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Community Never Dies

A letter to a grieving friend

Dear Linda*,

I remember your image of the "sticky sticky mud" you talked about in your first e-mail to our moms' group. With that e-mail, you announced that Julie,* the daughter you'd named and would carry full-term, couldn't live outside your womb.

As members of one body, Christ's body, we all sit around a table of community, of communion. And in that first e-mail, you invited us, your sisters, to sit with you at that table, seeing what you saw, an empty chair that would never be filled. You were also clear: You didn't and wouldn't talk with us about the medical prognosis but invited us to talk with you about anything else.

Over the two years since you shared your news, you've sent us more e-mails. You've thanked us for keeping you company at that table. You've called us to keep sitting at the table and to mark Julie's passing with you and your family: decorations for three "wee trees" that you'd have planted by now in Julie's name; a nine-month gathering around the fireplace in our church's sanctuary; a drop-in on the one-year anniversary of her death. More than that, though, you've reminded us that you grieve deeply.

I didn't know what to say when I read that first e-mail. Even now, two years later, I still don't know. Maybe the sticky mud of shock, and my own feelings of grief and loss, kept my feet planted to the ground underneath my chair, unable to lift them so I could run around to your chair and hug you. Maybe I shut down after one-too-many directives and thoughts about your grieving process that you embedded in that first e-mail and all your e-mails since. You thought your grief, however much shared by your sisters, was yours alone and could only be felt by you. You gave instructions about what to talk about, who could come to Julie's funeral, how to mourn, how to greet you if you'd been absent from church for a while … how to sit with you at that table.

It's about You

Linda, I didn't take your invitation to sit with you at the table of community lightly. I chose to sit there with you, and to remain sitting there over the years, even as I shyly shrank from the unabashed growth of your belly (Julie was always present at that table—you didn't have to write another word to us). I warmed my seat even as your e-mailed instructions about how to sit with you made me hesitate to offer much beyond a sideways glance at church or a wordless grimace in the hallway as we passed each other on the way to the washroom.

Our gathering at that table was about holding you—your grief, your words, your Julie—for as long as needed. It took courage to invite your sisters to sit with you. You called out the elephant in the room—laid death out on the table for us all to see. You named your daughter. You grieved out loud and in public.

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Renee James

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