I remember standing there in front of my closet.
The house had a quiet buzz, the muted kind, the slow kind of busy.
And I stood in front of my closet in my underwear, paralyzed.
I had chosen her outfit already. Black pencil skirt, white ruffled shirt, black jacket. Heels. She never wore heels because they hurt her feet. I thought she would want to look classy. I had pulled them from her closet, moved them to the nice hangers. Hung them on her door.
My hair was curled already. I wanted to say I didn’t care what I wore. My friend had offered the day before to go shopping with me for a black dress. But I don’t like shopping on a good day, and dress shopping for your mom’s funeral seems like kind of the worst.
I had made so many decisions over the previous days. Music for the service. Did we want to have a meal at the church? How long should the viewing be? Who would be speaking? What could I say? How was I going to sum up the life of my incredible, larger-than-life mother?
Too many hard decisions had come and passed, and now it was the easy one. Just what to wear. Should I go with classic black? But it didn’t seem right – she was too colorful. Should I be one of those people who bucks tradition and wears red? I stood there. And waited.
And then my phone buzzed. Really. It was right then.
It was a message from my dear friend Esther. One of those people who understands my heart. One of those people that can say stuff to me I need to hear. The message said, very simply:
“wear something your mum thought you looked good in. x”
I knew. I immediately pulled her favorite dress of mine out. The one with the black skirt on bottom and the pinstripe top on top. And I put on pearls, because she always thought they made me look classy. And I put on that perfume that always made her yell at me that I should wear perfume more often.
Esther lost her mom when she was quite young. Esther knew that feeling of standing in front of your closet in your underwear. She knew that feeling of having made the hardest decisions and not being able to make the easy one for yourself.
That’s the thing about friendship. A million people that week had offered their love, their help, their time. Their tears. But there comes a moment where access to the inner parts of your heart is guarded closely, and the pass to touch those parts comes with a deep investment in the relationship. I didn’t want anyone’s advice. But Esther knew my heart in that moment, without even asking.
I think of the few friends I had around me in those days, friends who knew my heart closely enough that they could go to the deepest places of pain with me. Anna, who flew all the way back from Spain to be there. Lyndsay, who breastfed her baby while I told her the most secret gruesome details of the day. Rachel, who held my hand while we watched the coffin being unloaded from the hearse. Amanda and Allison and Doug who sat on a windowsill in the hospital for hours and hours. And so many more people who allowed themselves to feel pain so they could willingly share my burden.
I consider myself an in-recovery Pentecostal. I saw a lot of crazy growing up and a few years ago I held some of that Pentecostal stuff at arms-length. But lately I have learned that the Holy Spirit works just like that. Sees you standing in your underwear and moves your friend’s heart to say something you desperately need to hear. Just the right thing. The Holy Spirit – the Comforter – rests still beside you as you scream and cry and when you give up and collapse in a heap it comes as a gentle breeze. Just enough to give you a sliver of hope that you might survive.
It’s easy, this Holy Spirit thing. It’s a natural movement for Christians. Christ is in us, and the Holy Spirit leads us. And it works just like that. The Spirit in us knowing the Spirit in someone else and just going with our hunches. It brings healing and it brings peace.
I have thought so much about grief and healing and not-healing over the last four years. I wish I could give you a formula, a six-step process, maybe a checklist of how you survive. I wish I could easily encapsulate what tragedy does to change your theology, or I wish I could tell you how things will turn out in the end. I especially wish I could tell you why bad things happen to good people. Truth is I don’t know.
But I know that in the darkest days He doesn’t leave. And I am thankful He partners with people like Esther, people like you and me who simply show up to life with hearts as full of love as we can manage, people who do their best to love each other. I am thankful He uses us to bring simple gifts of healing to one another.