others. And I pray for others, even strangers. Especially strangers.

    And about “those Germans”. . . I know that’s their reputation, but for my expereince it is only a stereotype. There are certain cultural tendencies when it come to expressing emotion, true. My African, Middle Eastern, Jewish and Latin friends tend to be right “in there” when harshness hits. SO many of them come from a long line of catastrophic and serial loss. But oh my dear, dear German and Nordic friends who have wrapped themselves around my heart. . .! Who have been so authentic in their co-sorrowing. ..! What would I have done without them?

    And Lars, of course, is (East Block) German through and through. (Even if he can do a great Celine.) So go figure!??:-)

  59. Justine

    December 1, 2010

    This was lovely and heart aching and so moving. We are all fighting such individual and unique battles, and there are times when we each need a loving embrace from someone around us. Thank you for the reminder.

  60. Rachel

    December 1, 2010

    Thank you, Melissa. Thank you for sharing your experiences from, “The Valley of Death,” and helping give us guidance on how to mourn with others. I think the unfamiliarity makes it hard to find the right thing to do, and yet that is precisely why we must reach out and be with others. Something I know I am still working on. Thank you for your patience with me and others as we learn to walk, crawl, and claw our way through various valleys of death.

  61. annahannah

    December 1, 2010

    I am crying.

  62. handsfullmom

    December 1, 2010

    Beautiful glimpse into your heart and suffering. Thank you for that.

    My husband was 13 when his older brother died at age 20 in a drowning accident while serving a mission. I don’t think he’s ever “gotten over” it, and it’s still hard for him to talk about. At the same time, grief at a young age gave him a depth of feeling, testimony, maturity and compassion that I don’t think he would have learned any other way. I’m thankful for what he gained from that experience and what he brings to our family because he suffered loss at a young age.

    Bless you and your family in the years to come.

  63. Ann

    December 1, 2010

    This post speaks to my very soul. Not quite three months ago we lost a son. Your words expressed precisely (and much more eloquently) how I feel. It isn’t the “pep-talk” I want. It’s the tears of sorrow and loss that I crave. It’s also the tears of sorrow that I intend to share with others who will undoubtedly cross my path that must go through the same heartache as me.

    Thank you for the reminder to be more like Lars. I am so sorry for your loss.

  64. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 1, 2010

    I keep reading Paradox’s words and find so much stark wisdom there. For months on end I felt I was losing my voice, and not my “figurative” writerly voice, but my literal, physiological voice. A sort of choking language crisis overcame me as I realized there was no vocabulary invented to pin down the vastness of this pain or to share it with others, and every attempt from me to find words drilled me into an ever deeper emptiness. The only “language” that worked—the only spot where I was positive there was connection—was in prayer. Prayer became as necessary as air.

    Yes, there is a horror (and a holiness) so limitless is can only be encased in silence.

    I am learning so much from you all here. . .your hearts are oversized and plush. Lucky is the soul that will lean on you when the walls of her life come tumbling down.

  65. Dawn Bradbury

    December 1, 2010

    I have been uplifted by all of the comments posted. Although I am a convert and have not the experience to back up a lot of my feeling here…I am reminded by CS Lewis grieving for the loss of Helen. He said…I am not grieving for her…I am grieving for me, what I have lost.” My son almost died when he was 11, but not quite the same thing.

    Death strikes terror in everyone that life is over so quickly – albeit by the Lord’s schedule or by the intervention of someone’s choices. But the person hurt has the pain through the rest of mortality.

    I also think watching my friend grieve the loss of her mother that the transition from being a child in the family — having love and support — changed to being alone. She found that to be the most painful part. She misses her Mom for her. And even though “it is but a moment” the pain is real.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    I found this site by accident – but is soul filling.

  66. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 1, 2010

    To Ann: your son, your son. . .does your heart feel ripped out? You know: that excavated feeling. I ache with you and only wish I could sit and listen to his name and every story of his life which is, I must add, ongoing. Death ends a mortality, but NOT a relationship. That’s one of the challenges. . .

    To –j: And did you also lose your son? May I ask? How are you managing? Please feel through this screen that I reach to you.

    To Kaycee: So. . .how do you continue your relationship with the beloved who is beyond your sight now?

    To the wonderful rest. . .I’ll be back in a few minutes. . .

  67. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 1, 2010

    Robin, Marintha, Cristie, Leslie,: thank you for your sensitive reading and responses.
    Shay: I recall a friend who simply sat on the floor in front of me as trembled in a heap on the sofa . He didn’t take his eyes off of mine. Never glanced at his watch. Scarcely shifted his weight. But he looked intently at me as I recounted the details of the accident and the obliteration (and sacredness) our family was experiencing. He must have sat—transfixed, absorbing—for an hour. Listening. I call him Gilead in my heart because he was pure Balm.

    Laura, Blue, Rosalyn, Emily, Deja, Jenny: What wisdom you’ve shared. Yes, Parker was—and IS—a wonderful, vital, magnificent soul. I’ve always loved him fiercely. But I did not know just how fiercely until becoming acquainted with him beyond his mortal constraints. You’re all right: you never “get over” such a loss or “move on” from it anymore than you might “get over” or “move on” from having your leg ripped off without anesthetic. You are forever an amputee, dis-membered. The stump will always be there and it will ache to the very marrow until you are “re-membered” in the next life. But with God’s support and loving shoulders to hoist us to our feet, we DO learn to walk again.
    m2theh and Mette Harrison: Oh boy, you’ve both hit it square on the head. Truman Madsen put it well:
    “Nothing is more barren, to one in agony, than pat answers which seem the unfeeling evasions of a distant spectator who never felt a wound.”
    Truman Madsen, Eternal Man p. 55
    . . .And m2theh, I can only imagine the wrenching loss of a mother you love. How sore only you know.
    MJ: I had to gasp: you’ve lost 10 friends over 10 years? So sorry for those echoing vacancies in your life. Should I ask, then, if you’ve found a way to shoulder some of the sorrow of those left behind? Of course if you continue to talk about them then you continue to include them in this sphere. You continue a bond with them. That is crucial.

    Heidi: What a poignant image: your friend cradling your head in her lap as you sob. That feels like pure co-mourning to me.
    Christina: Gerne geschehen (wenn man sowas in diesem schwierigen Zusammenhang sogar sagen darf. . .)

    April: your point is so well-taken. From all I have gleaned from my research, parental grief is particularly complicated, multi-layered and enduring. I have not found a professional in the field of grief therapy who does not underscore the singularity of the grief parents experience when losing a child to death. Not wanting to set up any comparisons (I call them Grief Olympics, and they’re pointless if not pernicious and dangerous), it is instructive for those uninitiated to this kind of loss to know when they are dealing with a parent who has lost a child to death that the duration and depth of the grief is magnified by the instinct that we should protect the life we gave and all our hopes are tied up in the constant, daily, hourly projection of that life outlasting our own. I would add to that my personal sense that our own spirits recognize that the atonement itself hinges upon parental grief: our Eternal Parents sacrificed their Son for us.

    And Mary, at last: The Holy Ghost has and does give great—enormous!—strength, light, understanding, guidance. We have all felt that muscular boost to stand up and walk, even when amputated.

  68. bth

    December 1, 2010

    I’m so sorry for your loss. How amazing that he died saving another boy’s life! He is with God looking down on you and your family.

    A beautifully written post.

    About mourning with those who mourn–I have a question. And I have a 3 1/2 year-old daughter. Another couple in our ward lost their newborn baby girl 3 years ago. We were pregnant at the same time. My daughter and I talk about her “friend who died and is in heaven.” I talk to the mother often. But the father seems to look at me and my daughter sadly, wistfully (angrily?). What to do? I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a lengthy, emotional conversation with someone else’s spouse. And I don’t know for sure if he acts the same way around everyone and I’m just imagining it pointed at me and my daughter. It’s been three years, and I know the loss still hurts, heaven knows I’d still be hurting if it was my child. Do you think I should continue to say “I’m sorry for your loss?” I feel unsure of what to say to him, so I say “Hi” with a smile when I pass him in the halls.

  69. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 2, 2010

    dear bth: How utterly brutal to lose a newborn. I’ve not known that kind of loss—my son had a big existence supported by a big, intricate, solid global network of friends and life experiences. His life counted to many people. But what of a child who barely breathes once and then dies, who has not left deep footprints on this earth? What about that? How does a grieiving parent get validation for that existence? What earthly friends are there to write those sympathy cards and share the story of that mortality? Hard, hard, hard.

    For starters, if you are going to try to talk with this father, I suggest being wary of using any of these platitudes. While some of them might even have a kernel of truth in them, they are not comforting. They tend to alienate the bereaved from the non-bereaved:

    It’s God’s will
    I understand just how you feel
    Something a lot worse than that happened to me
    Don’t cry. You’ll see him again
    He was ready to go
    Aren’t you over this yet?
    God gave you this trial to make you stronger
    If you have enough faith, he will survive
    He is much better off in heaven. He is happier there
    Count your blessings
    Only the good die young
    Your loved one is freed from this terrible world
    You have an angel in heaven
    God doesn’t give us more than we can bear
    Keep the faith
    God needed him
    Put it behind you and get on with your life
    Time will heal
    Be strong, keep your chin up
    Get over it, move on, don’t wallow
    There are worse things
    Don’t let your children see you being weak

    On the other hand, here are simple words to try to being an exchange:

    “I love you”
    “You are not alone. I am with you.”
    “I remember when…” and not fearing to saying the deceased’s name and talk about him or her
    “What are your needs right now?”
    Warm food in your best dishes
    A gentle, communicative touch
    An hour of your time just listening
    Regular emails, short but reassuring
    Attention around holidays, birthdays, anniversary of the death, which can be especially painful
    Suggest establishing an annual marking of the deceased’s birth and/or death date
    Join in fasting
    Dedicate temple attendance to their needs by putting their names on temple prayer rolls
    A handwritten card
    Plant trees or flowers in the deceased’s memory
    Arrange Memorial services at school, work, church groups
    Establish a scholarship or fund in the deceased’s honor
    Suggest others who are similarly bereaved with whom the survivors might take up contact
    Compose music or write poetry or create any other artistic rendition of the deceased
    Care for the physical needs of the home or car or yard or laundry
    Care for other family members, especially children in the first several weeks
    Music of the most soothing and uplifting sort
    Give a special notebook for the bereaved to record thoughts, scriptures, dreams, impressions
    Literature that builds strength and courage
    Avoid rowdiness or irreverence in the bereaved’s presence
    Suggest going on a walk in nature together
    Inspirational addresses through Internet or other sources

    I really hope you can be guided by the Spirit to support these friends. Three years is not too late to express sympathy for such a loss. In fact, no time is ever too late.

  70. Kay

    December 2, 2010

    I am so sorry for your loss. I have tried to read all of the post a few times but each time had to close it because of the tears and the pain. I am still grieving over my 3rd consecutive miscarriage this summer and any loss is poignant for me. A close friend told me not to try to hurry the grieving process. I often felt that others expected me to pick myself up very quickly, and I almost needed permission to grieve. I quickly realised how difficult others found my situation, and also that they did not mean to hurt me by what they said. Thank you for this post.

  71. jendoop

    December 2, 2010

    Melissa, Thank you for continuing to comment on this thread, you are teaching me in ways that will help me keep the covenant to mourn with those that mourn – a great act of service in my behalf. This is one of the best uses of this medium (the internet) that I’ve witnessed.

  72. sunny

    December 2, 2010

    Thank you so much for this beautiful and painful sharing of your loss and grief. I am reminded of two examples of mourning with those who mourn that have touched my family.

    -Some years ago my oldest brother committed suicide. He was 17. As you can imagine, my mother’s world was at once shattered and frozen. Time stood still in the cruelest of ways and she found it almost impossible to function. Do you know that place where you are looking at the world as if in a dream, unable to move or speak at normal speed, yet the world moves on around you as if you and your paralytic state are invisible? I think she lived (or struggled to live) there for a very long time. At some point early on in the journey there was a knock at the door. A sister in the ward whom my mother did not know well arrived at the house and gently announced to my mother that they were going to be spending time together. This sister was an artist. She told my mother that she was going to teach her to paint. My mother protested, but the sister insisted. Over a period of weeks this sister and my mother sat together at easels, talking and weeping, traveling together as much as this sister could travel a road that was not hers. The lessons gave my mother a reason to leave the house, to converse, and to let someone into her world. They gave this sister an opportunity to sit beside my mother, looking out over the landscape with her, allowing her to see through my mother’s eyes instead of trying to see into them at a time she couldn’t bear the gaze of another.

    -My father was sick for many years with cancer. When the time came that his death was near his siblings gathered from near and far to visit. One evening a good friend from the ward showed up and asked to see my mother. In a home crowded with people she did not know, this woman took my mother aside, sat her in a chair, prepared some items, and began to wash and massage my mother’s feet. The sister had a beautiful singing voice and as she tended to my mother she sang to her. As a teenager I was in awe that someone could do something so potentially embarrassing, yet she seemed to be unaware of anyone except my mother, who sat weeping silently as this sister tenderly cared for her.

    I don’t think there is any particular formula for mourning with another. The same words or actions can be comforting to one, yet meaningless for another. There were things done for my family that would not be right for another. The beauty was that these things were right for my mother. These sisters heard the whispering of the spirit and followed through. I think that is the best any of us can do when we yearn to be with another in their sorrow.

  73. Kristin

    December 2, 2010

    Sunny, and to those who have shared specific examples of such meaningful service…thank you. Sometimes we want to help but we don’t know how and these examples sure help.

    Melissa, your list is so much appreciated for the same reason. And your writing is moving and beautiful.

    I was reading last night about when Jesus went to raise the daughter of Jairus. There was weeping there too and I had never noticed. I had noticed with the experience of raising Lazurus as mentioned earlier in the comments, but I hadn’t internalized that it happened on this other occasion. I’ll be on the lookout for more of these subtle references to truly mourning with those that mourn.

    I am a better person for this post and accompanying comments. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and your wisdom.

  74. ~j.

    December 2, 2010

    To Melissa: Yes. Thank you for asking. His name is Taylor James. He was stillborn . . . what I find myself most often craving is simple acknowledgment from others of his existence. I have a hole in my family. He’d be ten years old now.

  75. cheryl

    December 2, 2010

    I just had to say that I love this, and I love your family. I still cannot think about you without remembering your loss, and I am so sorry for the pain you’ve had to endure.

    I especially love the reference in the comments to being guided by the Spirit when reaching out to mourn with those that mourn. It is true that some people need comfort and hugs and love; others need smiles and time. It’s definitely a personal thing –but, so is tragedy. I am ashamed to say that I have never been good about mourning. I feel awkward. But this post (and the comments that followed) have been wonderful and have really opened my eyes to how I can help others. Seriously, this whole thread is just beautiful!

    [I mentioned this to your mom, but while we were in Shanghai, we met a couple that had just moved there from Singapore and knew you! They had nothing but wonderful things to say about your family. :)]

  76. Anna M

    December 2, 2010

    What a touching, loving, intense reminder. Thank you for sharing and reminding.

    You are a beautiful writer.

  77. Catherine A.

    December 2, 2010

    Oh Melissa, I’ve wept and blubbered through the last twenty minutes reading your original post, the raw responses, and then yours. What a tender experience to hear your voice, to feel of your glorious, compassionate heart. You are reaching out to all who have been split wide and want to share, need to share. “Lucky is the soul that will lean on you when the walls of her life come tumbling down.” You meant these words for us collectively, but they describe you. So well. Lucky are we. For you.

    Melissa M. said it best. Your writing is transcendent. Not of this world. Thank you for sharing your holiest of holies. I am brought low. I am changed. I am filled. I love you.

  78. mom o' boys

    December 2, 2010

    Melissa Dalton-Bradford,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share even more of your thoughts and experiences in your beautiful feedback and comments. So much to learn and internalize.

  79. Coni

    December 2, 2010

    what a treasure i’ve found in this post. thank you, melissa. i also lost a son in july. he was 23. i lost him unexpectedly.

    i have longed to find words that express what i’m feeling – words that express how the world has changed…how life as i have known it will never be the same.

    … and i am longing, right now, to find words that will express my gratitude to you for the eloquence with which you’ve written, for your willingness to share the rawness of it all. you have soothed and comforted. just knowing that you – and others – know, is a great blessing.

    grateful,
    your sister in mourning.

  80. Kate H

    December 2, 2010

    Thank you so much, Melissa, for writing this beautiful piece. I started it at work and had to finish it at home where I could cry with you. I don’t have any children yet and I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose one. I’m so sorry you’ve had to experience that. I’m so grateful for people who recognize the need for sadness after tragedy, who don’t try to brush it away. I always feel the need to talk through my grieving, but sometimes it’s hard to find people willing to listen. I’m always a little unburdened when I do.

    Again, thank you for sharing with us. Your words have touched and inspired me. Thank you.

  81. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 2, 2010

    To all: what depth there is in the human heart. Sometimes we just begin to glimpse the contours of those depths, and that sight is somehow frighteningly beautiful. Your shared comments give such understanding and light. I thank you ALL.

    Sunny: The gorgeous image of your mother and her friend who bathed her feet and sang her simple song filled my whole heart with heat. It threw my mind, of course, to other instances where purest worship—all tied up, it seems, in a sort of subtly exquisite mourning— occurs. Mary of Bethany bathed the Savior’s feet with her ointment (and her tears). The Savior knelt and bowed his godly soul at the feet of His disciples. And he sang that last, quiet evening hymn. So many startling vignettes (like these, like Sunny’s, like others) show us the simple antidote to our own limits in co-mourning. We reduce self-consciousness and fear by being more other-conscious and full of love. A little less focused on the self. Self-less. Until that alchemy happens—until the heaviness of another’s heart becomes larger than the hesitation of our own—we are stuck and frustrated. Ah, but when it does happen. .. .we touch God.

    Perhaps fear, hesitation and self-consciousness are to some extent a cultural heritage. Maybe western culture, with all its powerful and useful services to mankind, has also done us a grave disservice with respect to mourning. There seems to be a western imperative to enjoy ourselves, not be a kill-joy and always present “good form”. What if we break down? What if we smear our makeup? What if we bumble and blurt out warbling nonsense? What if we shout an expletive to the skies? Or kick a hole through a wall? Or fall flat on our faces? What if we lose face altogether. . . .?. . . Instead, we tuck away the ill and decrepit, sanitize the cold reality of decay and death, and treat grief like it’s an anomaly to “admirable” behavior, a sickness itself in need of medicated management a good pep talk. (Or we need to run frantically in otehr directions—the golf course, the mall, the bar— to escape and deny grief altogether. . .) Even grief literature (but not the stuff I like so much) plots the predictable stages of grief and how to “tackle” them, move through them. Like you’re building a Lego airplane.

    Other cultures “do grief” better than do we. My neighbor here in Singapore witnessed this just this week. One evening she and her husband returned to their apartment to find their Muslim neighbor’s furniture—all of it–scooted out into the common entry way. Within an hour or so people began filing (slowly, reverently) up the stairs and into that neighbor’s apartment. The doors were left open so that anyone could come in, which also allowed this friend of mine to hear the low, moaning-crying-praying-singing these people joined in. Hour upon hour, day upon day, those doors were left open and people (friends of that family whose mother had just suddenly died) came to cry, pray and sing. My friend said she and her husband sat on the other side of the wall (so close but a world away) and heard—FELT—the sorrow and communal compassion seeping into their world. It was, she said, arresting and soothing. And Christlike.

    My good friend from Botswana, upon hearing about our Parker, lay her glossy brown arm around my shoulder and took me on a long slow walk. She told me about losing her father to sudden death and how she and her family sat in their hut for three days straight, her father’s body (which they had personally anointed and clothed for burial) laid out on the family table. They did not leave the body for a moment during all those days. The mourning family sat on low chairs along the wall in the same room, and the villagers from miles around filed one-by-one through that house, crying, weeping, moaning. Custom is that the mother (the surviving spouse) retell the story of the death to every last person who comes to greet her. Why? “Speaking it over and over makes the new reality take root in your body”, my friend explained. “And”, she added, “then everyone else takes part of that story into their body. It becomes part of them.” When the villagers leave, the family stays in that room keeping watch over the body and speaking to its “lingering spirit.” The only thing separating them from the body is a thin curtain—a veil—stretched across the room.

    “When a person is born we rejoice, and when they’re married we jubilate, but when they die we try to pretend nothing has happened,” writes anthropologist Margaret Mead about western attitudes.

    Another anthropologist, Geoffrey Gorer, notes that modern western culture tends “to treat mourning as morbid self-indulgence, and to give social admiration to the bereaved who hide their grief so fully that no one would guess anything had happened.”

    With all our western know-how, maybe we have yet to know how to grieve with others. I suggest we need more or new rituals, maybe even need a whole new vocabulary. My deepest belief is that the fullness of Christ’s restored gospel holds critical keys to that understanding. Maybe we are on our way right here to a better understanding. . .

  82. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 2, 2010

    And to —j:

    Taylor James. He is your son. He will always be. What emotional whiplash, a stillbirth! I go there in my imagination and my jaws start to ache. And no little footprints left on this earth to commemorate Taylor’s life which mattered, matters and will always matter!

    I can also imagine that he has led you and taught you much in the ten years he has been progressing at lightening speed in the spirit world. How implausible but true: a child as mentor and guide.

    Bless you. Bless your whole family. . .

  83. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 2, 2010

    And Coni. . .We are indeed loved by a God who brings us together with His graceful slight-of-hand. Even on (or especially through) the Internet!

    Your son, your son. I want to know him. How I WISH I could sit on the floor with so many mothers who have watched that casket sink into the womb of the earth. who have folded up the clothing that still bears that child’s signature scent. Who have dusted the smiling, vibrant but haunting photos, who have curled up in the driver’s seat in a lone parking lot and howled,”Im-poss-i-ble!!” Who have watched the world keep spinning though we are locked in a time warp, begging the heavens to reverse the universe, take us back. . .

    What would i do there on that floor with you? I can’t know exactly except maybe just rock back and forth, shaking or sighing. Eventually we would smile at each other because the mere light in your eyes would give me hope and courage.

    Warmth to you, Coni.

  84. Melissa M.

    December 3, 2010

    Melissa, I loved your description of the mourning rituals in other cultures. You are right that we don’t “do” mourning very well. I wish we did. You have articulated something that I’ve been pondering for years—that there is a holiness to grieving, that Christ Himself sanctioned it, and that we should let ourselves grieve—wholly, truly, and for however long it takes—after a loved one dies. I wish we talked about this more. Thank you for teaching us with your beautiful and tender post how to mourn, and how to comfort those who mourn. Your writing leaves me breathless.

  85. Paula

    December 3, 2010

    Melissa thank you for your further insights. You are a beautiful spirit. I wish I could reach out and hug you through this computer. It has given me much to think about. Thank you, thank you for sharing your experiences and insights.

    Just this past fall my brother lost a son, who had been ill for a long time. Even though we knew death was coming, it wasn’t easy to feel it’s sting. My cousin passed away from cancer a few weeks later. I cannot begin to tell you how much these two individuals blessed my life! I know that they are missed. I have been blessed to talk with their surviving family members in the past week. There are days when life is hard for them. Then there are days when they rejoice in the plan of Heavenly Father.

    This Sunday I am going to fast for them. I’m also going to send each of them a note, letting them know I’m thinking about them. I have learned that I do not know what they are going through but I can share with them my love and prayers. It doesn’t need to be complex, something simple will mean a lot.

  86. Proud Daughter of Eve

    December 3, 2010

    As I believe some have said already, the silence comes from fear: the fear of hurting someone even more. I’ll try to fear less and help more. I’m so, so sorry for your loss, Melissa. I think they had it right in the old days when a family had a year of official mourning. You need a lot more time than four months. I’m sending you lots of zen hugs.

  87. Cheryl

    December 3, 2010

    So very sorry for the loss of your son! Your words were so bittersweet…you wrote them so beautifully but the pain was palpable. I cannot imagine losing a child, the very thought makes me cry. May God bless you with his love and peace.

    My husband’s brother died in a terrible tragedy a year and a half ago. Last week we did family pictures, the first after he died. The void was so obvious and heartbreaking.

  88. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 3, 2010

    To Melissa, Paula, P.D.O.Eve, and Cheryl:

    You have each touched on something quite profound; the role that TIME plays in the journey of grief. You’ve alluded to the fact that time does not “heal all wounds”. Imagine your limb is hacked off but the doctors and observers stand by numbly, suggesting you merely lie there passively and wait long enough and the gushing blood and severed nerves and throbbing flesh will take care of themselves. Of course not. “TIme”, in that case (as with loss from death), heals nothing. The mere passage of time will, in fact, cause greater complications without wise and prolonged intervention and the daily decision of the “amputated” to do some hard work.

    Conversely, choosing to do something with TIME can lead to greater strength and what I’ll call “redemption”. You won’t get the limb back, but you will be given much else that is necessary for your progression toward your beloved who waits in the neighboring realm.

    But time alone without support, effort, and faithful following of the Spirit, will not heal. Time alone, after big loss, breaks up marriages, estranges children, destroys testimony, sprouts some destructive habits. . .Time alone can canker, embitter, drain, and lead to another kind of death that is even worse than the initial death, a sort of a bleeding to death—the death of the spirit. Satan would rejoice in that, and he uses powerful methods to bleed dry the bereaved or, using another analogy, to bury them alive under the dark tonnage of despair. It is a life-or-death battle to CHOOSE not to remain buried alive.

    I like this from Thomas Attig:

    “First death deprives us, then bereavement turns the screws. We may suspect that the intensity of early pain and anguish will wane. But we dread that our loss will permanently drain our lives of all vitality. We anticipate an empty future. Our hurt transfixes us. It is as if we lie immobile and exposed waiting for more dreadful things to happen. We must choose not to linger in the lethargy of bereavement. If we do, our fears will be realized and our helplessness perpetuated. Coming to terms with pain and anguish requires that we move, however small and halting our first steps may be.”
    Thomas Attig, How We Grieve, p. 17

    We can trust God with our lives. And with the lives of our loved ones who, though no longer mortal, are very, very near.

  89. requiredname

    December 4, 2010

    “Sie koennen mich natuerlich nicht verstehen; ich verstehe mich selbst viel schlechter wenn ich red’, als wenn ich still bin.” – One of “those Germans”

  90. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 4, 2010

    Ach! Precisely. . .Haar genau.

    This is a cryptic but beautiful stroke of serendipity, “required name”. The above line is from Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s turn of the century dramatic piece entitled “Der Schwierige” (or, “The Difficult One.”) The character speaking those lines is the titular figure, Hans Karl, who battles with language, its limitations, imprecision, superficiality, and subsequent lack of connection with the core of reality. Hans Karl embodies the spirt of his times: everyone in Europe seemed stuck in a language crisis. In the above line, Hans Karl says to another character, Helene, “Of course you cannot understand me; I understand myself far worse when I speak, than when I am silent.”

    Among the reading material I turned to in my earliest months of grief (and language crisis) were the writings of Hoffmansthal, and particularly his masterwork from which “requiredname” has just quoted.

    That very piece happens to have been the subject matter of my Master’s thesis. I wrote it 19 years ago when I was mother to one toddler son whose death I now mourn.

    Uncanny.

  91. Debra

    December 5, 2010

    Thank you for describing the pain I have felt these past six months. We lost our 30 year old son to cancer in May, on my Birthday. He was and is my sunshine. Your description of the loneliness in grief is so accurate, and real. Night after night I would plead for forgiveness for the uncharitable thoughts I was having. Thoughts directed at those who I thought were my friends! Where were they in our sorrow and in our pain? How could they forget our son? How could they only scarcely acknowledge what had happened? Add these feelings to a heart already broken, and you come up with a very miserable guilt ridden unhappy mother. Your words have validated my feelings.

    thank you

    Listening to some very special Christmas music today brought a torrent of tears, our first Christmas without our sunshine.

    Again, thank you

  92. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 6, 2010

    Oh, I am with you, Debra. It is a heavy trudge to the depths. Six months?! On your birthday?. . .. . . . . .This is still so fresh into this descent, and you need so much support and love to make it without disintegrating. You WILL do it. May the right mortal angels be there on all sides.

    It’s such a confusing Catch 22 you’ve described so well: you need loving and lasting acknowledgement of the proportions of your grief, yet you do not want/are not able to beg for it. That trap becomes particularly painful when those you would have expected/hoped to be there—maybe family, probably lifelong friends— simply are not. Or they are there briefly at first then quickly lose steam just as things turn darkest and heaviest for you. And that point, sadly, is exactly when they judge or nudge you : “where’s your faith?” or “don’t you think it’s about time that you move on. . .?” Yes, this seems to be a typical feature of grief. I’m so sorry it’s that way for you, too. Ironically, grief inevitably demands that the bereaved forgive the non-bereaved. But we must. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We must forgive because we, too , have been forgiven, and probably for having once been poor co-mourners ourselves…I had no idea. . .

    Then. . .you turn your heart and your focus to the others who HAVE succored you. I hope there have been some strong shoulders for you to lean on. That’s where you pin your thoughts. That gratitude, when focused upon, swells and even eclipses the hurt felt from failed friends or family.

    Debra, I know the sunless darkness you describe without your son. I know the feeling of being entirely lined in lead, of not being able to breathe, sleep, walk quickly, remember how to tie my shoes, put the key in the ignition. . So please be kind to yourself. Your sunshine son, though gone from your present view, shines brighter now than ever he did on earth. That son is intimately aware of your heartache. And of your ability to hold on– to his hand and to God’s.

  93. Dorothy

    December 6, 2010

    This is a beautiful post. And I am so sorry for your pain. And the pain of your family. The best thing anyone said to me after I had my miscarriage came from my mom. She said, “I don’t know what to say, but I just want you to know that I love you so much.” I don’t know you, but I love you.

    A while ago, some friends found out that their IVF attempt was unsuccessful. It was heartbreaking for them, and I wanted to acknowledge that pain instead of being silent. I said, “I’m so sorry.” “I’m not talking about it,” was her response, and I felt awkward and like I’d done the wrong thing. I’ll try not to let this experience silence me from expressing sorrow for future griefs, but it is a difficult thing to know what to say.

  94. Debra

    December 6, 2010

    Thank you is not enough for your heart warming response, your ability to share in my sorrow, and to give my heart a lift. I so appreciate your time, and your initial sharing of your thoughts and feelings. May the Lord bless you and your family, and all those who are suffering with loss at this time.

  95. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 7, 2010

    Dorothy and Debra: It’s soothing to hear your words and to know there are women like you who “get it” and will pass that on in your tender interaction with others. Man-oh-man, how we need to cultivate softness and enduring joy in each other’s lives. . .

    Dorothy, your mother’s humble support reminded me of this passage from a brilliant (and bereaved) father/author, Nicolas Wolterstorff. I hope he’ll forgive me for quoting his marvelous book so frequently when I talk on this subject. Wolterstorff is a man of rare insight and sensitivity:

    “What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s okay, too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything at all to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.” Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be death of a child in the absence of love. . .But please, don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”

    Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, p. 34

  96. Coni

    December 7, 2010

    since first reading your post, melissa, i’ve pondered the question of how we mourn with those who mourn. (how have i been at following this great baptismal covenant?) we’ve also read of silence. how the deadliest silence comes from those who are our gospel brothers and sisters. i’ve thought that perhaps they are silent because of the gospel light present in their lives (and in a mourner’s life) and where the gospel is, there is hope and comfort and no need to mourn! or the good news of the gospel cancels out the need to mourn or at least lessens the time we need to mourn… but the deadliest of silence for me has been the silence in my own family – my many brothers and their wives. not a word of comfort have they spoken or written. they are not heartless. surely a thought or two has given way. what keeps them silent and unable (or unwilling?) to reach into my mourning and comfort? what keeps any of us silent? yes, it could be fear, but in my own case, as i contemplate past (and passed up) opportunities to comfort the mourning, i wonder if it is simply lack of awareness. busy-ness. selfishness.

    it’s true that those of us who mourn cannot ask for the comfort we desperately seek from another. but when it comes, no matter how it comes, we accept. and we are grateful that even awkward attempts are made.

    … for some, giving comfort to those who mourn comes so quickly, without hesitation, and so naturally …

    sunday i visited another ward to witness the blessing of a baby (whose parents had mourned childlessness for 13 years!) who had been sealed to his parents the day before. a dear young friend approached me afterward. she reached out and pulled me into an embrace so loving, so sincere, so knowingly. she has never known death in the way that i know death, yet somehow this young mother of one (she is 34 years old – i am 54) knew. she just held me until i released some of the pain that is embedded so deeply in each fiber of my being! strength came from her embrace. somehow there was an exchange, spirit to spirit, of courage, of compassion, of charity. she then looked into my eyes and asked, “how are you doing this?”

    this short moment with my young friend was profoundly healing. she just held me. then asked a question. she did not anxiously, dutifully tell me that time will heal, or that my son is in a better place. she willingly mourned with me. willingly stepped ever so slightly into my gulf of grief. she wanted to share my burden. and i knew it.

    … for what it’s worth.

    melissa, you’ve mentioned a couple of authors. i would love your short list of best (your most helpful) books on this topic.

    thanks so much.

  97. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 7, 2010

    Whew, Coni, I am completely a-prickle with chills after reading you. The simple, honest, immediate act of reaching out that that young mother offered you is potent! “How are you doing this?” is a wise question, not a leading one, not an impatient one, neither a doubtful, diminishing nor dismissive one. It suggests a faint inkling of wonder: how is it done, Lord? How can life bring such pain—how can it be so unkind— yet we keep going? It points to what you already know: all this is thanks to God’s loving-kindness.

    Such heaven-sent moments, (and I’ve been blessed with them, thanks to HUGE people), help take the sting from the siblings, in-laws or friends who simply do not come through, or who directly add hurt with self-preoccupied silence or judgements. Thanks heavens there are those–many others— who have the gift of enduring compassion. I consciously choose to focus just on them. With them I think we experience just what you write: “an exchange, spirit to spirit, of courage, of compassion, of charity.” Of ZION.

    To my short list (and I hope this is helpful to you as well as to others):

    Making Sense of Suffering (Wayne Brickey)
    Lament for a Son (Nicolas Wolterstorff)
    A Grace Disguised (Gerald Sittser)
    A Grief Observed (C.S.Lewis)
    Jesus Wept (Joyce and Dennis Ashton)
    The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
    Grieving: The Pain and the Promise (DeAnna Edwards)
    A Broken Heart Still Beats (Anne McCracken and Mary Semel)
    A Grief Unveiled (Gregory Floyd)
    The Grieving Garden (Susan Redfern + Susan Gilbert)
    Beyond Tears (ed. Ellen Mitchell)
    What Forever Means After The Death of a Child (K. Talbot)
    The Gateway We Call Death (Elder Russell M. Nelson)
    Tear Soup (Pat Schweibert and Chuck DeKlyen)
    The Spiritual Lives of Bereaved Parents (Dennis Klass)
    Continuing Bonds: New Understandings in Grief (ed D. Klass)
    Book of Job (Old Testament)

    And the Book Genesis, Chaps 37-50: Story of Joseph of Egypt whom “God sent before. . .to preserve life. .and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

    Our sons, gone too soon for our hands and arms, have gone before us. They are in God’s safest keeping where they have long since passed us up in light and knowledge and are working lovingly to guide us on, “preserving” our lives, so tp speak, preparing a place for us. Our job–hard as it is when we can barely breathe—is to live worthy of their service and live close to the Spirit. Only then are we close to our children’s spirits. The relationship continues. . .

    SOoooooo much mother love to you, Coni.

  98. Coni

    December 8, 2010

    yes! isn’t it a blessing tat we will never have to wonder or worry where our angel-children are or what they are doing!

    the story of joseph. i would not have related it to this experience we’re having. thank you. i believe what you say – that they have long since passed us up in light and knowledge and are working to prepare a place for us.

    love and gratitude to you. i’m still amazed how easily words come to you. the perfect words.

    … only one week before he left this earth and after leaving a bishop’s interview, he said, “mom, i will be the one who takes care of you.”

  99. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 8, 2010

    Coni: And he IS taking care of you! Read these words from a prophet, who also buried his child, his son Hyrum:

    “I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. We begin to realize more and more fully, as we become acquainted with the principles of the Gospel…that we are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors, to our friends and associates and co-laborers who have preceded us into the spirit world…And therefore, I claim that we live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; they can comprehend better than ever before, the weaknesses that are liable to mislead us into dark and forbidden paths. They see the temptations and the evils that beset us in this life and the proneness of mortal beings to yield to temptation and to wrong doing; here their solicitude for us and their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves. As their family was their primary concern in this life so it will continue to be their primary concern on the other side of the veil. We would demean the nature of their labors in the spirit world to suppose that they had nothing more to do than to conduct daily watch over those they left behind: yet…on special occasions their presences will be felt…In like manner our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bring from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those who they had learned to love in the flesh.”

    President Joseph F. Smith

    Only shortly after his adult firstborn son’s death—and shortly before his own death—the prophet received the vision of the redemption of the dead, as recorded and contained in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138. Your child, and mine, are mentioned in verse 57.)

  100. Kerri

    December 9, 2010

    My brother died six months ago today. I’m returning to this post and the lovely comments for wisdom and comfort. Thank you again, Melissa, for sharing your heart with us. Your lovely words and the heart behind them will help many of us to find a little more peace.

  101. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 9, 2010

    Kerri—Six months ago today. . ? Ah, that’s like yesterday. Oh that feeling of the anvil on the chest. Of walking around detached from the world, carrying this enormous pulsing secret under your skin and few to connect with it. (Few, but God).

    Maybe, for you, it doesn’t feel like yesterday, but more like two hours ago. Maybe it feels like a world away, too, because you’ve gone to a new place since the moment you lost that brother.

    Whatever the case, I can say with confidence that grief is a permanent—but always changing—thing. It evolves, it surprises us, and sometimes years later when we feel pretty solid and surefooted it lays us flat with no warning. Sometimes it opens our minds and hearts to things we never knew possible, and takes us on a trajectory of learning that can be a blessing. A blessing for us as well as for those gone ahead of us.

    Losing a brother. SO HEAVY. I am sorry for this dark hole left in your life. Hold tight, Kerri. Much love to you. . .

  102. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 9, 2010

    And Kerri. . .I recall vividly your first response here, about your younger brother dying in a drowning incident.

    That note of yours, as you can imagine, sent a sharo hot surge through my system.

    I’m a grown woman with few fears left in me except a brand new and consuming one:

    WATER.

    If I might ask: how has the manner in which your brother left this world effected you?

  103. Kerri

    December 9, 2010

    Melissa, thank you. I have felt very alone today, not wanting to burden anyone else with my grief. I wasn’t sure if any of my family felt the anniversary as keenly as I am and I certainly didn’t want to make them suffer more than necessary or feel the need to comfort ME. I am grateful for your kind words and the love and understanding behind them.

    The morning after we returned from my brother’s funeral, my 13 year old son left on a Young Men trip to Bear Lake. I hadn’t considered how I’d feel about it until I dropped him off at the church and drove down the hill to my house, sobbing. I saw one of the YM leaders leaving his house and pulled over and just asked him to please please watch my boy, that having him on the water was terrifying me. He was very kind, reassured me, and had my son text or call me every night.

    But since that day, I’ve decided that I didn’t want the circumstances of my brother’s death to rob me of one of the things I love most about life: nature, with all of its raw power. I have recognized that danger lies all around me, but so does beauty. I couldn’t protect my brother from what happened anymore than I can foresee what other tragedies lie in wait for those I love. I have no power over these things. I’m trying to choose to live without fear, hoping that I’ll find the strength to face whatever I have to face. That works SOME days.

    But other days I feel powerfully the fragility of life, the recognition that one misstep can lead to tragedy, the knowledge that any feeling I have of control is a grand illusion. I have no control, except that of choosing to place my trust in my Heavenly Father’s plan, and hoping that if (or rather, when) tragedy strikes, that He will again carry me through the worst of it.

    So water…how are you managing it? You have to fly over the ocean, I know. When I did that the first time after his death, my chest seized, and I felt a fear I had never before felt over water. And songs about water are hard for me.

  104. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 9, 2010

    Kerri:

    There is a world of wisdom in your reply above. Especilaly these words, from you, are worth meditating on for, oh, about 80 years: “. . .Any feeling I have of control is a grand illusion. I have no control, except that of choosing to place my trust in my Heavenly Father’s plan, and hoping that if (or rather, when) tragedy strikes, that He will again carry me through the worst of it.”

    In an effort to face my new water fears head-on, I did something and then wrote the following poem about it. Every year as a memorial on the date of our Parker’s ascent to heaven, we hike a mountain. This is from last summer’s hike, a climb we shared with dearest friends:

    Heaven’s Womb
    Emerald Lake, Mt. Timpanogos, Utah
    July 19th, 2010

    Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who has gendered it?
    —Book of Job 38:29

    Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb.
    —Peter Kreeft

    This glacial slope smoothes as a lace peplum over generous bosom
    down mountain cleavage
    and over the hidden, primordial heart.
    Its blue-white V points us
    straight to the translucent emerald basin
    icy amniotic font
    heaven’s mirror
    whose reflection pulses with
    clouds’ liquid silhouettes.

    Mother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, daughter;
    one-by-one we slip off coarse shoes to stand
    on hallowed ground
    at the water’s edge, then,
    linking hands, we lean
    into the leap, lean into the
    holy plunge
    that will plummet us to the very center
    of gravity.

    We know well the risk of water.
    Know well the perils of
    such terrifying immersion.
    The stabbing chill.
    The stunning clench.
    The stopping—and starting—heart.

    Against this knowing, we pitch
    our chain of clasped hands skyward,
    throw our voices high and higher with the rise,
    bracing
    for the joyful rejuvenating jolt.

    Thank you, Kerri. You are wise and right that “danger lies all around me, but so does beauty.” The art of living lies in consciously stretching our hearts within that delicate tension; of recognizing the illusion of control, and allowing ourselves to engage in every breath of living, dangerous and fragile and unpredictable as it naturally was intended to be. The word “mortality” has, after all, at its very core, the warning, “mort”. We are born to die.

    All the more reason to live mindfully and gratefully. All our days and hours are numbered.

    Norman MacLean wrote the following:

    “Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

    I am haunted by waters.”

    Norman MacLean In “A River Runs Through It”

  105. Kerri

    December 9, 2010

    XOXO, Melissa. I have no words. My soul responded to everything you wrote.

    I love A River Runs Through It, and I have loved that last quoted line. Thanks for the reminder.

    I’ll be waiting for my next “joyful rejuvenating jolt.” Or maybe I’ll go searching for it. I think it’s something worth finding.

  106. Sharlee

    December 10, 2010

    What a beautiful and holy thing you have done here, Melissa. Like Kerri, I have no words.

    It was one of the most sacred moments of my life to take that terrifying and joyful leap with you this summer. The profound and multi-layered symbology of that experience continues to move me whenever I think about it.

    To all of you who have opened your hearts and shared your stories here: thank you. And bless you.

  107. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 11, 2010

    . . .And I thank all of you, too. Such inspiration from so many.

    Any man’s death diminishes me
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know
    For whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.

    –John Donne “Meditation XVII”

  108. Coni

    December 13, 2010

    to you, melissa, and to kerri, thank you for your strength to write the word – water. thank you for sharing how you are getting through the journey, how you’re finding peace. i haven’t been able to write it down. haven’t been able to talk about it much. i haven’t wanted to experience it again. maybe enough time has passed – and with the strength i find in you and others here, perhaps now, i can.

    a cliff. my son slipped and fell from a very high cliff while running/hiking. he was my boy who loved to run and who loved to be outside in God’s world doing it. he was gone before we knew it – although i felt some kind of dread inside me at the time, i didn’t know exactly what it meant until he didn’t return at his appointed time. i went searching for him (we were at lake powell with friends) the moment i felt the twisting inside me. as i walked in the direction he left, i saw black birds flying and wondered if they would get to him before i found him! i whistled the whistle i always whistled when he and his siblings were young. they always responded and always came home. but he didn’t come. i remember feeling a prick of panic – and then a calm. a calm that i fought. it was as if the angels were already gathering around me. holding me, preparing me for the grief that would come. somewhere inside i knew he was gone, but until he was found and i heard the words i was left in this place of confusing peace. other worldly. one foot in and one foot out of grief.

    my son fell from a high place as he was running – as he was emotionally and spiritually moving toward a higher place. he was in the process of (doing the work of) putting his life back on track, of making life-changing decisions. he went running to clear his mind and rejuvenate his soul…

    after getting through those most difficult first hours and days i was calmed by the knowledge that the efforts he was making were pleasing to His Father – and they were enough. Father took him home.

    as a gateway to heaven, nature’s high places are symbolic for me now. i don’t fear them (well, i do find myself saying to my remaining children “be safe!”), but now, it seems like a good idea to find a mountain. to climb it. and soon.

    Love this: Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb. Peter Kreeft

    thank you! again.

  109. Kerri

    December 13, 2010

    Oh, Coni. Thank you for sharing these holy moments with us. Your description of the angels gathering around you is so familiar, the peace and grief intermingled…it feels like it’s been only days since I felt the same.

    My brother was a searcher, a lover of nature, a thoughtful man, and a kind and loving uncle to my children and his other nieces and nephews. He was in the place he loved most in the world, Havasupai, with another of my brothers and some friends. They were all in the water, laughing, taking pictures. They turned toward the waterfall, and then he was gone, trapped under the waterfall. No one saw.

    I will go to Havasupai one day. I’ve always wanted to go, and after this I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But now I want to be there, to remember him, to honor him, to make my peace with the place that took him from us. I guess I’m just saying that I understand your need to climb a mountain.

    A well-meaning LDS cousin asked me how I felt about my brother not considering himself LDS anymore and what that meant for him. I told her I wasn’t worried about that. I’m still not worried about it. The comforter has made it clear for us that he is loved and known by our Father and that there is no need to worry about his salvation. (I would add “How do you feel about your brother’s salvation?” to Melissa’s list of what NOT to say to a grieving family member, however. Hardly an appropriate topic to…)

    Much love to you, Coni. I am so sorry your extended family has not reached out in love and sorrow. I hope that you find many who will.

  110. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 13, 2010

    This morning’s additional posts from Coni and Kerri leave me panting at my computer screen. So much so, I’m afraid to write a word for fear of breaking the spell. But I’ll add my deep thanks—and support and love— to you marvelous women, I also want to build on two points you make. One I call The Shell. The other I call The Jury.

    Many writers refer to the immediate aftershock following the news of a sudden death as Shell Shock. From what you have written, though, and from what I have experienced, I prefer the word “Shell”. There seems to be (not necessarily in all, but in so many cases of sudden loss) the sense among the bereaved of being instantly surrounded by peace and order, by a Divine Presence. Coni, you describe it clearly right here:

    “i whistled the whistle i always whistled when he and his siblings were young. they always responded and always came home. but he didn’t come. i remember feeling a prick of panic – and then a calm. a calm that i fought. it was as if the angels were already gathering around me. holding me, preparing me for the grief that would come. somewhere inside i knew he was gone, but until he was found and i heard the words i was left in this place of of confusing peace. other worldly. one foot in and one foot out of grief.”

    Now read this passage from Nicolas Wolterstorff, a father whose young adult son also fell to his death while climbing:

    “The call came at 3;30 on a Sunday afternoon, a bright sunny day. We had just sent a younger brother off on a plane to be with him for the summer.
    “Mr. Wolterstorff?”
    “Yes.”
    “Is this Eric’s father?’
    “Yes.”. . .
    “I must tell you, Eric id dead. Mr. Wolterstorff, are you there? You must come at once! Mr. Wolterstorff, Eric is dead.”
    For three seconds I felt the peace of resignation, limp son in hand, peacefully offering him to someone—Someone. Then the pain—cold burning pain.

    Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Lament for a Son” p. 9. (Wolterstorff’s son Eric died when he fell while scaling a mountain in the Bavarian Alps.)

    And from Gerald Sittser who lost his wife, mother and daughter in a head-on collision caused by a drunk driver who walked, unscathed, away from the accident:

    “Those two hours between the accident and our arrival at the hospital became the most vivid, sobering, memorable moments of reflection I have ever had or will ever have. I was lifted momentarily out of space and time as I knew it and was suspended somehow between two worlds. One was this world of my past, so wonderful to me, which was now lying in a tangle of metal on the side of the road; the other was the world of my future, which awaited me at the end of that long ride to the hospital as a vast and frightened unknown. . .In that brief window of time I exhausted all possibilities except one. I realized that I would have to suffer and adjust; I could not avoid it or escape it. There was no way out but ahead, into the abyss.”
    Gerald Sittser, “A Grace Disguised”, p. 29

    In my own experience, I felt “lifted” from reality, suspended from the world around me, not at all crazed, frothing or “shocked” in the Hollywood sense. Neither was I cool and detached. I was surrounded. I know that is true. I was even surrounded preceding our Parkers accident; throughout the month, week and day before our son’s passing, we were being prepared for it in ways I will not (but could) list here.
    My husband and I talk often about these “preparations” we were given. It points to an Eternal Now our limited minds can scarcely grasp.

    I am interested in hearing of others’ experiences with this palpable Shell. I eagerly invite input.

    Second point is The Jury. Why do you think a “well-meaning” LDS cousin, Kerri, would bother posing such a question regarding your brother’s spiritual status? And why do you think this is a frequent point of inquiry or innuendo when those of our faith speak of the Gone? What is it about our belief system that seems to compel the non-bereaved to make judgments about the person who has passed? And why do we (as as been discussed throughout this thread) make further judgments about those who mourn the passing? (Is she not crying enough? Did she really love him? Is she crying too little? Does she not love God?) What is this necessity to judge both the Gone and the Grieving? (For some answers, turn to the Book of Job. . .)

    A dear (and very spiritual) friend who lost her seriously troubled young adult son to a rifle-shot suicide had to bite her tongue against the repeated messages of judgment and hopelessness that came from her LDS community. After enough of it she was left to wonder, 1) if her son deserved to die, 2) if there was less hope for him in heaven than there had been in his last years on earth, and 3) if she did not really deserve to grieve because her son’s life was not “perfect” anyway? (The implication being that our sadness should be in direct proportion to the perfection of the life lost, not in proportion to the investment of love and sacrifice we invested in said life.)

    So I toss these questions out there to stir up even more conversation:

    What limitations does judging place on fulfilling our baptismal covenants to “mourn with” the bereaved? Have you found yourself judging the Gone as guilty, the Grieving as faithless?

    And to Coni and Kerri: I think of you with a sisterly concentration this holiday season. (Oh, Christmas without our loved ones. . .) Your stories, shared here, punch a fistful of scorching light through any flimsy-gray theory or speculation there might be. So much love to you!!

  111. Sharlee

    December 14, 2010

    Coni and Kerri, and all of you who have shared your stories here–my heart aches for you. I am praying for you by name. A friend said to me just this morning that she feels like she’s standing on sacred ground as she reads these comments. I know just what she means.

    As one who is far too familiar with soul-splitting, world-shifting grief (I lost both my brother (it was water for him too) and my father in separate accidents when I was a child, and my mother more recently), I can’t tell you what this discussion has meant to me. Something happens to our hearts when they are broken open like this–something profound and irreversible. One of the very real blessings/cursings of experiencing this kind of loss is that your heart is made forever tender. I think often of the outcast Edgar’s words in King Lear when he happens upon and helps his blind father on the moors. “Now, good sir, what are you?” asks his father, who doesn’t recognize him. Edgar answers: “A most poor man, who by the art of known and feeling sorrows am pregnant to good pity. Give me your hand.”

    Melissa, the wisdom and compassion of your responses continue to astound and move me.

  112. Kerri

    December 14, 2010

    Melissa, were you prepared for what your original post would mean to so many of us? The power of your first words has sparked even more beauty with these wise and wonderful words from so many, and like Sharlee, I too feel the wisdom and grace in your responses to all of us. I am so so grateful. I’m finding healing I didn’t even know I still needed.

    I’ve thought a lot about the very few comments made after Brent’s loss, especially the one I mentioned earlier about his place in heaven, that would normally be considered less-than-comforting. I felt so much love from even those saying things that could be taken badly that I didn’t take offense as they spoke, even though I thought, “Oh, THIS is one of those things people shouldn’t say to someone grieving.” And still, when I think of the heartfelt efforts of people, I feel mostly that outpouring of love. After all, it’s not easy to call someone in pain. It’s not easy to talk with them as they cry. The love which prompted them to comfort me made up for the things said without thinking. And mostly, mourning with someone after a tragedy is something we haven’t practiced. We’re likely to be ungraceful in new territory. I’m certainly much more aware now of how to mourn with someone in grief. And while I can’t begin to express my gratitude for the many many people who helped us in the days and weeks after Brent’s death, those who had already walked the path we were walking gave us service that resonated in my heart in a sacred way. I never before understood fully what it meant to have “hearts knit together” until I wept with friends who had experienced something similar and felt the bonds of already shared love grow into a kind of love that is nearly palpable.

    Melissa, the ideas of shell and jury feel very accurate. The shell experiences from our summer felt like a membrane…I could sense the vast depths of pain around me, but I was protected from it by prayers and love.

    I have less to say about the Jury experience. I have thought how pure our grief was, since it was a tragedy untinged by substance abuse or suicide. I have wondered how much harder the grieving process would be for someone who dealt with such a death. I unfortunately have lost people I’ve loved to suicide, and I must say that even in those situations, I have honestly never heard anyone make judgmental remarks about the deaths. I think there is so much more understood about mental illness than there was a generation ago that most of us have much more compassion towards those fighting (and sadly, sometimes losing) the battle with a horrific and painful disease. Overall, I think that unrighteous judgment of any kind blocks us from grace. When I’m tempted to judge (as most of us are at some point), I have learned to change my thoughts to a prayer for the person I’m judging, asking Heavenly Father to bless them and care for them. That often softens my heart enough to see them in a different light.

    My family will all be gathering for Christmas. We haven’t all been together since the funeral. I think there will be terribly sad and hard moments, but the joy of being together will help all of us. Or so I hope.

    I will keep all of you in my prayers, as well. Thank you for your love.

    (On another note, did any of you find that while you were in the throes of suffering and grief, Satan found ways to hurt you even more deeply than even the pain from the loss of your family member? This happened to me, and since then, I’ve run across other instances of this happening to others. The pain is so deep, but the circumstances are so private that in some ways the quiet pain is harder to manage than that which is able to be shared publicly. Just wondering.)

  113. sac

    December 14, 2010

    Thank you for your words. They ring true to my own experience. I was just thinking this morning about the fact that, more than the words people say, the way they say them makes a huge difference to me.

    I have had two people on two different occasions thank me for crying with them. And, since a recent death of one of my close friends, I have found out that other close friends had hidden griefs. Compassion does make a difference, and suffering can make us closer.

  114. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 15, 2010

    Kerri,
    Your closing comment is intriguing. I hope to hear others’ input on this curious underbelly of grief.

    In our case, there were added insults to the injury of losing Parker. They were shocking, complicated, and confusing, and they greatly compounded the initial blow of grief many times over. Of note, however: our loss carried NOTHING close to the “added complications” I’ve learned of from families whose child’s death is a result of a criminal act, a lifeguard’s negligence, a rough babysitter, a drunken driver, an inattentive nurse, a loaded gun in a neighbor’s basement. ..those sorts of heinous complications.

    But other extenuating circumstances regarding our son’s drowning did keep coming back at us over many months, and threatened to wear us thinner than we were already thin. I credit my husband with remaining wise, charitable and generous in the face of some things that were pretty darned astonishing. Beyond that, I dare not comment.

    But I will say that, yes indeed, Kerri, Satan finds ways to beat you when you are already lying flat, face-in-the-dust. It is a quite a test, in that kind of state, to not fold up or, just as bad, become vindictive or bitter.

    It came down to this (and I believe this is a good general rule of thumb): our souls can’t house both rancoeur and the Spirit at once. We wanted (needed) more than anything the constant upholding power of the Spirit—and of Parker’s spirit—so we had to summarily dismiss ill feelings. We just said to each other, “We will not give in to this satanic tactic. We will NOT.”

    That taught us a lot.

    Anyone else have similar experiences?

  115. Melissa Dalton-Bradford

    December 15, 2010

    In the meantime, I recently discovered this comment from James Faulconer, (BYU Philosophy professor), which illuminates so well, I think, our past discussion on words vs. silence in the face of our own or another’s grief:

    “. . .Silence is also often what life requires. I do not speak of things that are most dear to me, things intimate, things holy, because speaking of them publicly cheapens them. Or I remain silent about an experience so saturated with meaning that either I cannot yet speak or I don’t know what to say. Silence is sometimes appropriate or unavoidable, but sometimes it is merely misanthropic. Garrulousness is the opposing twin of silence, with fewer redeeming features. Often it too is disguised hatred of others because it refuses to take the others’ demand seriously, pretending friendship and even love, but merely filling the space between us with empty sound. Speech and writing are required if we are to “live together in love” as commanded (Doctrine and Covenants 42:45), but speech and writing must cross the gap meaningfully rather than fill it with more of the same old thing.”

    Gosh. . .I find no words after that!

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