Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

40 Sunrises

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I had a slow, peaceful start to my morning today, which I LOVE! The slowness allows time for reflection.

My mom has been gone for 40 days. There have been 40 sunrises that she didn’t see. My eyes have closed 40 nights and opened the next morning with my first thought being “my mom died.” I start with that thought every day, it coming to mind in a tone of confusion. It’s so immediate that I know it must’ve stayed at the forefront of my brain while I slept. Living right at the surface until the second I’m conscious again.

On a weekday, I quickly have to ignore the feelings of sadness that so badly want to come next. I have to get ready for work- get out the door on time to spend the day answering other people’s questions and solving their problems. But I have bigger questions and deeper problems in my heart. My mom is no longer on this earth and it’s not okay with me. I don’t pretend I’m fine; I don’t lie and tell others “I’m good.” I’m honest that the days are hard; but that honesty doesn’t make them easier.

So I push through, staying busy and distracted, trying to be a confident/competent leader during a worldwide pandemic, all the while crumbled and foggy on the inside in ways I’ve never known.

Then comes the weekend. Our stay-at-home weekends are a much different experience and I’m really thankful for them. I can take more time to think about life and how my heart is feeling. This morning, I was finally able to put some of it into words:

The grief I have felt in losing my mom is new to me… different than losing my close friend, my cousin, my aunts, and my grandparents. This specific grief I’m sitting with elicits so many raw emotions right now.

If you have kids, or have worked with groups of kids, maybe this analogy will make sense. You know the feeling when all of your kids (and sometimes your husband) are talking to you at the same time and there’s music or tv on in the background? When there are so many things demanding your attention that you can’t really process any of them? That’s how these feelings are to me right now. Sadness, emptiness, worry, fear, love, peace, relief, depression, anger, hope- they are all constantly trying to stake their claim as the answer to “how am I feeling”. With so many big emotions circling around the outside of my heart, it’s just too hard to let any specific one in… especially for any length of time. The hard ones are too painful, the angry ones seem uncharacteristic to my nature, the joy- well that seems inappropriate in grief.

And since it doesn’t feel ok to let any of them settle in and be truly felt, none of them actually do. Hence the confusion. I feel all of them a little bit. Or all of them a lot. I just don’t know.

What I do know, is that I’m changed by this. I hope that as time goes on I will more often think of the positive changes than the negative ones. But for now, I feel this heavy weight of grief always present with me.

I guess like backpacking. Hikes can be beautiful and peaceful. They can feel easy and comfortable sometimes, while challenging and exhausting at other times, depending on the difficulty of the path.

When Covid hit the path suddenly felt all uphill on a humid day… and I thought that was hard.

Now my mom’s gone… and it’s like someone strapped a 50 pound backpack on me. But I still have to keep going up the hill. This backpack of grief is never lifted. I have friends who walk up the hill with me. Some without a backpack at all. Some with smaller ones, or older ones. And I know some people have much larger ones than I do. Nonetheless- mine.is.heavy.

I imagine that the load won’t lighten… it will always be heavy but I will learn to get stronger and carry it well. I’m just not there yet.

If you’re carrying an obvious one, I can pray for you. If you’re privately carrying a heavy one, I’m here to listen and love you through it. If you just want some acknowledgment that it’s there, I can do that too.

Most importantly, I know God loves me through this mess. I know I’ll be ok as He guides me to slowly let those emotions settle where they need to. And as He encourages me to bear the load of the backpack. It’s nothing compared to the weight of the cross. I can do this.

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