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Community Never Dies

A letter to a grieving friend
Community Never Dies

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 , 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.

It's about Me

It takes a different courage, though, to move beyond the naming, the laying out of death on the table, the public grieving. Sitting and sharing at that table demands more. It demands a profound generosity of spirit … to allow your experience to be shaped by the poetry and prayers of others who sit at the table with you; to open your heart to the clumsy words and the well-meaning ugliness of platitudes from those of us who stumbled and continue to stumble in our wish to hold you close.

But inviting women to sit around the table with you means that the conversation isn't just about you and what you want said and done. It's also about the other women. It's also about me.

Perhaps that's why I stopped shrinking. You'd sent out an e-mail telling us that hugs and smiles of welcome at church weren't what you needed, though you knew that we were glad to see you. What you needed, instead, were "hands to hold" in the dark space you were in.

Enough. Give me the freedom I need to process … with you, I thought. I need to be able to quietly acknowledge your empty arms and say, "This is Mourning, walking the halls; Lament worshiping in our midst. How do I honor her?"

You may not remember, but I did reply to that e-mail. I offered to come over to your home and sit in silence with you. It was my way of offering the hand you said you needed. Please take me up on the offer.

It's about the Table at which We Both Sit

So Linda, in your next e-mail, please don't remind us that you grieve. We know that. Instead, remind us that Jesus sits at the table with us. Are you able to point us to him rather than to you?

I sit with you because, in a profound way, Julie belongs to me too, just as I belong to her and to you. I feel the shock of her empty chair and of the other empty chairs around the table. I sit with you because the table itself reminds me of the sorrows and deaths we all carry. You and I are members of the same body, sharers of the same cup, tasters of the same resurrection.

The table makes us one.



* Names have been changed.

Renee James is communications director for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec and editor of their magazine, The Link & Visitor. She writes, mothers, and dreams about gardens.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Renee James

Renee James is a regular contributor for TCW, Leadership Journal, and the Gifted for Leadership blog. She lives in Toronto, Canada, and is the communications director for Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec. She blogs infrequently at ReneeJames.org.

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