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The mending of the heart is not something that can be manipulated and calculated. To grieve, in all honesty, is to love, and to live raw. Grief expresses the loss of someone/something loved, is a demonstration of love. A smell, a touch, a song, anything can trigger the flood of memory, the pain of loss seared and no longer salved.

Who can say how one is to cry? Who is to count each tear that falls, to dare to say, “That is enough, no more?” Who can limit the hours, days, a person thinks on the one who is lost?

My husband and I were working out our schedules when he pointed to this day and said, “What is this? This 20 years?” And I sat quiet, still unable to say it like it’s just another anniversary, “That’s the day my mom died.” “Oh,” he replies. I sigh, “It doesn’t feel like 20 years already.” He pauses then says, “No, I imagine it doesn’t.”

Because when someone so integral, so meaningful in your life is gone, eternity begins to make more sense because 20 years is just like yesterday. For me to say 20 years ago about anything feels strange and foreign- where have the 20 (and eight) gone?

And yet for as fast as it goes and the process seems a blur, grief does change over that 20 years. Many years I did not speak of my mother- if I at eight years old could barely understand, barely handle it, then which of my friends at eight years of age could do the same? How could I ask them to? I felt very alone in a new school with a deceased parent. No one got it.

Then this girl moved to our school in 5th grade, two years later. She was tall and quiet. Her mother had died too. And suddenly I had a friend, because there was someone who got it. It was this unspoken thing between us; we both knew each other’s stories and we got it. And it always burned a little between the two of us when girls would gush over their perfect mothers and infuriate us when later as teens they would say how they hated their mothers or couldn’t stand it. And we got each other in our anger and sorrow and frustration because it felt like the others didn’t get us. She got it when I was near fighting with the boy in 6th grade who made stupid “yo momma” jokes and when I told him quietly to stop he took it to the next level and said outright awful things about my mother and then I was in his face yelling and then at least half the lunchroom heard the confrontation and why I was so angry and my fist were still shaking when I was asked to “settle down.” But I couldn’t settle because the sea of faces was marked with smirks and some with pity and I couldn’t stand it. At least one person got it.

There was always this awkwardness when people would ask me about my mother. I hadn’t really had the chance to get to know her; she was and is a bit of a mystery to me. I recall what she was like as a mother, but as a woman, I missed out. When people would find out she died they usually apologized, asked how, and then were at a loss of what to say. I learned quickly that death was uncomfortable therefore talking about my mother was uncomfortable so I never did. She had become her death, not her life, which I knew so little about.

Grief is different for each person. Mine culminated in the moment I knew I was going to have my first girl. Terror-stricken, afraid I could not create that mysterious, natural bond between mother and daughter, afraid I too would leave my daughter(s) too soon. I cried and prayed more through that pregnancy than any other. And that was just four years ago.

But grief has a way of releasing the soul, of pulling out the heartache. New loss, whether last week or last month or two years ago, is raw, sharp, and often can be overwhelming. I felt it was something I had to hold onto, out of respect for my mother’s memory. If I didn’t feel sad when I talked about her I thought something was wrong with me- as if I could not remember with happiness the good times! But, I have recently learned God wants to heal that part of me. And He is. There is still a twinge of sadness, a melancholy nostalgia, of which I think will never go away nor do I want it to. But the edges have been softened, the pain replaced with peace.

Slowly I can tell the story I know of my mother, to ask others about her, both good and bad and feel it is okay. I can do this because I know I am not so alone now. And neither are those I know and love who are working out their own grief of family and friends. Grief is raw and ugly, but God turns it into something beautiful in His healing. Grief begs for communal partaking, whether we draw close to others or, even better, draw closer to God. Grief brings a strange comfort when it is shared, knowing that one is not as desperately alone as one thought (even with siblings or family going through it too this is a common feeling). It isn’t something that can be placed, controlled, or forced to move past. It truly is a process, whether 20 years in the making, five, or a couple months. But hold tight, because God will bring beauty from it. He will bring about good and comfort and love to those who seek Him. Because that is Who He is, and He can do no other. Mourning will be turned to joy.

So just hold tight. There is someone who gets it. And there is Someone Who will heal it.